Meeting Rwanda, Part II

“Perhaps that is the blessing of youth: that blind, unwavering feeling of invincibility combined with the unquenchable thirst for adventure; I let it carry me towards Rwanda without hesitation.”

            Before I could go to Gakoni, however, I needed to find someone who would come with me.  It was at this time that I was introduced to Emily.  She was a few years younger than me and I felt we would really get along.  She was a little unsure of Rwanda at first, but I knew I could get her so say yes before long.  I could feel it.  

            I thought Emily could sense my passion, my unrelenting desire to go Rwanda, to work at the orphanage, and I was right. After getting together with her several times to talk about her desires, I knew she wanted to make a difference as well.  I knew that wouldn't happen in Kenya with the spoiled children of diplomats the way it could with the orphans in Rwanda, and through our conversations, she was convinced of the same. 

           Shortly thereafter, Emily forwarded me her communications with the president of REACH (Rendering Effective Aid to CHildren), which was the organization that we were planning to go to Rwanda under.  After deciding I wanted to be at the Gakoni orphanage, I was able to get in contact with Patrick, an American volunteer who was already staying there to get more details and information for our journey.  I was told I would be expected to take care of the children, teach English, translate letters for sponsors, look for sponsors, visit other orphanages, and search for ways to reconstruct the orphanage itself as it was in shambles. 

           What I didn’t realize then was that the Gakoni orphanage was and is one of the poorest orphanages in the country.  Although in its glory days it had been a shining example of the good that could be done, through the years political and religious corruption had caused the orphanage to slip into squalor and desolation.  I couldn’t have foreseen what I would face there.  But again, I’m getting ahead of myself.

            Before Rwanda, I had been to other third world countries, although they included places that were more associated with vacationing – places like Fiji, Mexico, Egypt, and the Virgin Islands.  I felt immense excitement of the prospect of living in Rwanda amongst the people.  I knew that I would miss my family and the comforts of home, but little did I know what was actually in store for me.  My biggest fear was having to face flying cockroaches! 

            Looking back, I was too naïve and young to be worried about drinking unclean water, my personal safety, or political corruption.  Perhaps that is the blessing of youth: that blind, unwavering feeling of invincibility combined with the unquenchable thirst for adventure; I let it carry me towards Rwanda without hesitation.  If I had known or truly understood the hardships that I would come to face – that I still face – although it is shameful to admit, I am not sure if I would have gone at all.

            I prepared for my trip like any North American planning to travel to Africa would: I went shopping.  I bought clothing that was appropriate for the orphanages’ dress code, including skirts and shirts with cap sleeves.  I got all the necessary immunizations and gathered all the supplies I thought I might need in Rwanda (mosquito repellent, sunscreen, tampons, toilet paper, a mosquito net, and even Monistat—as the Doxycycline we were taking for our anti-malarial medicine often causes yeast infections).  In reality, you can pack everything you think you might need for an African adventure; however, nothing quite prepares you for Rwanda…