Less than twenty years ago the world watched as Rwanda, a small, landlocked country in Eastern Africa, erupted into violence and experienced one of the most violent and deadliest genocides the world has seen. Since those darkest days in the spring of 1994, the world has also watched as Rwanda has orchestrated one of the most impressive reconstruction projects in Africa. Instead of dwelling on the past, Rwandans have seen the genocide as a window of opportunity to unite in an ambitious project to improve their country.
Through the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame, I was given the opportunity to live and work in the capital city of Kigali for two months this summer. I interned for the CWS-sponsored Young Women’s Christian Association of Rwanda, an organization formed to help the thousands of widows and vulnerable children left in the wake of the genocide.
The work that YWCA of Rwanda does is truly incredible. On my field visits to rural areas I was given the opportunity to meet many beneficiaries. Hearing their stories and the hardships that they have dealt with was a humbling experience, but seeing how CWS had helped them to improve their circumstances was encouraging. One thing I noticed about all of these people is that despite their hardships and dire circumstances, they all remained hopeful of a better future and truly believed that they could accomplish their dreams through a little assistance and determination on their part. This hope that was so evident in each of their smiles was inspiring. It made me realize that when I am stressed or worried about trivial matters, I need to step back and see the bigger picture, viewing the glass as half full instead of half empty.
Each day in Rwanda was a new adventure. I never knew what new food I was going to try, who I would meet, or what new challenge I would face. In a country so different from home and where very few people speak English, even the simplest things could turn into difficult tasks. Learning to take out our trash took almost a week to figure out. Shopping at the local market for groceries was always an interesting experience as we attempted to agree on a price by holding up our fingers to represent the amount we wanted to pay. Taking the bus was challenging because there are not bus routes or street signs, and we could never pronounce the names of the bus stations. At times these everyday challenges were extremely frustrating and I felt very alone and scared. Yet all of these challenges made my experience so much more rewarding in the end.
Known as the “Land of a Thousand Hills”, Rwanda is a beautiful and breathtaking country with many wonderful national parks. But perhaps more importantly, Rwanda is filled with some of the kindest people I have ever met. No matter where I went, somebody was always willing to try to help point me in the right direction or come shake my hand. Even though many of these people did not speak English, they were still determined to go out of their way to help me. The people of Rwanda made me realize that more than anything, it is the people you surround yourself with and the kind acts you do for others that truly contribute to one’s happiness.
The work of CWS in Rwanda is truly changing lives, and I cannot think of anybody more deserving of help than the people of Rwanda.
Meredith Lang is a student at the University of Notre Dame