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Friday, May 24

Lili and Kaili

The day started early with some papaya mistaken for mango at breakfast. Slightly jet-lagged, we made our way over to the Mall and Convention Center for a quick tour (See the photo to the right!) with our ASYV guide, Stephanie. We were able to marvel at the immaculate streets of Kigali and made our way to the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial was both an emotional yet necessary first stop. Designed for both commemoration and education, we were able to reflect on the past while looking forward to how future genocides can be prevented. We were able to consider our own reasons for being here in Rwanda while walking through the Memorial Gardens. Its design made it incredibly effective in translating the complexities of the genocide while also promoting healing and renewal.

The drive from Kigali to Agahozo Shalom Youth Village was stunning. The drive gave us time to both appreciate the incredible landscape before us and each others’ company. The green fields outside our windows were dotted with red-roofed houses and families (+ goats) waving as we drove by. The village was just as beautiful.

Even after three months of preparation and expectations, ASYV was even more incredible than we could have imagined: it was welcoming, serene, and beautiful. Stephanie gave us a quick tour of the village and we were able to stop in to the Mahatma Gandhi family house. There, we were taught the expectations, core values and responsibilities that each house held.

We were welcomed to the entire community from Village Time at the amphitheater. The students brought incredible energy through dance and music performances–we couldn’t help but feel it too. It was evident how meaningful that time is to the community and how proud everyone is to be part of ASYV. We are so excited to perform for the village next week! (reach out with any talent show ideas please!)

After the show, we were welcomed by a group of enthusiastic and kind students! They led us over to the dining hall in the dark, stunningly-starry night. While some of us were initially anxious about meeting everyone, the students made it easy and natural to connect. We talked over a meal of rice, beans and plantains (yum!) and are so excited to reconnect with our new friends.

Signing off for now!

Kaili and Lili

Saturday, May 25

Emilia and Dawson

We started our day bright and early with an activity called Mucaka where we ran around the village with students. We sang songs and clapped the entire way and the energy was incredibly uplifting! After this, we joined the students for an early breakfast of porridge, homemade bread, and guava jam. The conversations ranged from religion to our favorite rappers and songs. After breakfast we participated in the country-wide community service called Umuganda. Umuganda happens on the final Saturday of every month, and is a way to bring Rwandans together in commemorative work. This activity began after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis. This community service is a way to build solidarity and citizenship. We worked with the first year students assisting in clearing roads and filling potholes. This specific work was done at the request of the outside community, and shows the dynamic relationship between ASYV and neighboring Rwandans. Following Umuganda, one of the school leaders gave a compelling speech about the power of teamwork and shared responsibility to move forward from a divisive path. We then finished our tour of the village, which took us to the school grounds, the highest point in the village where we were able to see far into the bottom of the valley and rolling hills. We learned about the different combinations and extracurriculars that students can pursue. We were welcomed into the school’s recording studio where we experienced the production of the students’ original music. After exploring more of the beautiful grounds we played different sports with students during free time. A definite highlight was teaching students how to play Ultimate Frisbee and starting up a game where everybody ran and laughed a ton. We were able to experience the bonding of sports. Games included soccer (football, as it is better known in Rwanda), volleyball, and basketball. Tired out from the sports, we stopped by the Cantina for popular snacks like chapati and mandazi and enjoyed some sunshine as a group to relax. Next, as the sun set behind us, we had our first group discussion about what it means to be a global citizen. This is particularly important work for our group and contextualizing our presence in Rwanda means a lot to members of this trip. Although it is nearly impossible to reach a satisfying answer, the discussion was extremely productive and we look forward to more chances for us all to converse. After dinner, we were treated to another local meal of brochettes and chips and shared the day’s experiences. Having settled in and played a few rounds of bonding games, we head off to bed, preparing for another long day tomorrow.

Sunday, May 26

Taylor and Chloe

Having stayed up late the night before sharing stories and good company, we were all thankful for an extra hour of sleep—especially because our morning began with a hike to nearby Lake Mugesera. Armed with sunscreen, bug spray, and water bottles we set off with an ASYV alumni and a fellow. To get to the lake we walked along village roads under the heat of the rising sun, caught up in good conversation. Local children would run out to shout the occasional “good morning!” from the side of the road and we would exchange smiles and a wave. All of us were caught up in the beauty of the landscape and the surrounding hills but were not blind to the existing economic struggles of the community which we were walking through. ASYV seemed to be in a region far from the sprawling and bustling hub of Kigali. When we reached the lake, we paused to appreciate our circumstance, take a quick group photo, and to catch our breath. We finally summoned our last pockets of energy to march back up the hill—making it back to ASYV just in time for a much-needed lunch time meal.

The rest of our afternoon was largely up to our discretion, with many of us first choosing to return to the rooms for a quick shower. Whether it be playing games before the vast hilly horizon, going to events we’d been invited to by students, or attending the village’s church service, we easily found ways to fill the day. However, at 5:00 we all gathered to spend the last hours of daylight discussing genocide, a critical component of understanding in Rwanda’s past.

After our group discussion, we headed to dinner for a moment of truth: our family assignments. Each of the fellow is assigned a family in the village to spend extra time with. We had dinner with a couple students from our respective families and then went to their homes for family time. Family time is different every night, but it is generally a space for the students to spend quality time discussing their days, their feelings, and their problems with their siblings and mama. Sometimes we play games and dance! Every fellow reflected on their family time to the group and beamed with joy describing the new friendships they made and how they are looking forward to seeing their new families in coming days.

Monday, May 27

Natalie and Uzair

We started our day at 7:30 for a group discussion about voluntourism and whether there is or should be a difference between being a “tourist’ and a “traveler.” The conversations engaged one and all, causing a lucid flow of thoughts and opinions that challenged all of our preconceived notions and beliefs.

At 10 AM we left the Village to visit Gardens for Health, an NGO that works to educate local communities about healthy eating habits. The NGO helps educate local communities about the importance of a balanced diet in the hope of fighting stunted child growth and malnutrition in Rwanda. Since most people in Rwanda are farmers, they teach people what fruits and vegetables to grow and what the best methods of cooking are in order to get the most out of their meals. They were kind enough to show us their farm and serve us a fresh lunch made from their locally grown farm ingredients. After our hearty meal, we took our first group photo and left for our next destination: The Women’s Bakery.

The Women’s Bakery is an NGO that works to train and employ local women in the art of baking. They have expanded their organization to three other locations and the flagship location in Kigali we visited makes up to 50kg of bread a day. Their goal is to empower women while simultaneously baking affordable bread for local communities.

The hour-long bus ride to ASYV was beautiful. We saw the Rwandan countryside as the sun was setting. Upon getting back to the Village, some group members went to “Gym-tonic,” a high-octane, Zumbo-style workout that pushed us to our limits. Others stayed at the guest house and relaxed, continuing conversations that we had started earlier in the day. These conversations with each other are flowing so naturally at this point in the trip and it’s definitely a sign that we’ve all gotten so much closer.

After dinner in the cafeteria, the group split up in their individual families for “Family Time” where some talked about the topic of communication and played games with their families. Upon coming back to the guest house for our nightly group debrief, we shared our routine “rose-bud-thorns” and shared lots of laughs. We all plan on calling it an early night to prepare for our 5am start tomorrow morning!

Tuesday, May 28

Max and Colin

We woke early at 4:30 in the morning, as we had a 5 and a half hour drive to our destination of the day. We grabbed a few snacks for the road and we were off! During the beginning of the drive, we witnessed a lovely sunrise, and it put those who were awake in a jovial mood. In fact, half of the bus began whistling loudly and harmonically. After a few minutes, the formerly asleep population of the bus began to stir, and they requested its ending. We soon came back and rallied together after seeing some birds fly next to the bus for a solid 10 minutes. It was a exciting surprise.

After our long drive, we arrived at the Golden Monkey Hotel for a delicious buffet lunch. One member of the group, Max, ordered some local tea, which was a appetizing and calming blend of ginger, milk, and tea. The buffet was nicely supplemented by some local hot sauce: Akabanga.

Our destination for the day was the Murambi Genocide Memorial, located in the southwestern province of Rwanda. We arrived at the compound, nestled in beautiful mountains. As a group we explored the museum, learning about the timeline of the genocide and the stories of the victims and the survivors in Murambi.

We were then greeted by our tour guide, who led us through the second portion of the memorial. We learned of the French complicit involvement in the Rwandan genocide, sheltering and aiding genocidiaires even after the fall of the old Hutu government, who planned and directed the genocide. The sickening part was learning that no French were held accountable for their many crimes against humanity.

The memorial also included remains of victims of the genocide who died in the massacre at Murambi. Most of the victims were reburied in graves at the memorial, but the survivors chose to leave some remains to be displayed in plain sight. The bodies were preserved in limestone, and laid on tables in the positions in which they were slaughtered. These remains have been preserved in order to show evidence of the genocide, fight genocide denial and ensure that such crimes will never happen again. Although the remains are disturbing to see, it is crucial to recognize that these people died undignified and untimely deaths.

An important take-away from the memorial was the lack of justice that was dealt to the organizers of the genocide, as these people had the ability to flee the country before they could be brought to justice. In the end, the youth of Rwanda were those who had to deal with the consequences of the genocide, to bear the burden of healing and rebuilding a nation.

Wednesday, May 29

Juli and Paula

Today we got the opportunity to sleep in… till 7:30! We started our morning off by meeting with ASYV’s Academic Director, Aloyse. He talked to us about the student recruitment process and the criteria the Village looks for in their potential students. He also explained the role of academics and the grading system in the Village’s school. Additionally, he helped us put into perspective how the performance of ASYV students compares to that of other students at the national level.

After a quick snack break, we walked up the hill to the Solar Field where we were presented with neon green vests and hard plastic hats to play the part of electrical engineers. In the Solar Field there is an abundance of solar panels that are directly connected to an energy distribution facility and it powers more than 15,000 homes. It was a really cool experience to learn about sustainable energy in the field itself (while also getting to see baby pineapples grow).

We trudged down the hill stopping to admire the baby goats and smell the eucalyptus leafs. We arrived back at the village to meet with Vincent, the Village Director. He emphasized how the Village fosters community and family and how these priorities encompass academics, mental and emotional health care, healing, and the relationship between community members- students, educators, administrators and the mamas. He spoke to us about his personal experience of being an orphan and how that has led him to pursue a path of empowering vulnerable youth. We felt really inspired by Vincent’s leadership and gained a better understanding of what the Village seeks to achieve.

After lunch, we met with what the students call the “cousins.” They are 10 college graduates from all over the world who are fellows in ASYV. They take on different responsibilities and leadership roles for a year. Their work ranges from media to service learning and more. An essential component of their role is to aid the student’s with developing strong English-speaking skills. They shared with us their motivations for applying for the fellowship, their favorite moments, and their biggest challenges. It was refreshing to have these conversations with fellow young people with similar passions and interests.

Free time came next which gave us the opportunity to grab some more snacks from the cantine and go hang out with the students! It’s really nice to have some down time and get to know them better one on one.

Lastly, we met the mamas! These women are between the ages of 45 and 67, and some of them have been involved with the village for more than 10 years. With the help of a student translator, we were able to get insight into what their daily routine looks like, their motivations to mother of more than 20 teenagers at a time (!!!), and their inspiring views on life.

We are excited for another early morning aka. 5 am to go on a Safari trip (not to be confused with the web browser). We are also thankful for all the meetings we had today that helped us get a more well-rounded understanding of how ASYV works.

Thursday, May 30

Sarita and Jenna

At 5am the Guest House rung with alarms. It was time to wake up and get ready for our 13-hour journey. Mikel knocked on our windows and the time seemed rush, to the point that it was only with the Jeep motors that those in Jenna’s room woke up. Choosing a van could be comparable to the Hunger Games: who would get the first van? Who would be in the last most dusty-prone one? After splitting into our respective Jeeps, we drove to the Dining Hall, where we feasted on egg chapatis—typical Rwandan breakfast. With energy and excitement, Sara’s Jeep blasted music, probably waking up the cows on the way. Meanwhile, in Jenna’s Jeep, despite the early hour and tired faces, the Trolley Cart problem seemed to haunt the jeep-members leading them to delve into the ethics of morality.

7:51am we finally reach the gate of Akagera National Park and halt for the first of many pictures—one of the only ones capturing humans. Once through the gates, we finally experienced the world renown “African Massage,” which Eddie, Sara’s tour guide, used to describe the aggressively bumpy roads of the park. Upon arriving at the Registration Center, the group finally stopped looking like Nightwalkers—thanks coffee. Afterwards, we divided into groups for more human photos: shades vs. no shades, including Pete with his stylish double lens sharp look.

By 8:30 am, we were back on the road! Now, the main challenge was to find the big five (lion, elephant, water buffalo, leopard, and rhino). The search seemed like an I-Spy déjà-vu. At first, the Jeeps seemed to jump with excitement at the first sight of antelopes. Little did we know that antelopes would be among the Park’s most common features. Sara even came to understand why Lions even chased them; there are so many! Moments after seeing the first herd of antelopes, we eager safari-goers quickly whipped out our phones and captured baboons engaging in family time, namely mothers with their babies.

So far, so good. However, we did not realize how much better the ride would get. After a brief stop for lunch, where Jenna’s Jeep tried, in vain, to convince the rest of the group that they had seen lions, we entered the vast plains depicted in Lion King. With our binoculars and our keen observational skills, we finally found a JUMBO!!! Actually, two; just sayin’. Amazed at the sight, we swallowed screams of excitement as we did not want to scare our fellow Jumbo away. Time seemed to stop, but not for our tour guides as they had a schedule to keep, “Okay, we gotta move on..” they said, we frowned, “Nooo… Okay, sure.. I guess we want to find the Simba.”

Throughout the rest of the trek, we saw towers, which are groups of giraffes, hippos, warthogs, and numerous birds we can’t name. Being as resourceful as possible, some of us used the binoculars as extensions of our phone camera lenses—we were professionals. Although we desperately tried to find lions, especially in action, we kept confusing termite towers for them. You see what you to see, they say.

Six hours after entering the park, our pristine clothes were unrecognizable as dust became our new layer of skin (and clothes). Sun-kissed and tired, we drove back to ASYV knowing that we had seen two of the big five animals and that we had found the Jumbos that got away.

Despite the long and adventurous day, we rallied for dinner and our final family times. Hugs, kisses, and loving messages flooded these final moments with the kids from our respective houses. We are ready to shower and sleep, and most probably try to avoid dreaming of being chased by lions.

Friday, May 31

Ally and Zahra

Hi everybody! It’s Zahra and Ally signing on. Today we woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to take on the day. We scurried over to the greenhouse to run Friday specials with the Enrichment Year (EY) students. Ally played twenty-one with her group and I played an interesting game called “Delicious Conversations.” We enjoyed getting to know the EY students more.

After Friday Specials, we headed to the dining hall to eat lunch with our family. We are in the Septima Clarke family together, and have been getting to know the girls there very well. Then, we headed over to a market in Rubona, the village center near ASYV. Ally bought cute baby bananas and I bought samosas (delish!). The walk back was boiling hot. But we made it back by strategically walking in the shade and pouring water on our heads.

When we made it back, some of us went to watch the championship sports games between families in the village. Others went back to the guest house to relax and play frisbee. (There are a couple fellows from the Tufts Frisbee team who are [painfully] teaching the rest of us how to throw.) Once the games ended, all of the fellows came back to the guest house to practice our performance for Village Time.

As Lili and Kaili said, we were told on the first night that we arrived that we would have to perform for the entire village at Village Time. We were all very curious as to what we would do, and spent most of the week coming up with ridiculous ideas that didn’t make much sense at all. In the end, we decided on a diverse, three act performance consisting of an opera performance by our very own member of the Tufts Opera Collective, Chloe, a step performance led by Max, and a dance performance of a dance that some of the girls in Lilli’s family taught her called the Tetema. Though it wasn’t perfect (we don’t have nearly as much rhythm as the students here), we had a great time performing an received a standing ovation from the crowd.