Video: Tembea

Now that we are back, we can upload videos! Here is a video of the Ombogo girls singing one of our favorite songs with some of the Western students.

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Alex: “Not all those who wander are lost”

Not all those who wander are lost –J.R.R. Tolken

“How was Africa?!”

-How was North America…?

“What did you do?!”

-What did you have to eat yesterday morning…?

“Did you see a lion?!”

-Did you see a moose…?

How do you explain a life-changing trip like this into a short, exciting, and concise narrative that the recipient is looking for and wants to hear? How do you make someone feel for what you have felt? Or at least have them get a basic understanding of what you have seen, learned, and experienced?

When I return home, I know I will get these big, vague questions about my trip; but how do you respond but in the form of a big, vague answer?

I never used to understand why people could not tell me about their travels. I was genuinely interested and wanted to, on some deeper level, to feel what they felt without recognizing that I could not. And I feel that that is how many people will act when I get home.

Where do you even start? Do you tell them what they want to hear? Do I discuss the easier topics with those who are curious about my adventures? Or do I potentially risk changing the dynamics with people I am close with back at home by bringing up subjects that could possibly be uncomfortable?

How do I not reinforce stereotypes? Maybe by not mentioning working at an orphanage on a beautiful mountain side during our last week in Rwanda, or my friends being caned, or my ABBA buddy who is HIV positive. But is that me just suppressing real issues because I am afraid my trip will be misinterpreted?

The majority of this trip was full of laughs and singing and stories. And it was 110% about relationships. I have gotten used to big bugs, and the orchestra of crickets at night. I have become comfortable with perpetually dirty feet and unwashed clothes. I have not for one second taken for granted the fresh fruit we eat at every single meal.

I want to go home and reiterate the fact that I was not in “Africa,” but that I was in Kochia, Kenya, and traveled around Rwanda; that those are just two small countries on one large continent. People, including myself before I came here, tend to over generalize a place. Traveling from Kenya to Rwanda has so greatly disproved this thought; I could not even begin to compare the two.

When I think of Africa now, I do not think of AFRICA. I think of Dama. I think of the Ombogo girls’ bus driving over pot-hole roads for miles. I think of Emmanuel and Sylvia. I think of live Kenyan music at the local bar and of the girls singing at Sabbath. I think of how the people show so much ease at being themselves. I think of Rwanda’s hills, getting sick from too much pineapple, and Victor’s speeches.

I will speak in stories; not in material possessions for the mind to chew on. I want to go home and share things I have learned about politics, about life, about love.

This trip is too big not to have an impact on the rest of my life, and I do not want it to ever go to waste. I am going to go home and instead of searching for stories to tell, I am going to let the stories find me. I am going to focus on living in the moment and put what I have learned to use. I might not be able to explain my trip very well, but I know that others will see a change in me, and from there they might gain insight and an understanding of why a trip like this has such an impact on someone’s life story; and why you cannot just explain it in a few simple words. My whole being will be different and people will be able to see that we are all the world. That I am Kenya as much as I am an American as much as I am a Bellingham-ite as a musician, an artist, a friend, a daughter. And my hope is that they will be able to realize that of themselves, too.

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Marisa: Heading home

Hello again. Today we are on our long journey home. We have all had a life-changing experience throughout these past couple months.

We spent Tuesday through Friday at L’Esperance orphanage in Kigarama. To get there, we took a 3-hour boat ride departing from Kibuye through the waters of Lake Kivu, an area beautiful beyond belief. When we arrived at our destination, we were welcomed by staff and children of L’Esperance who hiked with us up a very steep hill to the top, where the orphanage is located.

Our last days in Rwanda were a mix of service, reflection, and academic discussion. Prior to our visit, Tim had discussed with Victor (the director of the orphanage) about what work we could do together. Victor was very enthusiastic about having us help plaster and then paint murals on a large chicken coop. The chicken coop will serve as a means to generate income for L’Esperance, and we hope that our contribution will make it attractive to future donors of the project. In this particular orphanage, Victor likes to have visitors paint murals when they come, and it is hard to find a building that has not been painted in a bright and cheerful way.

We also had class discussions on the various forms of development projects we’ve learned about from people in Kenya and Rwanda , discussions on preparing how to come home, and several relaxing activities that included hikes through the hills, swimming in the lake, roasting marshmellows by the campfire, visiting the local hospital, and socializing with the children and young adults at the orphanage.

Students found L’Esperance to be a very special place and a treat to spend our final days at before heading home. Victor was so hospitable in sharing his home at the guest house with us, encouraging us to make our short time at L’Esperance our own. We also appreciated the words of wisdom he would share with us based off of his own life experience. His advice? “I invite you to live the most fascinating life that you can imagine.” I think we all can agree that our lives have been changed forever because of this program.

This program is unique in that it is built on long-term relationships between WWU and our community partners in ways that both sides benefit from the knowledge we share with one another. Nicole wrote a nice reflection on the meaning of service-learning that I’d like to share here:

What is service-learning? Before this trip, I could not give good descriptions of what I would be doing, because I did not know… I’ve come to realize that service-learning is not a finished product, or even a task, but a process—you get to know the people, and after building rapport, you get to know their problems and what they believe are good solutions. Both sides will only feel empowered if it meshes the knowledge and background of the helper, or perhaps facilitator, with the culture, values, and knowledge of the recipient, so they both see the value of what is being done. That said, the underlying relationship is the most valuable part of all. –Nicole

Anyways, we are now at the Dubai airport about to fly to Seattle. Many thanks to those who followed the blog while we were away! I am personally very excited to talk about all that we’ve learned and experienced with my friends and family when we get back. See you all soon!

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Marisa: Our time in Gashora

This post was originally written on Tuesday, February 26:

Hi all. We have been in Rwanda for over a week now and enjoyed the 6 days we spent in Gashora. On Sunday we went to Kigali for a couple nights before heading to Kibuye. We visited many places within Gashora, including the local health center, the Covaga Women’s Cooperative, and Gashora Girl’s Academy of Science and Technology. More details on what we did in Gashora below:


The first group we visited when we arrived in Gashora on Monday was the Covaga Women’s Cooperative. We had a wonderful time with women at Covaga, interacting with them and seeing how they make beautiful baskets, which they sell to generate income. Many of the baskets are made out of the hyacinth plant, which grows in the lake but mats and kills oxygen in the water, causing many fish to die. Covaga cleverly turns an environmental burden into an economic opportunity by extracting the hyacinth to use for making baskets that they sell to generate income. Every student probably spent way more money than they intended to before we arrived here, but it was worth it! Some of the women were generous enough to give some of the students a basket as a gift. Aside from our interactions within the Covaga center, it was also fun to run into some familiar faces spontaneously as we walked from place to place down the streets of Gashora.


We also visited the local health center, including its outdoor kitchen gardens that BBR (Building Bridges with Rwanda) has been collaborating with them on. After our guide and BBR founder, Lama, gave us a brief history of Rwanda and BBR on Wednesday morning, we spent the rest of the day working together to build two kitchen gardens in Gashora. Steve, Rogers (two BBR interns whom we have spent much time with) and Lama have been excellent resources for us in helping us learn about the history of Rwanda and Rwanda’s development today.


On Thursday we began the day by taking a ride in a motor boat in search of hippos and crocodiles on the lake (unfortunately no luck, but some students did spot one on Friday!). This was also the day that Western faculty member Steve VanderStaay arrived. Steve accompanied the group of Western students in Rwanda during the summer, and we are happy to have him here!


We also had two opportunities for some one-on-one English language tutoring with the hospital workers at the health center. Rwanda has very recently made the transition from French to English in schools. Many people were very eager to learn, and told us they appreciate opportunities to practice what they know with us while we are there. Day one of tutoring was general, while day two focused specifically on health-related terms.


On Friday, we visited the Gashora Girl’s Academy, which is a science and technology school for high school girls. The campus was beautiful, and we enjoyed conversing with some of the girls and sitting in on classes.  Some of us returned to the school later in the day to spend more time with the girls, while others attended a local basketball game.


On Saturday we hiked through the Gashora hills to participate in Umuganda, Rwanda’s national community service day. At the end of each month, community members meet at a specific cite to participate in a project, and then have a discussion about it afterwards. During this particular Umuganda, we plowed and planted maize. It was incredible to see the number of people present at this event and the large scope of land everyone was able to work on in a short period of time.

Throughout our time in Rwanda, we have visited three genocide memorials. The first one we visited was in Gashora and the second was in Nyamata on our way back to Kigali. The third was the Kigali Memorial Center in which we visited the museum there. These have been intense learning experiences for all of us, but it is also amazing to see how much progress the country has made since the genocide. Rwanda is currently the fastest developing country in Africa and among the safest. Today I write from L’Esperance, the orphanage we will be staying at for the next 5 days. We traveled by boat on the beautiful Lake Kivu to reach this location. Our host Victor is very kind and has a lot of ideas for things that we can do here.  I write from the top of a hill where L’Esperance is located, and all of us are sitting in awe of the breathtaking the view of the hills. Some are sleeping in tents, while others have rooms in the cozy guest house. We are so excited for the remainder of this trip.

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Final pictures from Kochia

Here are a few more pictures from the group’s time in Kochia. This picture is of the new computer lab at Ombogo:Image

Alex’s cohort group:Image

WWU students at Abba Integrated School of Excellence:Image


Another picture taken by one of the children of Kochia:Image

Rachel playing jump rope:Image

-Alex Allyne

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Marisa: Recap on the final week in Kochia

Hello again! We have been enjoying our time in Gashora and the people we have met along the way. The scenery is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before- so lush, green, and diverse. But before I talk more about Gashora, I thought I’d give you all a recap on our last week in Kochia. It was a week leading up to many goodbyes, but during our reflection meeting in which the writing prompt was ‘find joy and write about it,’ we were not surprised to find that joy was everywhere we turned.

Hon. Engineer Okundi’s Thank You party– On February 13, our kind and generous host held an outdoor ceremony at his home to thank 200+ invitees who voted for him and helped work on his campaign. Preparation for this feast began the night before, in which both men and women began the process of preparing an entire cow among other things. In the morning, a few of us joined the women of Kobiero Women’s Catering Services to prepare food in the backyard, where we rolled and cooked chapati, a kind of flat bread. I loved conversing with these lovely women as they taught us how to prepare our favorite Kenyan food. At the party, Eng. Okundi and other guests gave speeches, which included a friendly shout-out to us WWU students.

Abba goodbye party- February 15 was full of dancing! Following a morning goodbye assembly, we joined Abba staff and students for an evening goodbye party in celebration of our time spent together. We had a wonderful time dancing with the children and staff before and after Sylvia, Emmanuel, Liz, Susanna, and some teachers gave their goodbye speeches. But the dancing didn’t stop there! Abba presented each of us with a beautiful piece of fabric as goodbye presents, but we had to dance one-by-one to the person presenting us with our gift in order to receive it! It was one of the most fun and entertaining goodbye parties I’ve ever been to.

Personally, I spent much of the week conversing with teachers in and out of the teacher’s lounge at Abba. I also enjoyed sitting in on some of their classes. I have had so many long conversations on so many interesting topics spanning from gender, religion, colonialism, education, etc. with my new friends after school. Our relationship with Abba has really grown since I was here in 2010, and it is exciting to see how integrated into our program Abba has become over the years. All of us are so thankful for the activities we’ve shared with those at Abba and all that we’ve learned from each other.

Ombogo sleepover- Some of the Western students decided to spend the night in the Ombogo dorms on Friday evening! We had a blast chatting and being silly with the girls who kindly shared their beds with us.

Ombogo Goodbye Assembly– The Ombogo girls performed some beautiful songs and dances for us as we participated in the goodbye assembly at Ombogo on the day before our departure to Kigali. Both Ombogo and Abba staff attended and spoke at the assembly. We gave each Ombogo student a bracelet that says “We walk together” in WWU colors. Ombogo also gave us bracelets with the word ‘Kenya’ on them, in the colors of the Kenyan flag. Afterwards, it was time to say our personal goodbyes to the girls. This was a very emotional time for everyone, but we exchanged contact information with many so that we can continue to communicate. These girls have inspired all of us with their endless compassion and love, and we will miss them dearly.

Final goodbyes at Eng. Okundi’s– The kind staff members at Eng. Okundi’s served us our last breakfast (which included the best popcorn in the world) before it was time to say goodbye to everyone at the house. These ladies fed us so well and made us feel so welcome throughout our stay. We also received t-shirts and hats from Eng. Okundi’s campaign before he wished us well for a safe journey. We owe so many thanks to Mama and Baba Okundi for their generosity in allowing us to stay in their home for so long. It is difficult to put into words what it means to leave this community, as it was incredibly hard to say goodbye to people that we had built such deep relationships with for the past five weeks. In any case, Rwanda has been great. We leave Gashora on Sunday for our next destination. More soon.

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Arrived in Gashora

Hello everyone! We arrived safely in Rwanda yesterday, spent the night in Kigali, and are now spending our first night in Gashora! Today we met our guides Lama, Rogers, and Steve who will serve as our translators and cultural liaisons while we are here. We also briefly visited the Covaga women’s basket weaving cooperative, where we were mesmerized by all the beautiful items these women have made. We are excited to see what the future holds for the remainder of our trip!

Additionally, you can expect a post on our last week in Kochia very soon.

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