I live in California with my husband and best friend, two daughters (age 9 and 11), dogs and chickens. In short, I was born in South Africa to a family of entrepreneurs, worked to pay for university and have decades of experience in Finance. Our family has seen various levels of poverty during our travels. To help combat poverty we mostly made donations in the past. More recently, I’ve volunteered at our local community school and my husband joined the board for a high school in a vulnerable community. As our sense of the importance of community increased over the years, we have become more interested in contributing our time, in a meaningful way, to help vulnerable communities and at the same time teach our kids about the importance of volunteering. When V2I found my husband at work and presented the volunteer work in Rwanda, we were very interested. After a couple of weeks of research and discussion, we were off to spend one week in Rwanda to volunteer with V2I!
Our trip started with a flight being delayed by a couple of hours so when we arrived in Rwanda late at night, around 10 pm, we were a little nervous about trying to find our way to the guest house in the dark. When we stepped outside the airport, Ron from V2I was there to meet us. We were very happy to see him! He had been waiting at the airport for most of the day to welcome volunteers and to make sure that everybody arrived at the guest house.
Upon our arrival at the guest house, we did a quick check in and settled in a rustic but charming room with a bathroom that had plants growing on the walls and a very fun sign that read: “Respect your parent that grew up without Google”. All of us had a good night’s sleep.
The next morning, Sunday, our kids were introduced to a volunteer, Angela, who signed up to help keep on eye on them and she was great at making a connection with the kids. The group of volunteers went out for a lovely breakfast and afterward the kids returned to the guest house with Angela while the rest of the group visited the Genocide Memorial. In planning for the trip, I had watched many documentaries and read many articles about the genocide but the exhibits combined with being in Rwanda made what I had learned feel more real.
Upon our return, a number of volunteers took turns to play soccer with the kids, Ron did an impressive magic trick with playing cards and overall, we had a good day ending with some laughs. Everybody in the group was very friendly and we felt welcomed.
On Monday, we started with some yummy mandazi bread that the kids devoured and “the best tasting bananas ever” according to our youngest. The guest house had a wide variety of food every day and there was always something the kids were happy to have. Massive avocado was one of my favorites. The group of volunteers did a tour of Hope and Homes that included a presentation of their organization. Everybody I met at Hope and Homes were from Rwanda and were polite and welcoming. The afternoon included lunch at the community center followed by local pre-school kids welcoming us by singing some songs. The volunteer team presented classes and that evening we had a team discussion about Rwanda, the visit to the genocide museum the previous day and our first day of volunteering.
During our five days of volunteering my husband and I spend the majority of the day in class teaching or learning about the local community. The majority of the adults in the local community are English language learners so it was challenging at times to communicate with ease, even with an interpreter, but since the participants were eager to learn the work was totally worth it. We tried a bit of Kinyarwanda and were reminded how hard it is to learn a new language!
While my husband’s schedule and my schedule were full of volunteer work, the kids and Angela’s schedule included time hanging out at the guest house, a variety of fun lunches (at the guest house, a local restaurant or with the V2I volunteers) and spending some time at the community center. The kids met and interacted with local kids by playing soccer, playing tag, drawing pictures and they even got to attend a preschool class. The kids and Angela enjoyed a flexible schedule and having the opportunity to return to the guest house to relax when they were done for the day. I really appreciated having the opportunity to focus on volunteer work without having to worry about the kids.
Evenings included good food, conversations about our thoughts pertaining to the experience and related topics, and family-friendly games. Many fun memories were made like when our youngest dared Ron from V2I to eat a fish eye. Ron ate, chewed and swallowed the fish eye with a smile – eek!
Before we knew it, the week had come to an end and it was time for goodbyes. Our family enjoyed our time in Rwanda and we kept referring back to our experience for weeks to follow.
I’m so thankful that we had the opportunity to volunteer in Rwanda as a family. Our kids watched V2I volunteers, including teenagers and adults from various parts of “their” world, give their time and share their knowledge in a meaningful way to the vulnerable community in Rwanda. I’ve noticed that our kids have been humbled by the experience and are more thankful for what they have.
My perspective of poverty has broadened and I found a quote from Mother Theresa that touches on how I feel: