Day 6 – Bigger

After one night away from our homebase at the ALARM Rwanda Center in Kigali, I noticed a strange feeling surfacing. Despite the fact that I was 8,500 miles from actual home and my immediate family, I felt a calming effect as we returned to our rooms and our comfortable routine with the local staff. I couldn’t escape the feeling that my presence on this trip was, indeed, providential and part of something much bigger than I had anticipated.

Dan and Malcolm with ALARM staff

For one thing, our training with the ALARM staff was scheduled for days 6 and 7. The entire team was looking forward to that event. Working with a small group of 10 who have a focused agenda would be far less stressful than our work with the security forces from the Kinyinya District and our trying time with the refugee camp. We had become well-acquainted with about half of the staff and were eager to be with the whole group. Benjamin Nkusi, the national coordinator for ALARM Rwanda, had also been expressing his anticipation and hopes for our time together.

I was also more aware than ever that our little team of Texans was taking on family characteristics of its own. Each member had a spot and we had come to depend on the strengths — and the humor — of each individual. We also had concerns for each other that were much deeper than we had seen before. From a physical standpoint, we were all mindful that international travel, medications, local food, and possibly unbottled water had taken its toll. Three of our team were moving forward valiantly despite illness. We were to learn that illness in this sort of environment was a rolling curtain — as some revive, others fall victim.

There was this feeling that our alliance of trainers, students, professors, and, now, friends, was taking on a bigger identity. (Indeed, since I’m continuing to write these day-by-day reports following our return, I can see the growing language and connections of our “Africa family.”)

Primarily, though, I believe that our group was beginning to recognize and accept their bigger role — both as individuals and as a team — in a broader picture of peacemaking and peacebuilding. And when that begins to happen, wonderful things fall in place.

It’s a blessing from God to join Him in something bigger.

 

 

Day 5.4 – Respite

Respite: a short period of relief from something difficult or unpleasant.

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With the emotionally draining events of the past 24 hours . . .

. . . completion of 2 days of training via interpreter with the security forces . . .

. . . a long drive to the remote Seeds of Peace Conference Center . . .

. . . awaking to illness among our team members . . .

. . . the confrontation of our feelings and the realities of the plight of refugees . . .

. . . and the disappointment of not immediately fulfilling our dream of leaving gifts for the refugees and the children . . .

. . . our team desperately needed a time to regroup.

And what could be a better venue for that moment than a nice leisurely lunch on our way back to Kigali?

We retrieved Allison from the Seeds of Peace Center. We were relieved to find her feeling better, but still concerned as she courageously boarded the bus.

At Ben’s suggestion, we set our course for the Eastland Motel Kayonza. Upon arrival, we found that the location was the venue for a business conference. But, since we didn’t arrive until after 1 p.m., the staff located a vacant dining room and escorted us in.

Within minutes, our orders were taken. Almost 2 hours later, our food was ready. That’s right. Two hours later.

And out of 9 orders, seven were wrong. Most involved the inclusion of vegetables on hamburgers. And since vegetables found on hamburgers are generally rinsed in water that may or may not be filtered for American intestinal tracts, we placed a premium on having the order right. But fearing another lengthy wait, we adjusted.

And Allison, out of an abundance of caution, ordered a fruit plate — oranges. And then she learned that locally, oranges are more like limes. Eventually adjustments were made. Had she not, she’d be puckered still.

The Eastland Motel also features a guest restroom that requires the women to walk through the men’s restroom. If that doesn’t bring you pause, I don’t know what will.

Sometimes respite is comprised of just enough hassle to help you forget what you needed respite from.

Day 5.3 – Disappointed

On a day that held so much potential and that had generated so much anticipation, we couldn’t help but feel disappointed as we drove away from the refugee camp. For one thing, our much-loved Allison had not been able to make the trip in. Then, unexpectedly and somewhat dramatically, we were denied the privilege of leaving the gifts we had intended for the children and the adults.

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It was hard to look around the bus. Disappointed is a mild word for how we felt. No one wanted to talk much about what had happened. Although, I believe that each and every one couldn’t think of anything else.

The donations of medical kits, maxipads, markers, papers, soccer balls, and other assorted items had been gathered by our team from family and friends. The duffel bags brimming with supplies weren’t just about stuff. They were a message to people who had been displaced from their homes and their native land that there were people from halfway around the world who cared.

And those bags and those supplies were leaving the refugee camp with us — a message undelivered.

As Benjamin Nkusi would explain to us later, he and the ALARM Rwanda staff had gone to a great deal of effort in arranging our trip to the refugee camp. He had gone through all of the proper channels and completed all of the paper work.

Yet, there in the camp, while members of our team were helping kids draw pictures and were inflating soccer balls, a camp official brought all of our good intentions to a standstill. The letter we had granting permission to make the donations was deemed to be lacking. One more seal, we were told. One more stamped insignia and we would have been allowed to leave our gifts.

You could tell from the slope of Ben’s shoulders that he was greatly disappointed. In fact, when I was trying to encourage him later he would merely say, “This was a bad day for Ben.” He, too, had wanted us to have that moment of charity that would bring a few nice things to these people.

So we were disappointed. As our bus made its way back toward Seeds of Peace Conference Center to pick up Allison, our disappointment turned to fatigue.

As we pulled up to Seeds of Peace, we were feeling some better. Ben had promised to follow through with the authorities in Kigali who oversee the refugee camp and to see to it that our donations would make their way to those for whom they were intended.

And, we were reunited with Allison. She wasn’t 100% and she, too, was disappointed seeing the bags left in the back. But we were encouraged by her good spirit and we set off toward Kigali with the hope of getting lunch along the way.

 

Day 5.2 – Overwhelmed

Our bus was directed to a narrow parking space close by a gathering hall where we were to meet with a group of refugee camp leaders and officials. As more and more children and curious adults began to press in on our vehicle, we became aware of the enormity of what lay ahead. I, for one, began to feel a little overwhelmed. The camp was much larger than we had been told. Far more people. Far more children. Far more need. Perhaps more than a little overwhelmed.

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

Relief workers directed us to step out of the bus. The crowds parted at their direction and our team made its way through the masses single file. We stuck close to our guide in this experience, Benjamin Nkusi, the national coordinator for ALARM Rwanda.

Inside the meeting place, a group of 40 to 50 adults were seated along with just as many children. Quietly watching us, over 100 pair of eyes were bright and expectant . . . hopeful.

As seems to be customary in our Rwandan experience, our team was seated as a panel at tables at the front of the room — places of prestige for the opening ceremonies that were to come. Leaders among the people in the refugee camp, along with officials from the camp administration, were seated there, as well.

Two more groups of children were ushered in — maybe three. Before all was said and done, 213 little ones had been hand-selected to interact with us.

Our friend, Ben, made our introductions and explained our purpose in coming. Four of our team members (Aaron, Robyn, Malcolm and Dan with the assistance of Ben) would spend time with the children, while Betty and I would be left with the adults for a time of special training on trauma and compassion fatigue. Eli, the business development coordinator for ALARM Rwanda, would serve as our interpreter. The ever-smiling Eli was surprised to learn of his role in our presentation, but stepped up and did a marvelous job.

As Betty and I watched the camp workers herd the children out the back door and watched our team members follow, I again felt overwhelmed. We had thought that our training time would be with camp social workers and officials. However, the group we faced had some of those people, but about half appeared to be camp dwellers.

In the moments before we started, there was a certain amount of clamor as tables were set up to the side of the room and as goods and crafts were set out on display. We had been told that we would have the opportunity to purchase goods from some of the people and the marketplace was being readied.

The original plan, the one that pinpointed social workers and officials as our audience, called for four hours of training. I was to bring a lesson on servant leadership while Betty was scheduled to speak on trauma, self-care and compassion fatigue. Frankly, I wasn’t sure that I could teach these dedicated and selfless people anything about servant leadership. Thus, I was a little relieved to learn that our time was to be shortened — a little more than hour for the entire training.

Betty and I reconfigured our outline. I stepped forward to open the session with some spiritual connections. Then, things began going very well.

I would tell Betty later that it brought tears to my eyes to see the way that she worked with these people. That was made more difficult as we worked through Eli as interpreter. Yet, Betty won these people over. Soon, they were telling their stories and sharing ways that they believed they could help each other through their present difficulties.

Several women told of being chased from their homes with their children. Forced to flee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, they had made their way across the border into Rwanda and had eventually been directed to the camp. With nothing but the few possessions they could carry on their backs, these little families were building a new life under conditions that most of us in the Western world cannot imagine. Most of them had lost loved ones to violence.

And Betty listened carefully to them. She reassured them. She affirmed them. And she encouraged them. Betty was awes0me.

One of the women spoke of how important it was to come together with other women — undoubtedly widows or, at the very least, women separated from their husbands — to talk, to work on their crafts, and to sing.

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

In my closing thoughts, I congratulated them on their determination and spirit — and I asked them to sing. And they did! (The pictures on this post were taken by a camp official and were carefully framed in order to prevent identification of the refugees.) It was marvelous to hear the joyous noise! But, again I was overwhelmed.

Just as we completed our time, team members began to return along with the children. We could tell from our comrades’ faces that something was wrong. (That will be the topic of the next post.)

But we later learned that, for a little over an hour, they had begun to establish a kinship with those 213 children.

Ben addressed the adults and the children again in Kinyarwandan and then instructed us to gather our things to leave. We were headed toward the door when we were reminded that the refugee marketplace was open to us.

We shopped for about ten minutes. Crocheted items, soda pop, soap, baskets were purchased and, I’m certain, far too many Rwandan francs were given. But it wasn’t about fair dealing. It was all about providing a little something from those who had much to those who were in need.

Then, things began to unravel just a bit. All of the children had gathered around us as we shopped. And now, by the dozens they were approaching each of us and using a substantial part of their English.

“Give me money! Give me money!”

The camp social workers moved in, separating us from the children and directed us to make our way toward the bus. Through the bedlam outside, we were pushed that way. Onboard the bus, the door shut behind us. I couldn’t help but notice as I made my way to my seat, that the duffel bags with the donations were still in the back.

The bus edged its way through the crowds and slowly made its way down the hill and out of the camp.

And the kids ran alongside.

And we were overwhelmed.