While sitting in the front row of the festivities of Speech Day at our school, a day to celebrate the year, have students and teachers perform songs and dances, have preschool graduation, and even drink fanta, I found myself repeatedly drawn to not only my students on the stage, but perhaps the children unseen by others: Those Who Stand Outside. Yes, watching with pride my students speak English, put on plays about AIDS and malaria awareness, and sing original composed songs, I also watched with sadness the village children from the community who are not in school who came and stood outside, peering in through the window to watch the life they don’t have.
Though I took many pictures of different events, my camera found its way always back to the faces of Those Who Stand Outside. Am I not here to serve them to? They, in their tattered clothing, standing for hours watching events in a language they barely understand, recognize it all as something special and frankly, they have nothing better to do. With no school of their own, where else should they be? And without an education, they will remain on the Outside looking in. Someone asked me recently, “do you feel like you see the children changed at all or that you are making a difference?” and my original response was “not yet.” But today I realized every day I give my students something Those Who Stand Outside do not have: dignity. Am I making a difference? Yes. One by one, I give them dignity as I take them from the outside and welcome them into my classroom and give them a shot at “Struggling for a better life” to quote a song they sang today. All I can do is continue to work to improve this school and build it financially so we are to sponsor more students like these to come.
Here is a clip of part of the “Struggling For a Better Life” song, I can’t put it all because the internet here is too slow to upload it all. http://youtu.be/RmniAlYWUa8
On a personal and unrelated sidenote, I was VERY Rwandan today. I gave a speech in Kinyarwanda, sang a song in Kinyarwanda, did a Rwandan dance, and wore a traditional Rwandan dress. And laughed at the toilet paper that they use to decorate around here, even though in America it is used to vandalize. Haha.
Of 104 students at our school, about 70 chose to fill the dining hall during my first trial of “open library” instead of recess time. They were buzzing with excitement and energy and NOISE because apparently reading is quite a loud event. “Olivier, look at this one!” “Headmistress, what does this word mean?” “Headmistress this book has monkeys in it!” “The main girl in this book has the same name as my sponsor in the US!” “Can we trade now?” “When can we read again?” These are some of the words I heard whispered, spoken, shouted.
And to think that the one shelf of children’s books we have at our primary school was being locked up in the head teacher’s office for fear that, if put into the hands of children, they would be destroyed! In some ways, it’s true. In the excitement books were dropped, pages turned roughly as if containing a secret treasure that must be quickly found, covers bent in the shuffle of things. But is we don’t put these books in the hands of children, we destroy their PURPOSE, and that it much worse an offense.
Many of the children were truly sitting and reading quietly. Others were more interested in looking at pictures because they don’t have the English vocabulary built up to really read them yet. But for both I was SO excited to see children so eager and excited about reading. I can’t wait to foster this and develop it more next year with having sustained silent reading time each week in English classes, more open library days (for our one shelf of books haha), emphasis on phonics in lower grades, and emphasis on new vocabulary in upper grades including a “word of the day” to be defined and used throughout the day. Take a look at the video!Quieting them down would have been like hushing thunder when you need rain
This morning I am worshiping and reading my Bible from my bed, since I have still been vomiting and am unable to go to church. It seemed very appropriate that as I was reading, I noticed that both Old and New Testament talk about praying to give thanks before and even after a meal because meal times were important to the culture of the time, and of course the provision of food was considered to be (as it is) a gift from God, worthy of being appreciated.
This seemed particularly appropriate as I have been reflecting on the differences of being sick here and in the US. There are two big differences I’ve seen, one positive and one negative. First, the positive. When an adult is sick in the US, I feel like (unless they are very very very ill or very elderly) they drive themselves to the doctor, then to the store to get anything they might need, then take care of themselves. Of course, if you have a husband or wife, they might help. But here, everyone helps. A coworker I just met two weeks ago accompanied me to the main road, where another coworker walked from his home and called a friend that I’ve never even met to drive me to the clinic, where a new friend near the clinic let me wait in their home and fed me while the malaria test was being done. Then they drove me home again. I am given meals in bed. Others are now walking to the main road (easily a 30 minute walk) to buy me some juice. This sense of communal responsibility to one another is humbling, though it makes me feel incredibly guilty. I come from a society where sometimes that will happen, but often it will not. Often we are taught to take care of ourselves, and let others take care of themselves, with some exceptions of course. And everyone here who has been taking care of me has said, “oh well maybe I will fall sick tomorrow and will need your help and you will help me.” But it will be a humbling experience to actually do that, when in the US I am normally not obligated to go hours out of my way to help people I recently met. This is a beautiful part of this communal society.
However, one negative aspect of being sick here is that there are just not a lot of things to help. In the US if I am sick, I get my electrolyte-filled gatorade bottles and crackers and fruit and anything my stomach can handle and kinda drink and munch all day long. But this morning I am vomiting bile and stomach acid, because my stomach is empty. It’s morning. It’s not lunch yet, and so food is not cooked. Though normally I try to keep a stash of some extra bananas and things, because yesterday I was sick, I didn’t get to the market to restock. So I am vomiting on an empty stomach, and there is no easy solution for that. There is no refrigerator, no pantry to put something in my stomach to try to settle it. Unless it is 12:30pm or 7:00pm, there will not be food. How would we pay for it? Where would we store it? It’s just not feasible. So now I have sent a good friend to on the thirty minute walk to pick up some juice and crackers for me. And maybe that’s part of why we rely on each other here. Because for better or worse, there is no other choice.
So last night I felt nauseous, chills and sweats and body aches all over. Today I was supposed to go to my first Rwandan wedding but felt too weak. Per everyone’s advice, I went ahead and went to the doctor just in case it was malaria. I laughed because the other teacher who was helping me get to the clinic asked, “do you have malaria?” and I said, “well I don’t know, that’s why I’m going to the clinic to get tested. Is there a way you just know?” And I laughed as she asked very seriously surprised, “oh have you never had malaria before?”
Everyone’s reality is different. And the fact that mine does not contain a history of malaria is as surprising to the people here and it is surprising to me that two of my friends here have literally never been to school a day in their life. But, no malaria, guess I just caught a bug of some kind so I have been resting.
The downside of things right now is that we looked over the budget and I didn’t even realize how even cutting the budget down to pretty much bare essentials leaves us $500 short each month. This has been heavy on my heart. Some of our employees already are earning only $1 a day. We can’t raise school fees because the families in the village are struggling to pay the prices at what they are now. Sometimes it feels like…how does anyone do it? how do they survive? Everyone sorta just gets by and asks for help when they need it and give help when they can. So I thank those of you who have been helping me financially, and challenge anyone else to pray about whether you can be giving financially as well.
Maybe it’s because I have been sick I know this blog is disorganized, but I wanted to say one encouraging thing. God is present in these children. I led worship at chapel on Friday and to hear these children singing out “how he loves” just meant a lot to me. Even you’ll hear them singing praise songs as they walk along the road. And the educational improvement also. One year ago one of our boarding students, Divine, did not know “a” from “b” from “c” and two days ago she wrote me a note in English that said, “thank you sarah you are a good teacher and a good girl and God bless you thank you thank you.” She’s one of our best students now. As an educator, that is really really exciting!
I wrote in my journal on Sunday evening when I arrived in my village of Nsinda, “I feel like I married Jesus and had 16 children.” This accurately represents how this whole journey so far has been very much me dedicating my life to Christ’s calling and purposes, and as thirty-two little eyes of the sixteen boarding students that live in the dorm with me peered at me expectantly, I discovered this would also be like being a mother of 16 (with more to come in January). Their only toy, a soccer ball I had bought them a year ago, had just burst on Friday, and their eyes begged for someone to play with them. A year ago they had had a similar look in their eyes, and we had played a huge game of hide from the tickle monster. Figuring I had probably had very little influence on them in the short months I had been there last year, I was surprised that Divin requested a good old game of tickle monster. My bags sat in my room, unpacked, with my room left unfurnished with no soap or water to bathe, but the duty of the moment called for tickle monster. And even the shyest of children was screaming in joy and laughter.
To contrast this, we told stories during dinner that evening and my heart broke as every story the children made up included either alcohol, domestic violence, beggars, poverty, soldiers, or prison. This is their reality, and the words, “princess,” “fairy,” and “magic” are foreign to them. Similarly, while working out the budget for next year, I became very disheartened. The teachers have been patient, as they have not been paid in months. We don’t have much milk anymore, and sometimes I get hungry because we don’t have food for breakfast. The money simply isn’t here. I didn’t even know before just how bad the situation was. They just pray for miracles every single month. They talk all the time about “Hope.” And while I kindly tried to inform them that “hope does not produce income,” it dawned on me that that’s exactly what I do when I fundraise in the US – hope that someone will help.
So it touched my heart when I noticed something three days ago I hadn’t noticed the first two days here. I was leaned over washing my hair in the wash basic bucket that the school had provided for me, my head and eyes peering at the red plastic holding my small amount of water for washing. And there carved into the red plastic in the handwriting of a child was a word in four beautiful all capital letters: H-O-P-E. I just noticed tonight the same thing etched into the jerry can I was given to fetch water. It both exhilarates me and terrifies me that I am the hope for these children. So to keep the exhilaration and remove the terror, I give this over to God. He is truly their hope. And I am his servant. And hopefully, together we can give these children what they seek, what they talk about, the one word that echoes in their mind when doodling in wash basins- hope
It has come to my attention this summer how much I love to be adored and how absolutely terribly it feels to not be adored. There are people we care about and adore that simply do not adore us in return. And I started trying to make myself feel better about this by writing a whole letter to myself from those that do not adore me explaining how they were incapable of doing so because of their lack of familiarity or appreciation for the kinds of things I give my life to. And it was a wonderful exercise only BECAUSE I immediately saw the parallel, scrapped the letter, and wrote my own to God. Here it is.
God, I sometimes do not adore you, because I am incapable of recognizing how worthwhile you are. I don’t seek you enough to discover your overwhelming glory. I am unmoved by the blemishes in my soul and so I am unmoved and unimpressed by you sacrificing your only Son to wipe them clean. Holiness is foreign to me, so I can’t understand what a positive trait that is in you. I have never experienced being rejected by my own creation, the the outstanding character have in daily pursuing that creation in love is lost on me. The beautiful way in which you freely give mercy requires a sacrifice that I am too proud to incorporate into my own life. After removing these, your most valuable and beautiful traits, from the evaluation process, I in my foolishness see only other nice but bland traits: you are intelligent, creative kind. But, only because they are made in your likeness, many mere mortals share these traits, which is why you yourself are not even satisfied with these alone. So why would I want someone with these remaining non-comprehensive traits of yours who also pushes me to uncomfortably grow better, when I could cowardly have them in someone who doesn’t challenge me at all? Can I judge as priceless something I know nothing about? You can only be loved by me to the extent to which you are known by me. So teach me, especially in Rwanda, teach me to know. Open all of our eyes to your glory, that we might finally adore you.
Hey folks, some sad news received from Nsinda Ikirezi. I was originally supposed to teach from my arrival in September until the start of the new school year in January when I would begin as headmistress. The current headmistress was an excellent educator whom I had hoped to sort of oversee the preschool program of our school. However, as of 2 days ago she left Nsinda for an exciting opportunity to come to the United States. We did not hold her back from this, though we are sorry to see her go. Another teacher at the school will act as interim headmistress until I arrive. I will thus be receiving more responsibility even earlier than expected. This school more than anything I feel needs consistency, which I hope to offer.
In the meantime, I have been studying up on my kinyarwanda and sending out letters to try to fundraise for the school. We have about 4 people who have chosen to sponsor a child, and these families are overjoyed. Many still await help.
Check out the different pages on my blog to learn about me and what I am doing.