Buckle up…it’s a little long 🙂
Processing Rwanda – March/April, 2023
There are times during travel when time and experience align to create opportunities for reflection. In other circumstances, travel can feel a bit like drinking water out of a firehose – the experiences, observations, and conversations relentlessly flooding the senses. The last month in Rwanda was derinitely the latter.
Committing to the most vulnerable
A few days of hiking along the Costa Brava have given time to reflect, and some themes have emerged to help me make sense of the last month.
At every turn we were awed by the jaw-dropping commitment that so many make to some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. We repeatedly saw smart, talented, indefatigable professionals of every age committing their lives to serving those for whom the lottery of birth gave little (if any) opportunity. Watching Chloe, Sam and their team at Shooting Touch educate and empower youth and women through the gift of basketball and the support of one another proved the power of sport to do good things. (“God, prayer and Shooting Touch get me through each day.”). Seeing the daily 24/7 commitment of the entire ASYV team to serving the almost unimaginable set of needs of Rwanda’s most vulnerable youth was humbling and inspiring. Spending time with Elise and Charlotte at SOLA Afghanistan (in Kigali) brought home the mountains that girls from the Afghan diaspora have to climb in order to gain the basic human rights of education and opportunity. Hearing Chaste and Norris at Bridge2Rwanda or the team at African Leadership University share how they are helping African and Rwandan youth build the skills necessary to succeed in some of the top universities in the world and “do hard things” to shape Africa’s future. Each one of these talented men and women could have chosen a different path – one with less stress, better compensation, fewer hours. Yet they have chosen a life of service.
The hope embodied in young people
For decades, young people have given me energy, optimism, and hope. The last month saw a variety of different but equally meaningful conversations with and among young people from Nobles and ASYV. As had been the case with the other seventeen groups we’ve taken to learn and serve, this Nobles group grappled with so many important questions and issues. “How can such injustice exist in the world? Especially when we have so much.” “These ASYV kids are just as smart and capable as we are – yet our opportunities could not be more different.” “What can we do to help and support now that we know?” At the same time, countless ASYV young people were eager to welcome us into their world in a way that the Nobles students felt visitors would never be welcomed back home. And the willingness of ASYV kids to ask questions like “What do you want your last words to be before you die?” showed the desire to engage in some of life’s most challenging questions.
Young people often remind me of important things, and it’s hard to be too pessimistic about the world when one spends time with kids like these.
The power of friendship and family
A special gift on this trip was to spend time with our good friend, Alex Gallagher, to make new friendships with Carly O’Hearn and LaTasha Sarpey from Nobles, and deepen relationships by spending time visiting the homes of JC Nkukiliyimfura, Eric Kabiyona and Alice Tumukunde from ASYV (along with extended time with ASYV grads Edmond and Mabubu from ASYV and GoDiscover Africa). Introducing old friends Alec & Susan Lee to Rwanda was an affirmation of shared values and commitment to use our time and resources to explore, grow, and contribute. To share all of it with Sarah, the love of my life, yet again affirmed her as the best traveling partner the world could offer (and we so miss Abby/Paul and David/Emily – we’ll get them to Rwanda sometime!).
Bryan Stevenson (the famous American civil rights lawyer/leader and author of Just Mercy) often talks about the importance of “getting proximate” to those who face particular struggles. By ‘getting proximate’ one can develop deeper understanding and greater commitment to people and problems that often seem distant and unsolvable. This month provided a series of opportunities to ‘get proximate’ that both deepened understanding and ongoing commitment on our part. Our lives at home are comfortable beyond belief, and it is far too easy to remove ourselves from the realities that so many face. If this trip accomplished anything, I hope it will be to continue our journey to do what we can to support those doing the really hard work (both in Rwanda and at home).
Some lingering questions and observations
If you’re still reading this long musing, here are a few lingering thoughts:
- What about the boys? There is SO much good work being done around gender equity and girls/women’s empowerment. But where is the work being done to make sure the boys/men understand how to be “good men” – good fathers, good life partners, fighting against gender based violence that is all too present?
- How can traumatized youth be empowered to manage and work through their trauma? The mental health needs are massive. The mental health resources are meager. What systems can be built to help?
- I love the way Rwandans introduce themselves by saying, “You’re welcome” (ie; “you are welcome in my home”) and responding to questions with, “Thank you” before they respond (ie; “thank you for caring about what I have to say”).
- Generally, I think “joy” is an overused word. Watching women celebrating a basket at Shooting Touch or students at ASYV responding to a classmate singing or dancing at Village Time reignites and refreshes that word.
“Humbled” and “grateful” are words that can also be overused. Yet the dictionary may not have other words that capture what I feel stepping away from a month in Rwanda. Humbled by the work that so many do, that makes whatever I may have done pale in comparison. Grateful not just for what we have but more importantly grateful for the opportunity to get to know, learn from, and work with such a remarkable country and community of those serving young people (and ASYV in particular).
The connections, commitments, and friendships will continue. I hope I can do them justice.
Thanks for reading,