Day 1: Mzungu, Mzungu!

Despite a sleepless night, we woke up in Kigali excited for our first day in Rwanda!  We headed to Rwinkwavu, (about two hours outside of Kigali) for the next two days.

Poolside breakfast before we left the hotel

Mzungu, Mzungu

Our first stop was I.P.M, where nine of the Komera scholars attend secondary school.  The girls were thrilled to see Margaret and meet everyone in our group.  Each scholar paired up with one of us to give us a tour and tell us more about themselves.  The girls were just lovely, so sweet and polite.  One thing that was immediately clear is how much they all value their education.  Each of the girls have goals for their future and they know that studying hard and finishing school is the first step in achieving those goals.

Here are a few pictures from our visit with the girls at IPM

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Soon we were back in the car and headed to tour the Partners in Health facilities.  One of the best parts of our trip was the drive to and from school visits.  We had a fabulous driver, Bosco, for the whole week and throughout the trip he educated us about his country.  We are so grateful for his stories and knowledge, which truly helped understand Rwanda.  Here are a few pictures of the sites we saw driving to Rwinkwavu.

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The Partners in Health hospital and training center was truly amazing.   In addition to providing safe health care for nearby residents (including a maternity wing, mental health services, HIV care for children and adults, as well as internal medicine) PIH, with the help of the Rwandan government, has virtually stopped the spread of HIV in Rwanda.  While there is still a lot of work to be done, thanks to this effective relationship Rwanda is one step closer to full eradication of the disease!

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PIH’s training facility provided us with beautiful views of Rwinkwavu

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Monday afternoon we did two home visits to meet the families of two Komera scholars.  One thing we quickly noticed as we drove through residential areas was the cheer of “MZUNGUSSSSSSSSS” that we heard as crowds of small children ran towards our cars.  Mzungu is Swahili for “white person,” and Bosco quickly assured us that the term is not derogatory, but coming from true excitement of the children!  As we drove through neighborhoods of mud houses we began to delight in the smiling faces and sweet voices that would run towards us waving and yelling “MZUNGUS” (Jess and I loved this and have had trouble getting used to our coworkers lack of excitement and waving)!  One of the greatest parts about Rwanda was the true happiness we saw in the faces of the people we met.  It was without a doubt, contagious!

The two home visits still stand out in my mind as one of the best parts of the trip (and trust me, there is a lot more amazingness to come)!  As rational people we all know the importance of education, but to see the affect the girl’s education is having on their families was remarkable.  Additionally, the gratitude the families conveyed was heart stopping.  On both visits there were few dry eyes as we heard stories through our gracious translator, Evelyn.  Cleamy’s lack of education had weighed on her mother for a long time as she yearned to give her daughter the opportunity she deserved.  Once Cleamy started secondary school her mother felt empowered and was able to receive a small loan to buy goats and start a small business.  Now, not only does she have goats, but she bought a another small house which she rents and bought a cow!  Her daughter’s education has changed the lives of her entire family!

We drew quite the crowd during our two home visits!

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After a wonderful and fulfilling day we checked into Ruzizi in Akagera National Park, just after dark.  We were staying in wonderful tent rooms right on the lake where we could hear sounds of neighboring hippos and other animals which remained unidentified!  We had a delicious group dinner and then Jess and I spent the rest of the night exchanging shocked glances every time an animal (one of our neighbors) made a noise!