2014 WAS A YEAR FOR THE RECORD BOOKS. WHILE MOST WERE KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS, I WAS LIVING IN RURAL RWANDA AT THE AGAHOZO SHALOM YOUTH VILLAGE. HERE'S A LOOK BACK AT THE 14 MOST IMPORTANT MOMENTS FROM MY YEAR IN EAST AFRICA.
14 Moving to Rural Rwanda
Agahozo Shalom Youth Village is unlike the rest of Rwanda, a country that still has a long way to go. When you step outside the gates of our community, its real life rural Africa. Every Tuesday and Friday Rubona, the local Village outside of ASYV, opens up their market and the community comes to life. Making it through the crowded aisles can be a task if you get there early enough when its busy, but its worth it If you want your own food to cook. Walking down from ASYV took only twenty minutes down the road and three dollars could get a weeks worth of your own fresh fruits and veggies. If you get to the market too late and you miss the pineapples, you can always flag down a guy off the road with a bushle on his bike, and haggle him down to a good price.
13 Rwandan Weddings
A Rwandan wedding happens in at least three parts: the introduction, the religious ceremony, and the reception. The introduction is the Bride's family's and the grooms family's first and last chance to interview each other in front of all of their family and friends, "Does Electricity reach his house? How many cows does your family own? He's a lawyer but is he partner? These are questions you could hear at an introduction, if your with someone who can translate from Kinyarwanda of course.
12 GETTING TO KNOW THE STAFF AT ASYV
Half the magic of Agahozo Shalom is the staff that keeps it running. The entire body of staff there all believe in the Village. They have come from all over Rwanda, to dedicate their lives to this place. Young and Old work tirelessly alongside each other with a smile on their face every day.
11 Nairobi and Zanzibar
In August I had the privledge of meeting my friend in her residence in Nairobi Kenya. She has lived there for the past 25 years, at first as a travel agent. She was introduced to Lilian Wagala, a single mother and caretaker of 20 living in the Kibera Slum. Lilian taught these kids in her one room dwelling until she had a fundraiser selling shirts to others in the slum. She made enough to break ground on the school, located in the heart of the biggest illegal slum of Africa. She has expanded to the capacity of caring for over 500 orphans, taking them out of the alleys of Kibera and giving them a solid education. My friend helps bring in support from Japan. she leads Japanese donors on study tours through the slum, and into the school so they can see the work that goes on. I spent two days in Kenya where I also drank the best coffee I had ever had, and saw Giraffes and Elephants both at conservation efforts that save strays with the intentions of reintroducing them back into the wild. After that I spent 5 days in Zanzibar taking in the scents, the tastes, and the scenes of calming Indian ocean breezes and low crystal blue waters.
10 Time Traveling to Ethiopia
Over my first term break in April, I went for a 9 day trek around Ethiopia for Easter. Strangely enough this was the first time in a long time that Ethiopia's Coptic Easter matched up with the Gregorian calendar's. Coming to Ethiopia is like stepping outside the flow of time. They even have their own time system. To Ethiopians, Dawn is the start of the day, not midnight, therefore Dawn is 1 am. What some in East Africa would consider 8 in the morning would be about 3 AM in Ethiopia. Easter is an especially biblical time to visit this traditionally coptic country as the white robed herd lamb all around addis, and the ancient christian sites flood with observers.
09 MEETING MY FAMILY AT ASYV
The day I received Family 8, Mamma Jeanne and Big Brother Edward will be hard to forget. In these boys are infinite wells of knowledge and talent each baring a unique distinction from the other. To them I became "Cousin," and we spent the year together growing laughing and learning from each other.
08 THE MEDIA LAB @ ASYV
I had the coolest job in the world. I was tasked with producing a weekly news program run entirely by students, and to lead a class on photo and video editing. Kids in the village were addicted to media. They took in as much as they could, and put out as high quality and as entertaining products as possible. They had at least 4 groups of kids making their own shows, plus the ASYV-TV that we were running every week. At ASYV, kids who have never held a camera get the chance to learn professional editing skills, and how to take quality photos and videos.
07COMMEMORATING THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE GENOCIDE
On April 6, 1994, A Plane Carrying Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana Was Shot Down Killing Everyone Onboard. Tutsi Extremists Were Blamed, And A Killing Spree Began, With A Goal Of Eliminating The Tutsi Population. For 100 Days Over 1 Million Tutsi Were Slaughtered, In Brutally And Without Prejudice. In April Of 2014, It Marked The 20Th Anniversary, And The Beginning Of A Traditional 100 Days Of Mourning. This Year Was Special, And A Memorial Flame Called The Kwibuka Flame Made Its Way To All 30 Districts Of Rwanda And Lit A Torch At Each District Genocide Memorial. Two Students From Asyv Carried The Flame In Rwamagana District. Today There Is No More Hutu Or Tutsi, There Is Only Rwandan. It Was Inspiring To See An Entire Country Rally Behind The Light Of Remembrance, Together In The Name Of A Better Rwanda.
06 MAKING THE MUSIC VIDEO OF MWAMI MANA
Of all the videos I made this year, I'm most proud of this one. Not only was it my first music video, but it was the end of a long road of work. Not only that but I made this while I had malaria, all because of a promise. A promise to help Didier create his song, and a promise to help give that song a video, and than a promise to get that video onto Youtube. The hardest part about the video was finishing it in September, but than having to wait until the middle of October to premier it for the rest of the village.
05 The Entire Village Singing along with me in Kinyarwanda.
Every Friday night, after a long week of studies, the students of the village unwind by putting on a show for each other called village time. At the end of the year, they staff put on their own village time. This year I surprised the audience by preforming the Village Hit Inzira Y'itsinzi written and sang by Tuyishmye David and Blamless. It took me about a week to memorize the words, and I nearly pulled it off!
The pictures pretty much speak for themselves.
03 HOME VISITS
The students at ASYV go on term vacation like any other boarding school in Rwanda, they go home. The staff, while not required, often take the vacation months to visit the kids, and I did too. Not only was my chance to make sure that my kids were alright, or at least as best as they could be. Visiting them was also the best way for me to get to know Rwanda. There was nothing touristy about my travels. I went from the Eastern Provence where one of my boys lives near by the village, to Kigali, the capital, south to Butare, Southwest through a rainforest and down to the Congolese bordertown of Rusizi, took a packed transport barge six hours up Lake Kivu to Kibuye, visited one of my boys, from there went north to Musanze visited three more, and then back down to Kigali to say goodbye to the rest.
02 GORILLA TREKKING
Nothing was going to stop me from seeing the gorillas. the week before I was set to go, I found out I had malaria. People told me I would be recovering for at least a week after taking my doses of coratem. I was diagnosed on Saturday night and by that friday I was strong and back and on my way to Musanze ready to see a family of Gorillas. Early at around 7 AM I was picked up by my driver, and taken to the Volcano National Park main center. There all the tour groups of the day get assigned their gorilla family. From there you drive in your SUV to your off road destination where a Guide will lead us through the thick of the forest to a family of gorillas. About 4 hours later up and around the top of the mountain through about two hours of carving our way through stinging nettles and weeds, we finally reached our family in a bamboo forest. With not much room to move around we were probably much closer to the gorillas than we should have been. We turned a corner, there was the gorilla trekker waiting for us to reach him. we dropped our bags and held only our cameras. The Trekker stood at the entrance of a bamboo thicket and when you entered, the silverback gorilla was sitting there eating grass and branches Enormously, he Charged up to one of the others in my group. We dropped as instructed and he thumped off into the thick of the leaves. Our guide assured us he was joking. I realized that they were allowing us to be in their habitat, and that these enormous creatures could at any moment take us all out. They mostly just played around and played with each other, and us. Suddenly the hour was over and we had to go back to reality.
01 WATCHING THE STUDENTS AT ASYV TRANSFORM IN ONE YEAR.
There are a lot of NGOs in Africa. A lot of people want to save the world, with the best of intentions to little effect. Agahozo Shalom Youth Village is an NGO that works. The idea is meant to take the most vulnerable youth of Rwanda, and transform them into socially responsible citizens. They have four years, but I can say that the transformation of the kids in my family and the rest of the first years even after year was a gift to experience and take part in. There are no more or less special kids at ASYV, but I have had a special relationship with the Icyizere grade from the day they arrived at the bus station, to they day as many as could afford it showed up to the airport to see me off. They didn't just grow as teenagers do, they opened up, and each discovered they are on their own special paths with their own unique talents. I am so excited to know these future leaders of Africa and the world. I trust in the village that has saved their lives and given them this path to not only a have good life for themselves but be dedicated to bettering the lives of others. Agahozo Shalom is a truly magical place. It sounds cliche to say, unless you've been there and seen it for yourself.