Saturday, July 13th was a day filled with Rwandan culture, food, theater, and music. It was an eventful day. I am sorry you could not join us, but I will try to fill you in.
The day began with Level 4 KIE students and the CUNY MA class taking a long bus ride on which the lively KIE students entertained us for the entire journey with their singing . We were headed to the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village for a performance by the KIE students. Agahozo Shalom- meaning drying a tear and peace- is both a school and an orphanage. It is a beautiful place filled with love, support, community, and artistic enrichment. The natural beauty helps to sustain the village because they have their own farm and livestock. The enrichment programs include a technology department where they are turning a bike into a generator, an amphitheater, recording studio, and much more. The gorgeous scenery and the environment they have created makes it a wonderful place for vulnerable children. We were guided by a talented future fashion designer who proudly showed us the glasses, watch, and shoes she had designed herself. Our gracious hosts treated us to a delicious lunch at their cafeteria. I was longing for the traditional Rwandan cuisine we have only once experienced at a local “buffet”.
After lunch, the students from KIE presented an original play that was amazing and thoughtful. The show was in multiple languages and incorporated different theatrical forms; including pantomime, narration, music, and multiple actors alternating between the lead roles. The story followed a young couple who are facing the tribulations of an accidental pregnancy: to paraphrase a quote from Innocent, one of the students, the thought-provoking message highlights a problem that happens in Rwandan society every day. After the play the students of the youth village- who are all over the age of 15- asked some insightful questions on the subject matter.
Next up were the students from CUNY who performed a quick forum piece on sexual harassment in the workplace. The audience was captivated by the high stakes in the drama. The most interesting moment was when my professor asked if the audience (which was filled with faculty and students from KIE, and Agahozo) were speaking English because we were from America. The audience politely giggled and said, ‘yes.‘ To which he replied, ‘we feel very priviledged’. The young lady next to me told me classes at Agahozo are in English, Kinyarwandan, and include one hour of French. They accommodated us by speaking in their second language. In a room full of teenagers who can converse in at least two languages and are taught in three I was humbled by how effective a good language arts program can be. Education in the US does not expect us to be fluent in another language; which has put us in a position where we are grateful for multilingual young people who can communicate globally.
After leaving our gracious hosts at the school, we visited a genocide memorial in a small village close by. The memorial was built by survivors of the genocide that still live in the area. Two of the survivors told us their tale of resilience and fortitude as they survived the massacre, then returned to rebuild their village – and the memorial to the fallen. After revealing their harrowing stories they asked for comments from the representatives of CUNY and KIE. Even though I did not have to speak, I panicked because I had no idea what would be the appropriate thing to say at that time. I had no idea what they would like to hear. I doubt this request is made of all visitors. My professor did a great job of giving an impromptu speech to honor their courage and determination to build a new Rwanda, whilst never forgetting the painful past. It was touching and suitable for the occasion.