As we approach the end of our time here, I’ve begun to reflect on what we’ve experienced in Rwanda. Over the past two months, we’ve faced challenges and frustrations. We’ve discovered some of our favorite restaurants and gone on amazing hikes. We’ve dealt with geckos and bed bugs. We’ve tried to learn the local language and we’ve gotten to know our way around the local community. Most importantly, we’ve met some incredible people. If there was one aspect of my experience here that I would consider to be the most significant, it would be the close relationships that we’ve formed with the KU staff (the NGO that we are working with is called Kuzamura Ubuzima, or Growing Health). From our very first day, the staff made us feel welcome and comfortable in the office. Because we work closely with 4 main staff members and there are only 7 of us students, we’ve been lucky enough to spend lots of quality time together. We’ve gotten to know them each individually and we look forward to hanging out with them every day.
A few weeks ago, we learned that Alex, one of the KU agriculture and wellness trainers, loves to sing in his free time and is a member of a local singing group. We had been hoping to go to one of his performances while we were here, and we finally got the opportunity to hear him this past Friday night. Every Friday, the church up the street from our guest house holds services. We can often hear the music from our rooms, but we’ve never thought to attend because many of us are not particularly religious. On Friday morning, Alex informed us that his choir would be performing at the church later that night. We eagerly agreed to stop by on our way to dinner to catch his performance.
When we arrived at the church later that night, we found ourselves feeling a bit lost. For starters, we didn’t exactly know how to enter the building. We walked up the stairs on one side of the church, looking for an entrance and trying to make as little of a scene as possible because the service had started by the time we’d arrived. We finally found a door to the upper level and took our seats. The inside of the church was massive with two levels of pews, a large wooden stage, and very high ceilings. Around 30 or 40 people were already gathered below us.
Looking around, we definitely felt a bit out of place at first. The service was entirely in Kinyarwandan and while we had been taking language lessons for a few weeks, the preacher spoke quickly, and we could barely make out a single word. We saw no sign of Alex at first and I grew worried that we were intruding on the service or that we had gone to the wrong church. I didn’t practice this particular religion and I didn’t know if it was alright for us to be there.
A few minutes after we took our seats, Alex and another member of the choir came all the way up to the second floor to greet us and they eagerly shook our hands. They told us that we were welcome and that they were excited to have us there. Immediately, I felt more at ease. After the preacher finished his speech, Alex and his group took the stage and began to sing. The singers were very talented and the songs that they sang sounded beautiful. Despite my initial misgivings, I was very glad that we attended the performance. I felt honored to be invited to such a personal and special occasion.
After they finished, Alex and his group member walked us out and thanked us for coming. We thanked them for the experience and for being so welcoming. Throughout our time in Rwanda, I have continually been touched by how kind people have been towards us. I did not expect to feel so welcome and accepted nearly everywhere we go. In particular, the KU staff have gone above and beyond to make us feel at home here and I’m very grateful to be a part of such a welcoming program. Given our positive experiences, I definitely recommend that future students make an effort to get to know the staff and other community members and to take advantage of all of the opportunities here to engage with the local community, even if it may feel uncomfortable at first.
Our view as we walk home from work.