A thankful Rose in Rwanda

garden of unity

My favorite day of the year is upon us and I find myself a continent away from the people I usually spend this day with. Every Thanksgiving, knowing how much the day means to me, my mother usually allows me to make executive decisions regarding the day’s menu and this is something my sisters have learned not to contest (I consult them on an item or two but no more).

This year, I will not get to decide what’s on the menu nor will I get to disregard my calorie counting app in exchange for life-changing food (yes, you read that right), drink and lounging on the couch making our way through Redbox rentals, a strong and surviving family tradition. And let’s not forget about the occasional family fight or two which never last long and aren’t taken seriously by anyone because what would a holiday be without those right?

In short, today is bittersweet but if I had to tip the scale, there would be a lot more sweet involved. With that said, I’ll cut back on the cheesy moving forward. What I wanted to say is that though I’m an ocean away from family and friends, I’m grateful and thankful that it’s because of a job that gives me life and adds meaning to my life. More importantly,  I’m thankful that it feels less like a “job” and more like I’m contributing to a cause that is bigger than me and a cause that I have wanted to be a part of since I can remember: promoting peace.

As I’d briefly mentioned it in this post, I am working in Rwanda as an education liaison to the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, dedicated to making audio-visual interviews with survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides a compelling voice for education and action.  Along with Aegis Trust, a U.K.-based genocide-prevention organization,  and funded through the U.K. Innovation in Education Fund, they recently launched the IWitness in Rwanda project, an education programme to use the education platform ‘IWitness’ in schools across Rwanda to teach about the Holocaust and the Rwandan Tutsi Genocide. IWitness is an online application for educators and students, giving them access to watch, search, edit, share video, images, and learn from over 1,300 video testimonies of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust and the Rwandan Tutsi Genocide. The method of the programme is to use testimonies of survivors and perpetrators in an attempt to promote positive values and critical thinking in Rwandan students. Working on this project has been nothing short of educational for me and life-changing in other ways. I believe in the power of teaching with testimony and the impact it can have on a student because I remember the first time I sat down to listen to a survivor testimony from start to finish and how it impacted my life since then. Working as an intern at the Shoah Foundation Institute during grad school, I was finally able to define and understand what genocide prevention means. Until then, I was largely skeptical that anyone actually had the power to prevent such a horrible event and I’d always equated genocide and how it came to be as some sort of extra-ordinary event, perpetrated by less-than-human evil people and to me, prevention just seemed as an absurd a thought as intervention seemed. As a Rwandan, I’d long lost faith in intervention for the sake of saving human lives and I had every reason to believe that with regards to Rwanda. Working at the Institute changed that because I begin to understand that genocide has actual roots and causes and that there exists verifiable stages to genocide and that it can in fact be prevented. I also learned that genocide is committed by human beings and that just as someone can be taught to hate and kill, they can also be taught to respect, if not love, and protect.

Now I am in Rwanda promoting a transformative educational tool and ultimately, working with, for and alongside the few organizations in our world today who have chosen to dedicate their efforts to peace. This time last year, I would have never predicted that I would be in Rwanda today but I couldn’t be more thankful today. All I know is that I had always wished to be a part of this kind of work and for a long time, I had dreamed of doing so in Rwanda.  Life is truly full of surprises.

Working in this capacity and in a largely new culture and environment (I’d only spent three weeks in the country prior to this during the 19 years I’ve been away) has been both rewarding and challenging and no matter what the future holds, I’m happy and thankful for this. Working in Rwanda has also allowed me to reconnect with my roots and reflect on my own identity and that itself has been an eye-opening experience. Furthermore, to all of the people that I work with here Aegis Trust in Rwanda, I want to thank you for having welcomed me into the Aegis family. I was the new kid on the block a few months ago and largely intimidated by this but things have greatly changed. Lots of organizations claim to feel like family but this is especially true at Aegis and I can feel it today.  Thank you for keeping me laughing, teaching me about a country that doesn’t always feel like my own and helping me improve my Kinyarwanda one word at a time. In all, working with all of you has made all of the difference and I couldn’t be more grateful. And to the Shoah Foundation Institute, thank for the opportunity to contribute and the mentorship and most of all, thank for you making me feel valued.

As Thanksgiving is day of giving thanks, I wanted to take the time to do so. People never get the roses while they can still smell them so better now than never.

Until next time.

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