by Sean Cousins
Our group was feeling tired but excited as we touched down at Kigali International Airport. Though it was 2 a.m. by the time we got our bags, Professor Firmard Sabimana and Eric Niyikiza, both from the College of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Rwanda, were there waiting outside to welcome us. We arrived at Centre St. Paul just after 3 a.m., and were again met with open arms as the nuns had prepared a hot meal for us.
The warm welcome continued on Thursday as we met with the directors of our three partner NGO’s – Caritas Kigali, Centre Marembo, and Les Enfants de Dieu (EDD). All three organizations work to rehabilitate children found living on the streets in Kigali.
At Caritas, we were met by Josianne Mushashi, the organization’s director. She told us about their organization and the work that they do to rehabilitate and reintegrate the children back into their families. The children at Caritas were out in the yard singing and dancing. We stayed to play with them for a while, feeling increasingly insecure about our own dancing abilities. We then piled back into the van to head to Centre Marembo.
Once at Marembo, our team was greeted by Nicolette Nsabimana, the director and founder of the Centre, as well as her incredible team of staff. They told us about the work that Marembo does to rehabilitate and reintegrate girl’s who have formerly been living on the streets and who have often been the victims of domestic and sexual violence. We were also invited to attend Marembo’s second annual Advocacy Day, an event which focuses on creating a dialogue about children’s rights amongst Rwandan society.
Finally, we headed down the road to EDD, an all-boys rehabilitation centre. At EDD, children who were once living on the streets are provided with food, education, and a place where they can just be kids. Charles Hazabintwali, the director of EDD, gave us a tour of the centre. Our group visited the classrooms, where many children mistook Max for Jonah, who volunteered at the centre last year.
On Friday, we met with Dr. Jeanne Kagwiza, the Principal of the College of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Rwanda. She was very excited to meet our group and hear about our first impressions of Rwanda. We also discussed what we wish to accomplish during our stay here.
That evening we welcomed Professor Julia Emberley and Professor Nandi Bhatia to Centre St. Paul. They joined us for the next 10 days to see the work that we are doing and to explore Kigali. Though perhaps a little jet lagged, they were excited to join us – and we did our best to welcome them in the same way that our Rwandan hosts had welcomed us.
On our first Saturday, we visited both the UN Belgian Soldiers Monument and the National Genocide Museum. It was a day for us to reflect on the tragedy that occurred in this country in 1994, as well as to reflect on the extraordinary recovery that has taken place in the 21 years since.
On Sunday, our team took a road trip to Butare to visit the Rwandan Historical Museum. We got to experience the beautiful Rwandan countryside and learn about Rwanda’s history and culture. On our way home, those that weren’t sound asleep after a long day witnessed a breathtaking sunset – the perfect way to end our first week in Rwanda.
The following Monday, we started our first week of work. We each arrived at our respective placements with our own fears and apprehensions, unsure of what the next month would bring. But by Friday, none of us could stop talking about the children and staff that we had met.
On Friday, our group was fortunate to be able to attend Centre Marembo’s Annual Advocacy Day. Many local NGO’s, high school students, and government officials gathered together to discuss why children are being forced to live on the streets, and how the country can collectively work to prevent that from happening. The event was incredibly eye opening, and both the students and the professors gained incredible insight about the fight to promote children’s rights in Rwanda.
This past weekend, our team took time to prepare our lessons for the following week and reflect on what we have learned so far through our placements. We’re looking forward to our second week of placements and our trip next weekend to Lake Kivu.