Networking, Gisenyi, Maranyundo Girls School, Genocide Memorials, & More

This past weekend and the next two days are about enjoying, learning, and finishing up our stay in Rwanda. Friday night we volunteered to assess Kepler and Akilah students in their networking skills at a mock event. It was held at “The Office,” a cool rooftop venue where Kilgali unrolled beneath the five story building:

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Saturday morning at 7:00 am, Narcisse, another driver who has become a friend, picked us up drove us three hours to Gisneyi on Lake Kivu. We lived in luxury for thirty hours (read: hot showers and copious amounts of fresh fruit). Here are some images of this lovely lake from which we could see volcanoes and Congo:

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We returned with Narcisse to Kilgali on Sunday evening in time to enjoy a delicious meal with Kaitlin and Morgan, the two kind, bright young women we are sharing the Kepler staff house with. Here’s the outside of the house (I need to get some photographs of Kaitlin and Morgan!):

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This morning we drove forty minutes out of Kilgali to Nyamata to visit the Maranyundo Girls’ School, a spacious, growing boarding campus. As we sat in Sister Juvenal’s office, I was looking through photographs in a book, and there was Kate Harrington, a wonderful student of mine and now friend, the daughter of colleagues. I knew she had worked in Rwanda at a girls’ boarding school but never imagined visiting that particular school. Very small world. These young girls are testing at the top of all students in Rwanda; they are doing so many things well here. Some images from the school:

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Sister Juneval and I:

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On the way back to the city to meet someone from the NGO, Shooting Touch, a possible partner with Nobles via girls’ basketball, we stopped at two Genocide Memorials in two different Catholic churches. These are tough places to go. And they are important places to visit. Like the organization, Facing History, in Brookline, MA, Rwanda believes in the need to face the brutality and savagery of the past so that this horror is never repeated. The churches remain exactly as they were found after the genocide, crumbled where grenades blew up, blood stained, and filled with clothing, bones, and skulls of the murdered. Both places were also mass grave sites, ten thousand in the first and five thousand in the second. Ben, after teaching a course on genocide for several years, has a stronger ability to witness this kind of atrocity. I had to leave the inside of the church and stand outside to breathe in fresh air. Primary schools were near both sites, and I saw kids walking by, arm in arm and singing. When they saw me, they waved and smiled. As usual, kids heal me (my own and others). They pull me into some better present. At the second memorial there was an eternal flame – a constant flicker of hope. We are leaving Rwanda tomorrow evening with so many memories of people who are healing this country.

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The eternal flame of hope:

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And some sweet, friendly kids:

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Kepler, Kilgali, and Mountain Gorillas

We’re in Kilgali, staying in the staff house for Kepler volunteers and some teachers. It’s a cool house/compound filled right now with three energetic, creative twenty-somethings. We feel a bit old to be here with the young idealists, but we like it a lot. Before we walked to Kepler to meet Chrystina Russell, the chief academic officer this morning, I enjoyed a cup of Rwandan tea on the veranda looking out on several of  the “thousand hills” Rwanda is known for.

During our first day here we were immersed in meetings and class observations. Engaged in the professional development, we had the opportunity to connect with teachers. Everyone is deeply involved and committed (a la Agahozo-Shalom).

Near the end of a busy day, my focus wandered a bit, pulling me back to the crazy, amazing adventure in the jungle/forests on the steep slopes of the Volcanoes National Park – our unparalleled events of yesterday trekking with mountain gorillas. It is almost unfathomable right now on a buzy street in Kilgali to think of being three feet from the enormity of the alpha male gorilla (a silver back) of the Amahoro (which means peace in Kinyarwanda) family as he crunched on bamboo stalks. From the formidable massiveness of the adult males to the silliness of the summersalting, chest-beating babies, I was mesmerized. It felt like being transported to a different world: the dramatic topography, the utter beauty and peacefulness of the gorillas, and the challenging trekking through deep mud or across vine entangled precarious mountain sides. We were incredibly lucky to be so close to these stunning animals – at least 15 of the family of 19. There is no way I could have climbed, slipped, and fallen the way I did before my knee replacement three months ago. I am so grateful to Dr. Freiberg, Dr. Asnis, and the whole MGH team. Speaking of appreciation, we are thankful to Dr. Mike Cranfield for allowing us to stay at the Gorilla Doctors compound and spending a wonderful evening with us, for Mugabe, our driver and friend (see photograph below), Jerome, our fine guide, David, our porter, and the trackers who found the Amahoro gorilla family (one of ten families in the park).

How lucky we continue to be!

Here are some of these amazing gorillas:

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And the land around:

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Mugabe and his family:

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And now in Kilgali at Kepler:

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Tony Blair and another full day…

Today was eventful for Agahozo-Shalom; Tony Blair visited the village! It was impressive. The students were articulate, humble, and knowledgeable in showing him some key parts of the village experience: agriculture, science, computer technology, and art. Tony Blair was engaged, asking good questions, speaking with ease and sincerity, and even taking a photograph of the representative group of students with his phone (see below). It was also fun to see the entourage: six huge SUVs kicking up red dust, ten guys with ear pieces surrounding all of us, and assorted other people (think Veep). We also got to shake his hand 🙂
Before and after his visit, Ben and I continued our conversations, meetings, and class visits to be helpful in any way we can in the community’s desire to implement efficacious tools for monitoring and assessment. We have been so moved by the positive energy expressed by all we have met in their shared desire to heal and move forward, making the world a better place. We are truly inspired.

Tony Blair taking a photograph:

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The group with Tony Blair and JC, the director:

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The village:

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Some of the village ‘mothers’ showing the beautiful things they create with the students:

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Soaked beans drying for our dinner tonight:

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Tikkun HaLev and Tikkun Olam

I love powerful guiding principles, hubs that anchor a community. The Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village has two: Tikkun HaLev and Tikkun Olam, Hebrew words that mean repairing the heart and repairing the world.
These principles form the work of the village. First you repair the heart; only then can you reach out and repair the world. Today Ben and I joined Senior Fours (equivalent to the sophomore class) on their weekly Tikkun Olam – repairing the world. We (128 students, several staff, and Ben & I) walked to a nearby village to meet the families whose houses the students will be constructing or improving. I had the pleasure of walking the whole way with Dina and Lionel, who helped me understand so much about their lives in Agahozo-Shalom.

Dina & Lionel:

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Two groups in front of the houses they will repair with the owners:

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Some Agahozo-Shalom kids in the nearby village:

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In Rwanda: immersion in the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village

We’re finally here in the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, feeling so lucky to be visiting and learning from this amazing enterprise, inspired by a charismatic woman, Anne Heyman. After hearing about the hundreds of thousands of children orphaned by the Rwanda genocide, Anne Heyman imagined and created the kind of youth village in Rwanda that healed innumerable Jewish children in Israel after the Holocaust.
We are so impressed by the leadership, staff, and students. The 144 acres are stunning – lovely vistas and homes for the children. Anne Heyman’s vision was executed so quickly and beautifully. Tragically, she was killed in a horseback riding accident last year, but her legacy lives on in this powerful place of healing.
Here are some images from the village:

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