Written by Jessica Wilkie
Well here I go. Ready and waiting at the airport. It’s been 2 years since I’ve been to Rwanda. This will be my third visit. But my first with HOPE: Global. For nearly 18 months, since starting at HOPE, I’ve been imagining what our work looks like on the ground as I’ve seen team after team go and heard their stories, written reports for the projects, spoken to and emailed our partners time and time again, looked at photos, watched videos, heard stories.
I know the work being done is having an impact. But now, I get to experience it firsthand. I get to see it, hear it and feel it.
I’ve missed Rwanda. The sights, the sounds, the smells. The simplicity of life. African Tea (!). It’s like going to a second home. My hope for this trip is to simply build and establish lifelong relationships with the people we work with. To experience HOPE: Global in Rwanda. To share vision. To listen. And whilst I already love this country, I hope that my heart bursts with a fresh love and passion for this country and its people all over again.
Sitting on the plane from Sydney to Thailand, I looked up at the map as we neared Bangkok, my first stop of the journey. I saw that we were flying near Phnom Penh and I thought, ‘we have a team of HOPE volunteers there right now’. And that thought struck me for a moment, as I realized, I’m flying over Cambodia with one HOPE team on the ground, another HOPE team are currently in Kenya, CBC team are in Rwanda and I’m on my way to Rwanda, just how global we are. For some strange reason, seeing Cambodia on that map, made all that just a little more real.
So here I am. Finally in Rwanda. And it felt like coming home. The smell is the same as I remember, the only way I can describe it is warm and dusty. The clouds keep threatening rain but it’s too warm for a jumper. My eyes are irritated by the dust. I’m back.
Our In-Country Director, Joel, picked me up from the airport and as we waited for his wife, I ordered my favourite – African Tea. Joel laughed and seemed surprised that I knew what African Tea was, until I explained that this was my third trip.
By the time all my errands were done (exchanging money, phone credit and all of that), I was ready for bed! But I held out and enjoyed dinner (at the guesthouse I’m staying at), before hitting the pillow by 8pm, tired but content under my mosquito net.
This morning, I’m sitting out on my little balcony, overlooking the guesthouse gardens and part of Kigali city, as I wait to head to the airport for our Kenya Education Team to arrive, followed by another two volunteers from Australia. I enjoyed a typical Rwandan breakfast of coffee, bananas and crepes. I spent some time chatting to one of the staff, who remembered our Education team from June/July this year (even some by name!). He shared how he was recently married, and used to be a teacher. He had started university but hadn’t been able to finish due to lack of funds. He originally came from a family of 10 children!! With his mother and father, there were 12 at home. His Dad had been a pastor since the 80s. However, in 1994 (the Rwandan genocide), he lost his mother and 6 of his siblings. Unimaginable. His father now has what I can only gather as dementia (he described that he had something wrong with his brain and that he couldn’t recognize his children anymore), and as I shared that my grandmother had had the same thing, he asked me if there was a cure.
Yet despite all this, he was a man who trusted in God and knew that God was good. He was positive and exuded that typical Rwandan hospitality.
It was yet another moment of realizing two things. The genocide has not left anyone unaffected and the loss is staggering. The impact is still very real today.
Secondly – the desire for education but the difficulty to obtain it. I love that we can come and partner with this beautiful country, and so many others across Uganda, Kenya and Cambodia. I love that we are able to restore, build and bring hope. I love that education is such a key role in what we do, it really does change lives, being able to not only access education, but quality education. I love that nothing is every ruined, but that there is always opportunity to rebuild and restore.