Community Service in Rwanda

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Jan 5, 2010 | HUYE, RWANDA — We drive to our first community service project. Children and adults watch our huge caravan of vehicles along the way. Kids wave to us and yell Muzungu –  a term that has come to mean “white person” but is exclaimed affectionately by these children.

We arrive at the village in the Huye district and quickly greeted by a group of curious children. They are cautiously interested in us and our cameras. The children are dressed in clothes worn with many uses and dirt marks their bodies and faces. It is evident that they don’t have many visitors – at least not these types of visitors.

The children, Patty, and I exchange the universally known "bump".

Our goal for the day is to help clear some land with hoes, in order to make flat ground, upon which homes can be built. It’s quite the sight; to see large groups of native people working together with these outsiders. Clearly our group doesn’t really know how to do this sort of work, but the act alone speaks levels. Solidarity.

I must admit that I film while others do the work. I would like nothing more than to work alongside these people, but I think it’s important to share this place and these events with the world. The people here really seem to get a kick out of us. At one point I flip the camera LCD screen so that people can see themselves. The people are amazed by their own reflection and quickly this attracts more and more people to my camera. Mostly women, all laughing at their image; one that they probably don’t see very often. Certainly they are not as used to their reflections as we are of our own.

These women are so beautiful. Their faces filled with life. Many work while they take care of their babies; some even work with babies strapped to their back. Imagine such a sight in the U.S.?! This is a truly foreign level of work.

I go back to the children and am touched by one in particular, who is probably about 13 years old. He follows me around and we talk for a bit. He asks me what my white ONE bracelet is and I try to explain that it represents a campaign to end poverty and to help people around the world. He asks me for the bracelet and I eagerly give it to him. He is so happy with his new gift, and I feel so fortunate to share this moment with him. For the rest of the day, my friend follows me around. In his beautiful language, he tells me that he is filled with love for me. And I try to tell him that I love him too.

I suppose words cannot accurately capture my relationship with this boy. It was touching, yet painful at the same time. Natural, but somehow awkward. He is a friend – a little brother – who I will never forget.



Author: John Abdulla

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  1. John,

    You have captured this morning poignantly.

    I was totally captured by the beautiful young girl, whom I would guess would be about 12. I hope that her schooling is good enough. She was so observant and kind to the younger children.

    I was struck by how much they all like school; how excited they were to tell us about the subjects they studied: English, French, Math, History ad Social Studies. I was aware of how surprised I was by our similarities ~ revealing to me my own poorly formed assumptions about Africa and poverty. We were caught in this dilemma ~ we can’t ever romanticize poverty, but at the same time, we cannot reduce others to their social or economic status. During our trips to the countryside, we heard both type of comments; both types made us uncomfortable…

    I recall the thoughts I had at the very moment this picture was taken as I studied the baby on the back of a young girl. The baby did not look well. I wondered who her mother and father were ~ and noted that only girls carried babies on their backs ~ I wondered about health care for these children.

    Here is a great organization formed by physicians in Rwanda who are “on the ground” ~ // Let’s extend our hands across the ocean to the health of these children.

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