Azizi Life Experience

After spending a day with the women in their villages, we truly felt as though we were a part of the family and cooperative at Azizi.

When we got off the bus at the first of two houses in the village, the women were overjoyed to greet us and we all hugged and shook hands, which is custom to Rwandans. Next, the women began to sing and dance and form a circle so we joined them! It was so fun and of course, heart warming. In return, we performed our play for them. My favorite woman who I didn't know the name of, but I will refer to as the Woman in Blue, jumped into our play during the Mwaramutze scene! She was a blast all day long!! Such a cheerful leader. We then split into two villages.

Once we split into our two villages, we went to the house of our respective village and took seats. We began by praying and sharing brief introductions of ourselves with the help of our translator Renee. Then, the women put fabric head wraps and skirts on us. I hope to buy some fabric at home to make a skirt like that to wear when its nice out!

Next, we sat between the house and wood stove building and peeled their version of a sweet potato with a knife, chopped dodo - which is a leafy green, and added the two into the boiling water. We had an hour to wait for that all to cook down along with the beans and scallions in the pot. While we waited, we grabbed hoes and learned how to cultivate the soil and remove weeds. Next, we went to cut some grass for the cows to eat. We used something similar to a mini sickle to cut the super long pointy grass at the base and made piles of it. Then, we used banana leaves to make little head cushions/halos to carry out bundles of tied up grass on. It was so cool to walk to the cows with the grass on our heads. We fed the cows and I loved them! I actually learned a lot about them while we ate. Then we grabbed empty jugs and walked all the way down to the water to fetch some. We saw boys on the shallow water fishing and one boy caught a fish. It was really sad at the time because we kept it out of the water for like 20 30 minutes, but then Crystal finally let it go back thank god and he lived. 

It was super hot and humid at this point. Then we made the uphill trek which seemed like FOREVER because we were all very hungry and it was so hot. We washed up and prepared to eat. 

The food was inside of 2 huge circular but sort of flat, like a deep plate, baskets that were the circumference of a huge hot water tank. In between the food and the basket were banana leaves. Before eating, they asked if anyone wanted to say grace, which I did! I love doing that and I should do it more when I'm home. This trip has officially reunited me with my faith and I'm so grateful for that. We had huge avocado halves and ate with our hands. It was so good!! Very filling too. After eating and washing up again, we went back to the first house to reunite with the other group to do some weaving. 

We were all too sleepy so the women decided to have us dance to wake us up. It didn't sound like it would work, but boy did it! We had a dance off. We all said the word for 'move', which sounded like 'inneega', and the word for 'shake it!' which I have forgotten. We repeated these words as we moved in circles. I was selected to win!!! Then the women enacted an award show which was hilarious. The Woman in Blue was on bended knee, using her elbow as a video camera and her other hand as the lens zoom. Others held up water bottles as microphones. We were given 'gold medallions' which were woven medallions made of dried banana leaves on curling ribbon as awards. The levels of innovation and creativity were remarkable amongst these women. 

Now we were ready to weave! We were short on time so we all made bracelets out of banana leaves. This was so cool. Then, we could sense the rain coming. We played soccer and hand games and danced with the kids. This was the best part of my day. When it was time to go, it was really pouring. As we were closing out and saying goodbye, one of our hosts told us that in Rwanda when it rains when you're having guests over, it means they're blessed. My little friend Monica walked me to the bus. This was when I felt as though I wanted to cry. I wanted to stay with them forever! 

I spent the rest of my Rwandan Franks at the Azizi gift shop which financially supports the women artisans. I bought cards with banana leaf decorations on them and a pair of hand-woven earrings. 

I plan to connect this experience to my classroom someday. I want to start a partnership and promote these women and spread the word of their story. There's still help to be extended even from home, whether it's teaching my students about their developing and joyful lives, or if its promoting their goods to be purchased online. There is much to be learned about how hard these families work to survive and about how much joy they spread simultaneously.

I'll never forget this amazing experience.


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. 

Making a difference in kids lives

The 14th started with another drive with incredible views over the land of 1000 hills. We toured  some of the great business enterprise of Mr. Sina Gerard and I got some akabanga hot sauce which I have been enjoying on my food back here stateside. We visited a school the Mr. Sina Gerard built and is expanding up on the top a hill. He has many gardens and facilities one of which where he  he plays music for his pigs which  is really cool.

The Afternoon was the highlight of the day though. We visited the Rebecca Davis dance studio Mindleaps. Check it out.

They shared some dancing with us and we shared our show with them and we played some theater games with them and by the end we had become one community with these kids from the streets and their dance  instructors. This is when the real party began we all danced together showing off moves.  Those boys really had some moves. You could tell the dancing meant a whole lot to them.

We had some fun on Thursday as well running theater games with the kids at the Wellspring school. Once again I enjoyed the opportunity to facilitate some more theater games. My favorite part of that day was lunchtime. It was really cool how the teachers take time each day to do some devotionals and ask for prayer requests and personal testimonies. Imagine if Teachers in American schools took the time every day to sit together as a community to share what is going on in their lives and support one another.

Once Again on Friday morning I got to experience another program that makes a difference in the lives of street children through the arts at Everest's Cultural center. Here the dance that is taught is traditional Rwandan dance teaching these kids about their heritage. I really loved seeing these kids light up being able to share their talents with us. It is great to see the arts making a difference in children's lives. They were so pleased to share with us I just had to give something back so Ashley and I led a couple of our theater games with them by ourselves, I felt proud to be able to share what we learned with them. A great way to end a spectacular stay in Rwanda. I will never forget the smiles on those kids faces. 

This whole trip is beyond words When people ask me how it was I just say it was great or amazing but that doesn't even begin to describe it. Life changing I pray that I may incorporate what I learned there back to life back here stateside.







Here I am blogging my life away, haha

I was thinking of one of our last days in Rwanda. We were going classroom to classroom teaching grades 2-6. I enjoyed it because I was doing what I liked, acting but also I enjoy helping others. But, deep down I feel I really can't work with kids, not that I don't like them I just couldn't connect. Later I was home and sleeping for days and I woke up and thought about how I felt. I believe I needed a good long rest to digest a lot thats happened this month, I didn't realize how much it was catching up with me until I got home. Anyway, the next day I went to my Aunts house, she is a 4th grade teacher at a school in buffalo that struggles with having many international kids. She was very stressed when I arrived so I talked to her and I could tell how much she really cared but how difficult it must be. I began to tell her about some of my experiences int he classrooms and the responses. I hope that maybe she could find them useful in her classroom especially if there is a tricky language barrier. Regardless, This helped me get out some frustration because I couldn't imagine doing that forever! Its a great job and a wonderful thing but the frustrations! To the point, I hope all the teachers we've worked with in this method really take it in and apply it because the response is so very worth it. Learning, focus and team building to me seemed like the only way to get across to tricky children! - in addition the older teachers really enjoyed this too so for whoever may be reading get skilled in drama based education! come to the dark side! and share your stories.


Live to dream, dance inspires.

The Rebecca Davis dance company definitely was one of my favorites for many reasons. Personally, dance inspires me just like theater and helps me through many challenges I come across in life. Many times when I am down, or angry and don't know how to put words on something I dance or sing or act. Discoveries are made about myself, what I want, what I felt or even about others and their experience. This is an outlet for me, Yes and for others too. But it is nice when it is confirmed to be. Rebecca Davis Dance company confirmed this for me. All the boys in this company are street boys, they don't have family or money but they worked hard to become a part of this company. They spoke of many things even as a child i encountered, whether it be drugs or alcohol, domestic abuse, etc and regardless of whether or not it happened to me, growing up I either knew someone with a problem or was exposed to these themes. The similarities and connections are endless between me and these children along with many others in that room. Regardless of these problems, these children still work because this is what makes them happy, this is their outlet. It is amazing to see such young people this openly motivated. In addition to this, this open to learning other things, like our theater games that we brought for our drama-based education portion of the visit. They were so respectful and put their all into taking up this new form of expression. This is one thing that is hard sometimes in the classroom with young children, the lack of participation and motivation to learn and work. These are skills this group of children had and something we should not take for granted. The idea of learning through body and voice allows not only for them to pick up information but make discoveries of their own, and it is fun so they want to do it and WILL do it. This was displayed in our workshop. Also following that the children taught us more about their dance, they were motivated after working with us for hours to work with us even longer because they were happy, and motivated and because of that, we all learned something that day.


Teacher training conclusion

 Teacher Training day two, continuing from yesterday the teachers were excited to learn and ready to work.

We again started with a short discussion, answered some questions and then got back to work.

We started the day with a shorter version of yesterdays warm-ups. They got right back into it, it was great seeing how excited and involved they were today. Following this we spoke of  how we were going to create out stories. We started by reading an MLK Jr speech “I have a dream” The Rwandan teachers as the readers. It was clear they began to feel connected to the story. Following this we split into three groups and discussed how we felt, what are themes we found more important from the reading, why. My group came up with the theme/title “seeing light through darkness.” We devised a story of animals trapped in the darkness of the forest experiencing their fears and predators, we played with the ideas of being tapped, cramped, afraid, alone and lost. The light was then put upon them, the darkness was lifted. Once this darkness was lifted they were able to express their light that pulled them out. Some inspirations were the Sun, stars, trees, nature, humanity, confidence and faith.  They then joined together and gave their gift to the world one by one, then began sharing their gift with others. Finally they migrated together into one large ball of light. Together in this process we learned things about each other, the world, philosophical thought, teamwork, creativity, positivity and also it was fun. Many things that were pointed out by the teachers were how lines could represent scientifically theory even if they were not meant too. They also mentioned how they could see themselves making workshops for math problems and using warmups in the morning to get their kids focused and present before their lessons for more effective information retention. They were so thankful by the end of the day it was a great feeling! We hopefully will have a long term educational relationship with wellsprings and they will hopefully pass this on to the teachers they are teaching.

Teacher training day 1


Today we officially started our teacher training. Our job was at Wellsprings, we were called in order to teach teachers, how to tech drama based education to other teachers. At first they were a bit skeptical, a lot of talk and discussion. We moved this along by showing them what we do and showed our Anne Frank in Rwanda. Following this they had svn more questions, for instance?

How do you expect us to do/teach this?

and how does it pertain to every subject? 

We followed up with a three hour workshop of our everyday warm up exercises.

Many of these things are “wallbreakers” they break down the persons emotional defense, they become more open and present following these exercises. They learned following this how these things can create many positive vibes in the classroom.


In the moment behavior

community work

positive behavior

respectful behavior toward each other and teachers

focused learning

full body learning- not just in one ear and out the other

and teamwork

The teachers were incredibly interested and enjoyed all the work we did. But, they still had questions they wanted answered pertaining to how this will specifically help them. These questions will be answered tomorrow


Work through play

Monday and Tuesday we started the teacher training portion of the trip. We were teaching the use of drama based education with a group of teacher trainers at Wellspring academy in Kigali. These are the folks that are going to be training the teachers at the wellspring schools throughout the country. It started with a powerpoint presentation by drew on Anne Frank and what the project is about.  We then presented our play which was really well received. At first the group was confused on how they could use drama in the classroom. The idea is to use drama as a means to get kids actively learning on their feet rather than passively sitting and listening to a lecture. We learn much better when we use our bodies. So that is what we did with the teacher trainers we used our bodies and took them through some of the warmups and games that we as theater people use and that are also helpful teaching tools for becoming present in the moment for learning. They were hesitant at first, we were doing some pretty strange things shaking around making noise and panting like a dog but it was really cool to watch them starting to get into it. By the end of the day they were all smiles wanting to do more.  Their favorite game was the gibberish village where everybody walks around and talks to each other using only gibberish and wild gestures. During the breaks and when they left they would greet each other with gibberish. It was great.

              The voice of Martin Luther King in Rwanda

              The voice of Martin Luther King in Rwanda

Tuesday we met up with the teacher trainer for tea before beginning our work for the day and they once again greeted us with gibberish. We started with a sitting discussion again after tea where Drew talked about Martin Luther King Jr. Though he was an American figure, his message is applicable worldwide. It was not just about Blacks and Whites it was about respect and equality among all people. I loved hearing Rwandans reading the I have a Dream speech. One gentleman,  I feel bad for forgetting his name because he was also in my group later in the day, was so good we just asked him to keep reading to the end. He really embodied Martin Luther King in his reading.

After the discussion we went outside for some warmups and to begin the work of story building. We split into three groups to come up with  themes based on the I have a dream speech. Molly and I led a group of 6 others and the theme we came up with was Inequality, our first enemy. At first we had a lot of thinking and discussing but eventually we started moving and built a machine with our bodies to tell the story of our theme.  What was really cool is how we used the hill we were on to contribute to the telling of our story by creating levels to show the inequality.

          Getting moving again after lunch

          Getting moving again after lunch

I  appreciated the opportunity to lead a small group. the collaboration was great and it was cool to see the growth. Our group was so insightful and Everybody became fully invested in the story. We called all three pieces together Peace will come. I loved it when we all came together and danced at the end singing Amahoro Azaza!  It seems like they got a lot out of the workshop and will put the skills that they learned to good use in the classrooms around the country. These teacher trainers were a pleasure to work with, we will miss them.