"We must admit there will be music despite everything."

    Being back in Rwanda in many ways feels like a dream. The deja vu I felt upon returning was crazy, seeing old friends like Eric and visiting the same places.The first two days I was feeling sick and was unable to participate, so when I was finally better and able to join the group it felt like my first day here. I was soaking up the lush greenery and waving to smiling people from the bus and I felt tears in my eyes. I’ve been dreaming of returning to this place since I left last time and I can’t believe I’m back.

    We visited a co-op and had the opportunity to play with all the beautiful children who lived around there. There is something delightful about young kids who come up to you and hug you without saying a word. They followed us around, holding our hands. One boy who held my hand taught me the Kinyarwanda word for cow, and said “Yes” whenever I said anything.

“What is your name?”

“My name is Molly.”


Another, maybe two years old, found immense joy in making whatever face I made. We played, hopping, laughing, and making faces, until it was time to go. 

    That afternoon we visited the Nyamata church memorial. This is a church where Tutsi thought they would be safe from the militia because in all prior conflicts churches had been off-limits. The Interahamwe blew the doors open with grenades and killed everyone inside. I had been to this church last year, but the reality of it was still staggering. Bullet holes in the ceiling, holes in the cement floor from the grenades. The pews were covered in clothes, dusty now, clothes that victims had been wearing when they were killed. The statue of the Virgin Mary had been shot at, though the bullets missed. The altar had examples of the farm tools used in the killing, as well as items taken from the victims; rosaries, Tutsi ID cards. One thing was pointed out to us that I didn’t recall from last time- there was a corner with blood on the wall where they had killed children by smashing them. I felt sick.

    I knew what was coming this time, so I tried my hardest not to disengage when I saw the rows and rows of skulls underneath the church and in the crypts underground outside. Fractures and breaks from machetes and clubs, bullet holes, so many violent ways to die. Some of the skulls were tiny and I kept thinking that no one in the world should ever have to see the skull of a child. As humanity, we need to be better than this. I pictured the rows of skulls in front of me as how many people they would be standing in a room. I wondered who these people would have been today.

    On the plane ride I listened to a Buddhist dharma talk on joy by Jack Kornfield, and he read an except from the poem A Brief For the Defense by Jack Gilbert. This poem reminded me of how Rwanda exists as a constant juxtaposition between loss and joy, and how we need the joy to exist with the sorrow.

A Brief For the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies

are not starving someplace, they are starving

somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.

But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.

Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not

be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not

be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women

at the fountain are laughing together between

the suffering they have known and the awfulness

in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody

in the village is very sick. There is laughter

every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,

and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.

If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,

we lessen the importance of their deprivation.

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,

but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have

the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless

furnace of this world. To make injustice the only

measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.

If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,

we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.

We must admit there will be music despite everything.

We stand at the prow again of a small ship

anchored late at night in the tiny port

looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront

is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.

To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat

comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth

all the years of sorrow that are to come.

Who's Helping Who?

A roller coaster is a great way to explain the trip thus far, I would also describe it as “heart stretching”, as our fearless leader Drew Kahn often says. We are experiencing extreme highs and then extreme lows of emotion. It's hard to be pulled in both directions, leaving me in the middle, almost numb at some points. But reflection through our group discussion and the blog posts help shift those emotions back to a positive.

New Years Day was a time to re-cooperate from some of the jetlag that still is following me like a mosquito. We started the day by coming together in a group to discuss our time at the first two memorials. This discussion lead to all of these realizations about the genocide in Rwanda but also our American culture. A major theme of the discussion was how the Rwandan’s have tackled the process of healing together, as “One Rwanda”. Instead of forgiving and forgetting they have taken the philosophy to forgive but never forget. After learning and seeing first-hand the carnage that happened here 20 years ago, this notion of forgiving seems almost impossible to me. But, the Rwandan society has really adopted this philosophy and continues to amaze me.

Having these discussions have really helped put words to my experiences. After New Years Day, we had the opportunity to visit two real co-operatives in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. This was our first trip out of the city of Kigali and the scenery was absolutely breathtaking, Rwanda really is the land of a thousand hills. The fist co-op we visited was in a small village and the co-op had a concentration on corn agriculture and processing of corn. As soon as we stepped off the bus we were immediately greeted by 20 children. They happily ran up and grabbed everyone’s hands and played with our watches and cameras. The children lead us through the village and accompanied us at the market were all the adults showed us an equal welcoming. I can’t stress enough how kind and friendly the people here are. Proceeding the corn co-op, we visited at a weaver’s co-op where we shopped and learn about the weavers.

Baskets displayed in the weaving co-op

Baskets displayed in the weaving co-op

The weaver’s co-op was a particularly emotional high for me. The experience was very overwhelming. The whole shop was full of thousands of beautiful colored and patterned baskets and other weaving products, from the floor to the ceiling. As I picked the basket I wanted, a woman came to me and was ecstatic that I liked the basket that she made. She kept saying thank you and gave me a bracelet, that she made, as a gift. After everyone made their purchases, the woman of the weaving co-op gave a talk about their mission and how most of the money goes back to the people that weave the baskets to help them feed their families, send their children to school, and other daily activities. Following the talk, the woman then presented each of us with a hand woven "peace basket" as a gift for taking the time to stop by and help support them. Even though they need the funding from the baskets to help support themselves, they gave us all a gift.

These experiences are really helping put into focus my own life, my own “problems”, and my upbringing. Making me feel so thankful for everything that I have and everyone in my life. As much as I think that I am here to help and teach in Rwanda it seems to be helping me, tenfold.

The Dog Days

Day 2: December 31st, 2015

Time: 11:52 am

The definition of Genocide.

The definition of Genocide.

Hello my Band of Merri Readers,

This morning we have toured the city and it has changed. There is more and more development going on. Even despite all this development the overall happiness and joy of Rwanda has not changed. Everyone here seems like family to each other and it is so confusing to me on why the hell can't we be like this in the USA? During breakfast (which is always so delicious) Drew commented that I am already smiling more here (Rwanda) than I do back home. I think that is probably true. I feel immensely relaxed and yet focused while I am here maybe it is the sun or the people but I do feel happier over here... Or perhaps I am just built for African time (where 7 is more like 7:15). Well the smiles will have to wait because today is hard to smile. After the tour we went to two memorial sites. The first was the Belgian Memorial and the main Genocide Memorial Site, both equally tough to witness and walk through.

Belgian Memorial 

This was the first time being at this particular memorial site. In Rwandan style the memorial was up lose and personal, much different from American sites. In America our memorial sites are very shut off and the tradition is to look in silence and leave. There are glass walls preventing people from really connecting to the events and they are very impersonal... on the other hand in Rwanda they make sure that nothing is shut off. This site is memorializing the ten Belgian UN Officers who were murdered while protecting the Prime Minster. These men were told to disarm and that they were being transported to the UN. Instead they were taken to the site of the Memorial (I think it was a school at the time) and these men rushed into a building and with two (each) concealed hand guns held off the the Hutu extremeness for several hours. Ultimately they were out numbered forced into a corner of the building and then shot to death.   



This is the corner where the soldiers were killed.  

This is the corner where the soldiers were killed.  

As you can see the bullet holes are still there and sometimes even the blood is still on the walls. You cannot escape the massacre that has happened, and Rwanda uses this as a constant reminder  of what happened and strangely of a way to remind themselves about forgiveness. 

This piece of art is showing the multiple genocides that have in the recent past. It is a beautiful reputation of how these horrific events affect us all. But also how when people come together these acts can be stopped.

This piece of art is showing the multiple genocides that have in the recent past. It is a beautiful reputation of how these horrific events affect us all. But also how when people come together these acts can be stopped.

There are more pictures I have on my camera I am just having trouble getting them over to my laptop, but when I do I'll throw them up here for you. 

Kigali Genocide Memorial Center

  This is my second time going to this Memorial site and that does not make it any less easy. And there were somethings I found I had missed from last years exploration. For example I saw these:

 Hutu 10 Commandments:

  1. All Hutu must know Tutsi women wherever she may be is serving the Tutsi Race. All Hutu Men who take: Is considered a traitor.

    1. Tutsi Wife

    2. Tutsi Mistress

    3. Tutsi Secretary

  2. Hutu Women are better in every way so why would you not want a Hutu wife?

  3. Hutu Women make sure to service your husbands so they come to their senses. Tell your sons about how great Hutu women are.

  4. Tutsi are dishonest in business transactions

  5. The military us for only Hutu

  6. Education is for Hutu

  7. Rwandan Armed Forces strictly Hutu

  8. Stop taking pity on Tutsi

  9. Hutu must be united

  10. Anyone against Hutu even other Hutus are traitors

The power behind this propaganda is outstanding. I found myself asking would I be persuaded by this style of propaganda?... I'd like to say no but honestly I am not sure. As I walk through I start to realize that I'm not really feeling much emotions... I didn't really last year. Like I realize the horrific events makes me mad that we let this happened, but I see people from our Village crying or tearing up. Then I'm there like "yeah... this was bad" dry-eyed. The time I really felt a sorrow emotion was the part of the memorial where they showed the holocaust and that made me me feel kind of selfish and confused why I did not have this emotion throughout the whole site. 

As we moved on the last part of the indoor part was the kids room. This room I went through twice; once by myself and once with Dan. The time I went by myself I wrote down three descriptions of how these kids died (The kids room is a room dedicated to children who were murdered in the Genocide):

Francine Murengezi Ingabire

Age: 12

Favorite Sport: Swimming

Favorite Food: Eggs and Chips

Favorite Drink: Milk and Fanta

Best Friend: Elder Sister Claudette

Cause of Death: Hacked by Machete


Fabrice Murinzi Minega

Age: 8

Favorite Sport: Swimming

Favorite Food: Eggs and Chips

Behavior: Gregarious

Best Friend: Mum

Cause of Death: Bludgeoned with Club


Ariane Umuton


Age: 4

Enjoyed: Singing and Dancing

Favorite Food: Cake

Favorite Drink: Milk

Behavior: A neat little girl

Cause of Death: Stabbed in her Eyes and Head


Now with this description there are the pictures above (due to the rules we were not allowed to take photos inside) it so it gets real personal and it is heartbreaking to look at this. These were kids... just a little older than myself (I was born in 1993). After walking out I realized my role in the village is the silent support so I was able to help Dan through this emotionally struggle. This day was tough but a good day to open myself up more emotionally and strengthen my heart. 

Now to go back to the Title... this post was inspired by the song The Dog Days Are Over by Florence + The Machine. What inspired me was the fact that even though this terrible event happened the Rwandan people are moving forward and the country of Rwanda is now the safest in Africa. Although the dog days are not completely over but it is getting better every day, and the amount of progress is outstanding. 

Today, the country and its people are finding ways to live and work together.
— Survivor of Genocide

Find out what happens next time... On the next episode of Cpt. Sam's Blog!

Your's Truly,

Cpt. Samuel M. Merriman

So You Want to go to Rwanda?

Open advice from my first-hand experiences in Rwanda:

You may feel anxious in the days leading up to your departure. However, you will know that the universe is guiding you when you see your lucky numbers: 517 on your boarding passes. You may feel anxious while on the long flight, especially as you fly into the sunset when it's only 2:30pm EST.  If you watch the flight path on the screen in front of you, you'll learn that you flew over France, Italy, and Egypt. You may not enjoy the turbulence of your second flight, but you'll enjoy the food they serve. When you look out of the plane window and see that you're in Africa, remembering how long and how much you've wanted this trip, you will shed a tear. For the first time in your 20 years, you will truly have a sense that dreams do come true. In these early moments, you will have already began breaking down any assumptions or fears you had about Rwanda and also about your own self.

Like me, you may have a difficult time finding the right words for all of the feelings that this wonderful place ever so gently blankets over you. The serenity that delicately quiets your anxiety and the true sense of security that is evident on every street corner and in every voice that speaks to you. You may be shocked to find how current everything is here - the music, clothes, cars. At the end of a long day without any power at the hostel, when you don't have any technological distractions and are left to your own thoughts, you will understand the dichotomy of being a sensitive person. The juxtaposition resembles the way that this country generally feels. It will remind you of the wise words of Ghandi:

"For I can see, that in the midst of death,

Life persists, in the midst of untruth,

Truth persists, in the midst of darkness, Light persists."

IF you are a sensitive person like myself, you will finally appreciate it as you recognize that it directly correlates to vulnerability and the chance to be open to good and bad.

You will bring in the New Year of 2016 like never before, with the wonderful live music downstairs, cheers of people at the hostel, and the sounds of singing coming from the thousand hills. You'll be a tiny bit sad that you couldn't bring it in with your loved ones back home, but they'll understand.  

Your body will struggle to adjust to the 7 hour time change, and you'll wake up at 3AM. But, you won't be alone. You will be glad that you have 4 roommates and bunk beds. This idea will feel strange but delightful. The conversation you have on the porch between 3AM and breakfast with your roommates will be meaningful and comforting. The sunrise will instill the feelings you had as a kid on Christmas.

Along with the help of a few friends on the trip, you will learn how to use your new camera. Your brain and soul will emerge from the fuzziness of travel, and your journey will really start.

This is only the beginning. 



We're in Rwanda!

It certainly was a long journey, but we're finally here! It is amazingly beautiful! As our plane emerged from the dense, white, puffy clouds the lush green beauty of Kigali was revealed. This crowded city buzzes with life. Cars, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians...all seem to share the road with a graceful, patient flow. Arrival at the Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel was hectic, but efficient and the staff was very friendly and eager to please. As I sit here to rest for a few minutes and collect my thoughts, the singing birds and warm breeze flowing through the unscreened windows refreshes me. What a beautiful place this is!

A land like no other...

Unfortunately, I can’t say I had the same experience when landing in Rwanda. Not that it wasn’t a beautiful sight to see, it’s just that I missed it because I was too busy closing my eyes and clutching my pillow since that flight had A LOT of turbulence—those of you who know me, know that I am afraid of heights and not too fond of planes! However, once I got off the plane and we left the airport, I found myself in a very beautiful city! Not that I expected this to be the case, but I must say that what I saw was nothing like the stereotypical images of “Africa” given to us by the media. I use quotations because of the way Africa seems to be represented as if it were one single country rather than an entire continent consisting of many countries with many different cultures. Anyway, Rwanda disproves this misconception. On our ride from the airport, I found myself gazing at beautiful trees, hills, and communities; as well as buildings with impressive architectural designs. Actually, for a second, it reminded me of Miami because of the palm trees.

This is a view from our hostel!

This is a view from our hostel!

The people we met so far are amazing! They are very friendly and so willing to help us! I already feel welcomed and I am looking forward to making more friends. So far, it seems like I will really enjoy my time here.

Now, we are all checked into our hostel and all that is left to do is shower, relax, and prepare for dinner. I’m going to take advantage of this down time because we have a busy few weeks ahead of us!

Amaharo (peace)

Until next time,


A Hidden Paradise

December 31st, 2015


I haven't even been in Kigali a full day, yet I have still seen more beauty than I have experience in any city I've ever been in. After the group and myself got off the plane, we were greeted by our tour guide, Eric, who was the guide for last year as well. He is so much more than I expected. He took the time to hug each of us and load every piece of our luggage onto the bus. He and the people who went last year (Sam and Molly)  recalled things that had happened and laughed about them. Most of the bus ride to the hostel I remained speechless. I could not believe how beautiful it is here. I can't even begin to describe it. The hostel that we're staying at is so wonderful. Everyone is so nice and welcoming. We had an amazing dinner and Eric even joined us. There's so much more that I wish I could describe, but can't even begin to find the words. Maybe after visiting the memorial today they will come to me. 





"Dan... you're in Rwanda." - Drew


Quick post before meeting with the village, Ringing in the New Years in Rwanda!! With the first day of travel messing with my sleep pattern, we fell asleep at 9 and woke up at 3am. With the constant twisting and turning and trying to go back to sleep, I got up to sit out on the balcony , joining Lily and Crystal joining later. There was wonderful conversation about life and travel, staying up to watch sunrise, capture shots and record timelapses.  We talked about social issues and things that matter and ways to change the world. Its easy to be content and happy in such a peaceful environment. 

In The Beginning

Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel

Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel

So far, my trip in Africa has been a whirl-wind adventure. After driving to Toronto, an 11-hour flight, a layover in Ethiopia, and the final 2-hour flight to Kigali, jet lag has completely kicked my butt. Instead of turning completely irritable and cranky, I have used the tired energy to reflect on the first travel day, my first full day, and my future travels in Rwanda.

Shortly after we arrive at the 'Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel', I passed out and awoke to a power outage that lasted almost 30 hours. This could have easily made anyone made or anxious but the people of the hostel and myself found it almost liberating without electricity and the Internet. We used it as an opportunity to get to know each other better and to distress before our big New Years Eve Celebration.

Along with getting to know my fellow travelers better, we took a large part of our first day and explored Kigali. This city is much more modern and westernized than I ever thought there would be in Africa. It's a huge city, full of many hills, buildings, and people. While touring the city, we stopped in a neighborhood that overlooks the city to take some pictures. As soon as we stepped off our bus we were greeted by many children. They were so polite, curious, and soft spoken. We walked around the neighborhood talking to the kids and their families, and I can honestly it was an incredible feeling to be so welcome in a place where you not necessarily supposed to be.

Following our initial explorations of Kigali, we have visited two genocide memorials; Kigali Genocide Memorial and a memorial for United Nations Peacekeeping Soldiers killed during the genocide. These memorials were places to learn about the events leading to the genocide, what happened during the 100 days in 1994, how it has affected this country and the world, and to reflect. "Individual reflection and personal responsibility" was a phrase that was emphasized at the memorials.

UN Peacekeeper Memorial, Kigali

UN Peacekeeper Memorial, Kigali

Below are some of my written reflections of the memorials, they are very brief outlining notes of bigger issues and feelings related to the genocide and the memorials.

  • How?
  • Turning a blind eye toward genocide
  • Children's room
  • Meaning of family; orphans
  • Power of youth: leading, changing, learning
  • Good coming from bad
  • What If's - Walk a mile in their shoes
  • Ways of healing/ "there is no healing without justice, there is no justice without healing"
  • Embracing the past for a better future
  • "Individual reflection and personal responsibility"
  • Flower of life
  • Symbolism: fruit, roses, vegetation, indigenous plants, fountains
  • One Rwanda

As my travels continue, I will be doing more reflection of the memorials and what we are learning about Rwanda, but here are my initial thoughts. It is truly astonishing that after the terrible events that took place here only 21 years ago and knowing how many people were killed, injured, raped, orphaned, and displaced; the people here are so happy. Every person we pass waves to us, every person we meet welcomes us with a hug, every kid smiles. Even as I write this post I can hear singing echoing through the hills from different churches.

What a wonderful place to start a new year.

Hello... It's me. Again

Hello my band of Merri-Men,

Youre fearless leader has survived a total of 22 hours of flights (two planes). As my dad was driving me to the Don Savage Building where the group was meeting up to get on a bus to go to the Toronto Airport I started to think "Shit... Did I forget something?" And then I would bob in and out of being asleep. 


Okay, so moving forward we get to the Airport for the fist leg of our trip. Everything was fine until I went to check my luggage because, the lady behind the desk kept telling me I was only allowed one carry on... (The literature from the travel agency and Airline all said two. Not to mention my whole group so far has been okay with two carry ons). But in the end everything turned out okay. The flight to Addis Ababa wasn't that bad did some reading and watched some movies and also slept for roughly 8 hours. The plane from Addis Ababa to Rwanda was a little bumpy but again your fearless leader was able to sleep through anything.  


We finally made to Rwanda around 12:30 and finally it sunk in I'm back in Rwanda! As we got our luggage we were greeted by our tour guide from last year Eric who has become a brother now and we greeted each other like the men we are... We hugged and cried (jk). It is great seeing Eric again and I am even more excited to see how this trip unfolds. After this we went to the Hostel where we checked in and got a settled in our rooms where again I'm in Room 3 and in the same bed. Oh man when I went back upstairs my Nephew Yvon had came up to the hostel to say hi!... Unfortunately still no baby (For those who don't remember last year Yvon was our tour guide and had recently gotten married and in Rwanda they start having babies right away. Also he calls me Uncle Sam). After some talking and catching up I took a nap and woke up to no power (hence why this is a little late). Dinner again was amazing and again I am excited and amped for this trip again. Tomorrow we tour the city and go the main Genoice Memorial cite. 

Find out what happens next! On the next episode of Rwanda 2016...

Yours Truly, 


Cpt. Samuel M. Merriman

From the front area of the Hostel. 

From the front area of the Hostel. 

Goodbye 2015

In a couple hours itll be the end of the year and it's still surreal that I'm spending it here in Kigali. I'm with my friends, some locals, and other travelers immersed in great conversations. 

Today was truly he perfect way to bring a close to 2015 which for me was filled with some joy but specks of sadness. But after a day as such where I was surrounded by nothing but good energy, I'm truly in a good space. I actually wish I could keep this feeling and capture it a bottle to carry back with me to the states.

Today was filled with amazing food, and I mean amazing food. Fresh flaky bread that reminds me of being home with family, fresh eggs, and sweet pineapples. Oh and can we talk about once you've had Rwandian coffee, there's no turning back. It's really The bee's knees! 

After breakfast we drove into town and got to meet some local kids. My face lit up, I love kids, I love them so much that if I was Oprah Id adopt every orphan from every country. No exaggeration, and I guess in my logic I assume me as Oprah could afford to do so. Unfortunately Oprah isn't as cool as me. 

I got to run in the streets with the kids, playing tag, dancing and playing hand games. If that isn't a great time idk what is. Nothing but laughs and big smiles..right? Right! 

Until we hit the memorials that is..



I always dreamt of traveling, and at one point considered dropping it all to backpack around the world. Then reality set in really quickly, I couldn't do it. But I was certain the opportunity to travel would present itself again.  

My name is Tolu, I'm a New York City native who currently resides in Buffalo. Although Buffalo is the last place many may come to for adventure or excitement the community inside and outside of school has made an impression on me.  

Ive met some incredible people these past couple of months, and in doing so the chance to travel to Rwanda arose. Now I know that many people may question why on earth would you go to Rwanda? And to be honest if you asked me a couple years ago to hop on a plane and take a spontaneous trip to Rwanda I might've declined. It's not exactly what people put on their bucklist. And after the recent passing of my grandmother I told myself I no longer had a reason to return to Africa. When I thought of the motherland I thought of her. I miss her.

I'm excited to bring back whatever I can from the land to the people. You know, a sense of love, hope, happiness, tranquility. I hear Rwanda's just the place for that.

So.......Rwanda here we come!

The First Steps

December 29th, 2015


As I make my final preparations for this trip, I find myself both excited and terrified for the journey ahead of me. As amazing as I know this trip is going to be, certain fears just happen to crawl into the back of my mind. What if the plane crashes? What if I get sick while I'm there? What if I hate it? Today I had a goodbye dinner with my loved ones and it was very emotional for me. I never imagined myself studying abroad before, and now it's happening. After every penny spent, after every shot I had to get, after every text from Drew reminding me of something I forgot to do... I'm all ready to go. Five hours or so to go. Here's to hoping to find what I need in Rwanda. I'll be praying for a safe landing. 





December 29th, 2015


I am now en route to a trip that may possibly change my life in the best way possible. This is all still so unreal to me. I find myself staring out my window, as I normally do on long car rides, listening to music to calm me. This always worked before wrestling matches, or big shows, or even before a test, but today is so different. Even listening to Evident Trust, the most familiar and emotionally connecting music, is making me feel so much more distant. I think I just need to breathe. Before I know it, I'll be at the airport boarding the plane to Ethiopia and I'll be wondering what I was worried about. Here's to new adventures. 





December 29th, 2015 


With five and a half hours left to go on this flight, I'm trying to wrap my head around something Drew told me awhile ago when we were all preparing for the trip. He said something along the lines of "Instead of thinking about how long we'll be traveling, think about what a miracle it is that we can get halfway around the world in such a short amount of time". Less than 24 hours ago, I was sitting in my room back in Buffalo writing in the same journal I'm writing my thoughts out in now. Six hours later, I'm staring out of my window with a very dear friend of mine at Monaco, admiring how beautiful it is from up here. I am a very different person than I was at 1am. Leaving for the airport this morning, Drew and my mom met for the first time. He mentioned to her, then again to me later on that he still gets nervous for this trip. I think that reassurance was exactly what I needed. A man who has been a great mentor to me and seems to understand the impossible when faced with certain situations can easily admit something like that, so what am I afraid of? I was so scared of being away from my family, but all too often do I forget that my family is with me. What do I have to fear? I was always afraid of traveling overseas because of the long flights, but now I'm pretty sure I can conquer any flight. I hear Rome is beautiful this time of year. Maybe that's next. 



Second Time Around

 'Twas the night before departure and only Sam ran through the house. Checking his luggage to be sure it was all in affair. Everything was in place, his luggage all in a row. He had his clothes, his donations, his laptop, his passport, and it was all there. "Time for bed." Sam thought to himself. But silly Sam forgot about his blog. Quick as a whip he jumped out of bed and stumbled through the fog to his phone where he wrote down how he felt...


"I can't believe I get to go back to Rwanda for a second time. Honestly until tonight I had mixed feelings. I was wondering should I have gone a second time?... I have rent due and car payments and two and half weeks without pay, how will I make the money? I also felt like am I cheating someone else out of this experience?... If I did not go a second time there would be another am I taking away their life changing experience? Honestly I started to regret my decision on going back. That was until I received a message from Eric one of our tour guides last year and now a great friend. He told how he couldn't wait to see me again and then today our other tour guide (and another great friend) Yvon posted on my Facebook status "you're most welcome back". I knew I made the right decision to go back. I want to be one of the few people who say they're coming back and actually stick to their word. The sacrifice is well worth it because this time I can be a leader to the new students coming to Rwanda for the first time (along with Molly) it will be an honor and privilege to be back in Rwanda.

The play we share with many Anne Frank in Rwanda is already magically different from last year and working on it with everyone has been a wonderful new experience. 

This time around everything seemed fast paced. Although I knew what I had to do to get ready and no matter how far ahead I planned I always felt rushed. I would make lists check them twice and find out I forgot something.... And I was getting frustrated with myself and with my cat (Maggie) who would always jump into my suite case (shown below). I felt prepared and unprepared at the same time and I'm not completely sure why. It feels more nervewrecking than last year, but I couldn't be more happy to be going back.

I hope all who read this find it entertaining and enjoy my story."

So begins Sam's blog. Until next time. And to all a good night!


Cpt. Samuel M. Merriman

Maggie in the Suite Case

Maggie in the Suite Case


My name is Ashanti Bryant.  I am a junior studying Sociology and Women and Gender Studies. I have always wanted to travel all over the world but I never thought Africa would be my first big trip away from my parents.   I am beyond excited and anxious to go on this trip and see how life changing it will be. I first heard about this trip last year through Jason Parker, the Diversity Program Coordinator on campus and I am a student ambassador or the program. He suggested I look into the program since I want to get involved in activism. I looked it up in the summer and it seemed exactly the trip I would want to go on,  immersing yourself in a culture and just not being a tourist. I would be able to teach and learn from these people and encourage them that their thoughts and voices matter, and I thought that was an awesome message to share. Since I do want to be an activist for equality, gaining a widespread knowledge of other cultures will help me gain background knowledge on other places besides my own. Especially  Rwanda, being a place that has grown so much since the genocide and come together, it'll be incredible to experience that in person and be able to come back and share that.

I'm not an actress nor a theatre major so I was a bit nervous about putting on plays while in Rwanda but it is such a comfortable and fun environment with the other villagers so Im excited to continue doing that for the next couple of weeks. I dont know if you can really prepare for a trip like this, I mean, I have my vaccinations, I'm packing my clothes and toiletries, but mentally I dont know if I can prepare myself for such a big journey. I'm just going to dive in with an open mind and heart and have an amazing time. 

Less than a week before we leave for Rwanda!!

Introducing John Latona

Meet John!

Meet John!


Author and researcher Brené Brown once wrote, “We need to be the adults we want our children to be... We should model the kindness we want to see”. As an Art Educator and as a young adult, I believe this to be a simple yet profound statement and an inspiring way live life. This personal philosophy is one of the many propellers that lead me to join ‘Drama Based Education: Training Teachers in Rwanda 2016’.

This past Fall 2015 semester at SUNY Buffalo State College was my final semester as an undergraduate in the Art Education program. My final semester in the Art Education program was spent outside of Buffalo State Campus, at Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy and Frontier Central High School, student teaching. As a student teacher, I struggled to juggle full-time teaching and, at the same time, planning for the future. I narrowed my future options down to continuing my education or pursuing an art education career directly out of undergraduate studies. During my debates, I met Buffalo State Professor and the Anne Frank Project’s Founding Director, Andrew Kahn.

During our first meeting, Professor Kahn quickly displayed his passion, enthusiasm, and knowledge for Rwanda, his students, and his colleagues. These energies exhibited by Professor Kahn reminded me of Brown’s quote; modeling how I envision myself as an educator and adult. He made my decision to go to Rwanda and continue my graduate education at Buffalo State, very easy. Unfortunately, my experience preparing for Rwanda hasn’t been so effortless.

After I was accepted into the Rwanda program, preparations for the trip were due almost instantaneously, including airfare, vaccinations, and other expenses. As a student teacher I was encouraged not to hold a job during the semester’s duration and because of this, I had little funds available to fund my journey. This financial predicament fueled my creative reasoning as I looked and applied for funding and scholarships to help pay for Rwanda. Through this creativity and hard work I have received 3 scholarships, ‘Improve the World—SUNY/AFP Rwanda Travel Award’, ‘International Service-Learning Scholarship’, an emergency scholarship fund through Buffalo State Art Education Department, and lastly the Art Education Department also supplied me with additional funding. Only with these scholarships and funding, I am able to serve in this year’s Training Teachers in Rwanda 2016. But, after attaining these scholarships and funding opportunities, the remaining preparation quickly fell into place.

I am physically and whole-heartedly ready to travel to Rwanda. I haven’t begun my travels and I have already learned and experienced so much through Professor Kahn, Anne Frank Project’s co-director Eve Everette, and my other fellow Rwanda 2016 participants. These experiences prior to the trip have reignited my understanding that hard work and determination really do pay off. As I travel to and experience Rwanda I keep in mind what I have learned, what I want to know, and living in the moment. I will model the kindness I want to see in the world.

-John Latona


Hello! My name is Dan Torres, and I am halfway through my 5th year at Buffalo State. I am a theater major with a concentration in acting, and I have been a Buffalo native for most of my life. This is my first time studying abroad. I was accepted to study in Rwanda last year, but unfortunately I was not prepared financially to go. I consider it a huge honor to have been accepted again, and to actually be able to go this year. My research in Rwanda will be geared towards writing a devised play about living with depression, which has been a major part of my life since I was thirteen. I am hoping that seeing how another culture lives will help to give me some perspective on if emotions are a product of your environment, or if they're set from the moment you're born. I find myself very, very anxious and nervous for this trip, but I know that it will be an incredible experience that I may never get the opportunity to do again. I look forward to posting in the future! 






Muraho! I was a part of the Rwanda delegation last year, and this year the universe has given me the incredible gift of returning. I cannot believe that I am going back- for that I have to thank my parents, without whom this would be impossible. I am so fortunate to have people in my life who can recognize how much this means to me.

Less than two weeks, and it seems utterly unreal. The only difference is this year I know I don’t have to pack as much.

Last year’s trip to Rwanda spoke to me and impacted me in ways that left me lost for words. This past year whenever I had a challenge to face I would look to the Rwanda bracelet on my wrist to remind myself that the world is bigger and more powerful (in ways both good and bad) than the problems I was facing. Getting myself in the Rwanda headspace by remembering the grounded, connected feelings I had there helped me to keep my balance and keep my heart open throughout the year. I’m sure that will continue to help me throughout my life.

This is my senior year at Buffalo State, and I will be graduating with a degree in Theater and a minor in Painting. This January I will be auditioning for graduate school at the URTAs, which is a mass audition that offers the opportunity to be seen by many different schools. I am a person who has a tendency to overthink things, and going to these auditions post-Rwanda sets me up to be as grounded as I possibly can be. This trip will help me to find the actor mindset of “don’t think, just do”, which is necessary in acting and life. The idea of trusting the moment and being present instead of overthinking the past or future is crucial to experiencing our lives fully. I hope I can live that way in Rwanda so I can bring that into this year of transitions in my life.

Last year, a young man who worked at the hostel gave each of us Rwandan names one day after dinner. The one he gave me was my favorite word in Kinyarwanda- “Amahoro”, which means “Peace”. I hope I can use what I learn in Rwanda to spread peace in my communities and across the world once I return. We could all use more peace in our lives.



Hello Everyone,

My name is Crystal Holmes-Smith. I am a graduate student at SUNY Buffalo State, in the Literacy Specialist Program. I am honored to be taking part in my second study abroad experience with Buffalo State. I am looking forward to the opportunity to, yet again, immerse myself in a new culture, as I continue gathering experiences and tools that will help me to become a culturally responsive educator.  I am excited for the growth, new understandings, and even challenges I know will come with this trip, and I invite you to take this journey with me!

*9 more days!!!!!* 

Amahoro (peace) 


T-minus 9 Days

Muraho from Lilly!

We have officially entered the single digit countdown for our departure to Rwanda!

Going on this trip is a serious dream come true for me. I first heard about AFP and the Rwanda trip when I was a Junior in High School attending NFJC meetings where I met Eve. Eve shared a mini presentation on her experience in Rwanda, complete with fantastic photos, and my heart was tugged on from then on. Now, a Junior in college, I am leaving for this life experience of a trip in less than 10 days! Over the last four years, I have gone back and forth with the risks and enormity of the trip weighing on me. I have also worked a ton on personal emotional growth which is resulting in my readiness to go on this trip. I know that Drew & Eve wouldn't let me go on this trip if I wasn't 'ready', and I appreciate that so much because we are in for some serious heart-stretching! Along with Drew and Eve, are myself, my mom, and pretty much anyone who knows me well enough when it comes to knowing how ready I am for this trip. I'd like to thank the universe for conspiring to get me to the place I'm at now. 

I've been studying English Education and Theater at Buffalo State College and I cannot stress how relevant this trip is to my career and life. This past Fall semester, I spent a large majority of my time out in different schools of Buffalo, touring Mirror Mirror and racking up field experience hours for my teacher certification. At every school I have been to, I have stemmed from my Buffalo roots and found my voice in this city. Telling students and adults alike that They Matter has been my philosophy all along and it feels so fulfilling to be doing the type of social-justice related work I have been, whether it be through teaching or theater (which I like to think are one in the same). It's going to be so meaningful for me to be able to go soak up the lifestyle of the people of Rwanda and to bring a piece of that back with me in my heart for my many Buffalo villages.

So far, I have packed one of my suitcases full with donations and I plan to start packing my personal belongings within the next couple of days. I have been hesitating about packing my personal belongings because I want to save that excitement for the days that are closer to our departure. I am no longer scared about this great journey; instead I am feeling ready-emotionally and mentally-and I am so so so excited. Tomorrow I am hopefully going to get a nice camera for this trip. I have always had a knack for photography but never had my own 'fancy' camera to shoot with. Rwanda is going to be so amazing to capture through photos. It's so neat that Bruce & Deb will be with us to capture our experiences through their own lenses too.

I have been focused on spending time with family and friends and trying to get into the Christmas spirit before we leave. Today, I had lunch with a family member and we talked a ton about the wonderful journey I will be taking. It was really fulfilling to be able to explain all of the great experiences the village is going to have in less than two weeks now. I showed her some of the pictures that Ash W. Posted to Facebook while in Rwanda last year, and she was so excited for me that we both wished that she could go with us! She is one of many people that I know who are eager to track our experiences via this blog while we're there. 

I'm so grateful to be able to be a part of this experience and I am relieved and excited that we get to share and process our adventures through writing on this blog. I plan on keeping a hand-written journal as well as posting to my Tumblr blog a ton. This is going to be my biggest adventure yet! It'll also be the longest amount of time that I've ever spent away from my mom, my home, and my life here in Lackawanna, NY.  

That's all I have for now! I will write again soon.  

Amaraho! (Peace!) 

~ LI


9 Days left