Tag Archives: Vision Trip

The Vision Trip team

Murakoze Rwanda: Thank You

In the final blog post of the 2017 Vision Trip, Taru summarizes the team’s experiences in, “Murakoze Rwanda: Thank You“.

We came together as strangers 12 days ago, we part as friends whose lives have been greatly enriched by our journey together, experiencing Rwanda and the work of Wellspring. We learned a few words, and how to greet people with a hug and then a handshake. A lot of time was spent in the coaster bus, driven by Placide, our exceptional driver, navigating the incredibly busy streets of Kigali full of motor taxis, bicycles, buses, trucks, cars and of course, pedestrians. He also managed the slippery muddy roads in the hills where schools were located, as well as driving through the Akagera game reserve and up to a coffee plantation in the rain.

Rwandan Landscape and Bicycle

Rwanda is truly the land of a thousand hills, the scenery never gets old. There aren’t many flat sections of road, always going up or down. What really amazed me is the stamina of the Rwandan people. They mostly walk long distances, usually carrying something, like jerry cans of water, bags of food, baskets of fruit, firewood etc on their heads. Bicycles are another mode of transport, both as taxis and to carry various loads. Amazingly, most come with only 1 gear.

Children outnumber adults. Schools are bursting at the seams. A primary 1 class we visited had almost 100 children in it. They were a happy lot, attentive and responsive to their teacher. Their smiles and enthusiasm were infectious and we couldn’t help but smile as we entered into clapping along with their songs. They loved having their picture taken hamming it up for the camera.

Rwandan students hamming it up for the camera

Thank you Jeff for being our tour guide. Your humour and easy manner put us all at ease. Your knowledge of the country and its history helped our appreciation of every place we visited.

This was an eye opening experience in many ways. Peace and safety reign in the country, the government is stable, reconciliation after the genocide astounding.

Comments as we were wrapping up today included: “Beauty from ashes”, referring to the rebuilding of the country and the reconciliation that has occurred since the genocide 23 years ago. Someone recounted Jesus’ words “What you did for the least of these, my brothers and sisters”, referring to Jeff’s embracing the Rwandan people as his own and how Wellspring is working to improve education for children. “Little is much when God is in it” was another comment, referring to the resourcefulness and resilience of the people. They use and share what little they have, as poverty is a fact of life.

Our lives have been impacted by our experiences and observation of the servant leadership of Jeff and Richard, the program implementation in the schools and the excitement and engagement of community and families at the schools, among many other things.

Alphabet made using ABCD principles.

Richard led us in a final exercise today – we made a teaching aid of the alphabet using readily available materials – rice sacks and markers. We had a great time collaborating on words and pictures to use for the letters that were meaningful to us on this trip. It was a great application of what we learned during the week and a concrete example of how to use what is available as materials.

Going forward, I pray that we will share our experiences with friends back home to help spread Wellspring’s vision: “To be a catalyst for transforming education in Africa and to foster vibrant communities that address poverty in all its forms”.

Murakoze Rwanda, it has been a memorable week. Thank you Wellspring for sharing with us how your vision has already impacted communities in such a powerful way.

3 buck at Akagera

Akagera National Park

The Vision Trip included a trip to Akagera National Park. John shares the experience.

Rwanda’s best known attraction is the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park in the northwest part of the country straddling the Congolese and Ugandan borders. Less well known, certainly to us, is that Rwanda has one of the oldest national parks in Africa—Akagera National Park. While less famous than the larger game parks of Kenya and Tanzania, it was established in 1934 and runs along the eastern border with Tanzania, originally covering 10% of the country. Interestingly, the Agakera River for which the park is named, flows from Burundi along the eastern side of the park and is part of the headwaters of the Nile River. The comfortably rustic Akagera Game Lodge is situated on the eastern shores of beautiful Lake Ihema which dominates the southern end of the park.

The park was completely decimated and virtually abandoned during the devastating genocide in 1994. It was officially downsized by two thirds in 1997 to accommodate the majority of the two million Rwandan refugees returning to their native country with their 40,000 head of cattle.

Giraffe in Akagera National Park

The park has seen a resurgence since 2010 when it was put under the management of a private game company partnering with the Rwandan Government and has been nurtured back to a rich area of biodiversity and wildlife. Today the park boasts abundant wildlife including approximately 100 elephants, 2500 Cape Buffalo, 50 Leopards, 1800 Zebra, 80 Giraffe, 1600 Hippopotami, 11 species of antelope, 1000 Warthogs and an unknown number of Baboons, and over 500 bird species. Lions and rhinoceroses have been reintroduced into the park as well.

On our Sunday afternoon and Monday morning drive we were fortunate to see Cape Buffalo, Zebra, Baboons, Warthogs, many antelope and a majestic Giraffe. As we tried to make our way to the restaurant for breakfast this morning, a number of us were welcomed by a very bold and aggressive family of baboons.

Akagera National Park and Lodge was a wonderful and unexpected ending to our vision trip with Wellspring and the amazing group of people travelling together seeing the beauty and diversity of Rwanda over the last 10 days.

A Day at the Museum

Kara relives the 2017 Vision Trip’s day at the museum

Birds sang their morning songs and the sun kissed our tired faces as we emerged out of our hotel room doors. Welcome to day eight.

After breakfast and devotions, we set off to the Ethnographic Museum which is situated just a few minutes up the road from where we stayed the night. The museum is one of six of the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda and displays historical, ethnographic, artistic, and archaeological artifacts which allowed us to gain a deeper insight into Rwandan culture.

After perusing through the museum, we made our way around the outside of the building to the back garden where we were to watch a traditional Rwandan dance. On our way there, we couldn’t help but get distracted at the monkeys that were leaping from branch to branch and boldly wandering across our walking path.

Dancing at the Ethnographic Museum in Huye.

We continued up the trail and reached our destination where the dance was to take place. For the next hour we sat listening to the beating of drums and watching in awe as the vividly dressed dancers told the story of their history through movement . . . (and of course the nightmare for all the introverted team members came true when the dancers pulled us out onto the floor to dance along with them).

After the museum we had a quick lunch and then made our way to a coffee plantation called Huye Mountain Coffee. Our lively tour guide brought us to see the coffee trees explaining everything there is to know about coffee. We got to see where the plants grew and where the beans were washed, sorted, and roasted. Of course the coffee tour would not have been complete without sampling the coffee, and I must admit, it has my stamp of approval!

Well-caffeinated and having purchased almost all of Huye’s coffee supply, our team loaded back onto the bus for our three-hour journey back to Kigali. We arrived ready for dinner and a good night’s sleep!

Dancing

In the “Real World”

We’re all familiar with the phrase “in the real world”…and often use it, to describe our experience in our everyday life as we know it in western civilization. Well today, we did experience the real world. The real world and the every day realities of a small village in the Southern Province of Rwanda, Africa. In the village of Shyogwe, a cooperative named Ingobokarugo, meaning “supports the family”, the families, particularly the women, work together to support their families and carve out a livelihood by creating beautiful handicrafts to be sold at a local centre well known as the Azizi Centre, meaning “Excellent Life”.

Once at the Cooperative, our group divided in two and each group was welcomed by a number of women from the cooperative. We were escorted into the dark living space in a tiny mud home of the eldest member and enjoyed our time getting to know our hostesses as introductions were made and stories were told. The tasks that we were going to being doing were explained to us and each one of us was also dressed in traditional clothing complete with headdress. Along side our hostesses we set out to harvest in the garden, peel and prepare the cassava for lunch, hoe the weeds in the banana grove and replenish the water supply. The water was retrieved about one km down well worn paths leading to the river. Once all the jugs were filled the real challenge came when climbing back up these same paths to return to our hostess’ home. Oh, and did I mention it was raining significantly at the time making the trek a slippery and precarious climb. All the while you can imagine each of us in silent wonder as we walked with our Rwandan friends…. realizing this was a trek that they did at least daily and is their “real world”.

Filling water jugs

Lunch was waiting for us when we arrived back at the home and we enjoyed a simple yet hearty lunch of beans, sweet potatoes, cassava, avocado and pineapple. After lunch a time of community work was done as the ladies demonstrated to us one of the many handicraft items they make as part of the cooperative. The small bracelets we painstakingly made alongside our competent teachers are again just a small a small reminder of the work these ladies do every day to maintain and provide for their families.

Weaving a bracelet

It was a privilege to get to know our Rwandan friends and spend the day with them. At the end of the day, as we prepared to leave, we were treated to a cultural dance performed by many of the ladies as a show of appreciation for our visit and interest in their lives. Yes, we came interested, but we went way touched and honoured to have been so welcomed into their homes and to spend the day with these generous and warm families. We experienced the “real world” as we witnessed true community, working and sharing together. What a gift today was.

The twinkling lights of Goma, DRC across the bay

Rwanda Amazes Me

I opened my eyes at 5:15 and thought “I should go back to sleep.” Then I heard the birds. In the dark of pre-dawn I got out of my bed, prepared for the day, and walked towards the lapping shore of Lake Kivu.

The birds filled the air with their sweet chitter chatter. The lights of Goma twinkled across the bay and the great traumatized Congolese city showed it’s timeless beauty in the dawn light. The water of the lake was calm even as ferries and transport boats were already passing on the horizon and in the mist. I spent the daybreak hour in solitude on the beach, perched on the edge of a lounge chair, marvelling to have the opportunity to wake up in this gorgeous place.

Rwanda amazes me, literally, at every turn.

Students in a classroom in Western Province

Today we toured a school which is a part of Wellspring’s new work in the Western Province. The classes were packed to maximum capacity and the children were full of joy. The school and the children clearly showed their poverty; the school was dilapidated and the childrens’ clothes were tattered. Yet in spite of overcrowding and poor facilities the children were present and the teachers were eagerly teaching. There is a lot of laughter in these classrooms and wide smiling faces greet us with endless enthusiasm.

The school headmaster explains to us how glad they are for Wellspring’s work in their district. After the success Wellspring has had elsewhere in Rwanda, this distant and poorer area of the country is eager to receive help.

After visiting the school we get back in our bus and drive for over four hours, crossing nearly half of the country. We were accompanied by Ernest, a Wellspring Rwandan staff, who explains the countryside as we pass through it. He even excitedly points out his own home village where his extended family lives.

Tonight we are resting at the city of Muhanga and we are looking forward to an exciting day ahead, including Azizi Life.

The Vision Trip team

Heading West

As the Vision Trip team heads West, Wes shares about the journey

After spending 4 nights in Kigali, we began our trip to Western Province where we planned to stay one night on the shores of Lake Kivu, right on the border with Democratic Republic of Congo. Knowing that the comfort facilities along our 4 hour trip would be limited, and somewhat primitive, Jeff outfitted his truck with a portable, private facility to ensure a readily available “water closet”.

Unnamed person demonstrating the facility.
Unnamed person demonstrating the facility.

Today would be a day of travel, in full tourist mode, so we can be ready to check out Wellspring’s newest area of ministry, on Thursday, in Western Province. We headed out of Kigali, starting up the first of many rolling hills that made up today’s adventure, never exceeding the governed 60kph that the bus was capable of. Truly today gave us a window to look into what the country is so well known for: terraced, green, lush rolling hills, growing sugar cane, cabbages, corn, acres of tea, as far as the eye could see. We saw rivers, snaking through valley floors hundreds of feet below the road. Farmers, old and young, using bikes, sacks, their heads and their backs to transport the day’s goods to market: Sugar cane, corn, charcoal, potatoes, and even rocks, being transported along the side of the highway.

We saw evidence of Rwanda’s pursuit of a brighter future by the way the people experience safety and security, by the way the communities are kept so clean, and by the commitment to good governance practises. We hear about how the country continues to grow, and how the Rwandan people experience improved living conditions, better access to infrastructure like electricity and sanitation.

Nyirangarama

After a brief stop in Nyirangarama for a variety of traditional roasted snacks, we head for our final destination at Lake Kivu, where we checked into our accommodation, just before a predictable thunder storm rolled through. All in all, we had a great day seeing the beautiful Rwandan countryside. Tomorrow, meeting with Wellspring’s team in Western Province. I am looking forward to more insights into Wellspring’s successes in providing better educational outcomes for the youth of Rwanda.

Students in the school yard at Shango school

A Firsthand Look

Ron shares about his visit to one of our partner schools, and the impact this firsthand look had on him.

Our Team was excited as we started day four of our vision trip. Today we learned more about Wellspring’s School Development Program and had the opportunity to visit a school about twenty-five kilometers away in the hills of Kigali. It’s an experience that we shall never forget.

As we approached the school we saw hundreds of children rushing towards the bus to greet us. As we stepped off the bus we are hugged and cheered as though we are heroes coming to save the day. The reality is, it’s the Wellspring leaders and trainers who have dedicated themselves to a God given vision who are the heroes. A vision that includes developing and delivering tools at the local level that will transform schools through values based education grounded in Christian principles. A training program that teaches and empowers school staff to believe that they have the ability not only within themselves but within their community to change lives.

Meeting with teachers at Shango school

We were invited into the classrooms to observe teachers and later to sit with the school leaders, to hear their stories of how the Wellspring training program has positively changed their interaction with their students. Students also shared with us how their teachers have changed, the children are happy and they want to learn.

The Rwandan government’s vision for education is “to improve the quality of education through curriculum development, setting quality standards, development and management of teachers and providing assessment.” Wellspring’s School Development Program success has opened the door to partner with the government in developing curriculum and training that will ensure that current and future generations will build a strong nation. We now see the journey first-hand and are encouraged as Wellspring expands the School Development Program into other districts in Rwanda.

What a privilege it has been to see and experience God’s blessing upon Rwanda through Wellspring’s work here.

A Vision for a New Day

Today’s post is from Paul, one of our friends who has joined us on our Vision Trip.

After learning about a very dark period in Rwanda’s history yesterday, day 3 of our Vision Trip turned the page and gave us all a clear picture of Wellspring’s part in helping to bring a brighter future for the Rwandan people.

As we met with the Wellspring founders, leadership team, and staff it was easy to see their passion and heart for Rwanda and its people. They all shared the part they are playing in Wellspring’s vision to be a catalyst for transforming education in Africa and viewed their work as a calling from God.

Meeting with Wellspring Leaders

Next stop was the Wellspring Academy to experience the transformation we’d talked about in the morning. Again, you could sense the passion of the school leadership team and teachers for their calling as they serve over 600 students delivering high quality values based education. We visited primary and secondary classrooms and saw joy in the faces of the students – the fact they had a short break from their studies to welcome us may have helped with the smiles.

Meeting with student leaders.

A highlight was meeting with a few of the student leaders from Grade 8 through Grade 12. They were impressive and articulate young people with dreams and plans to become doctors, business entrepreneurs, engineers, communications and IT specialists. More important was their commitment to use their talents to help Rwanda and its people. I felt like I was seeing transformation in real time!

When I get back to Canada and get the inevitable questions about how many wells we drilled, I’m in a much better position to tell my friends back home about what Wellspring is really doing in Rwanda. As Phocas, director of Wellspring’s Abundant Leadership Institute said: “Wellspring is good news for Rwanda”. I couldn’t agree more.

Kigali Genocide Memorial, ©Andy Wallace (https://www.flickr.com/photos/127841313@N05/)

Forgiveness & Reconciliation

“How do I wrap my head around what happened here?” “I can’t possibly process what those three months must have been like.” “How could it happen in such recent history?” “The children, those precious children.” These are just a few of the comments that I’ve heard some of my fellow travellers make since coming to Kigali. Today, we visited the Kigali Memorial Centre where those statements became all the more poignant. As we walked through the hallowed halls of the Centre, viewing the history through film and still-picture format, as we made our way through the “children’s” room with walls clad with pictures of innocent little ones, then silently viewed the rows of skulls clearly marked by a bullet-hole or the fury of a machete, my heart ached inside my chest. Outside, 250,000 precious men, women and children are buried in mass graves under large thick slabs of concrete. Many of their names are etched into a black backdrop for anyone passing by to see. Such brokeness – such pain!

As in previous years, I walked out of the Centre and into the garden. I took some time to meditate – and process. Up in a tree, I heard a bird singing to his mate, completely unaware of the sadness that lay below. The flowers and well-manicured shrubs and trees seemed to bring some warmth to what we were experiencing but still, there was a weight that didn’t wish to leave my heart.

Kigali Genocide Memorial, ©Andy Wallace (https://www.flickr.com/photos/127841313@N05/)
Kigali Genocide Memorial photos by Andy Wallace

 

Then my mind was drawn back to our team devotions this morning based on 2 Corinthians 5:17-20, “Therefore, if anyone is In Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are passed away, the new has come. All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation …”.

I thought, “the only way that our Rwandan brothers and sisters can ever move forward is by extending the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation – just as Jesus extends His gift of forgiveness and reconciliation to any of us who choose to put our trust and faith in Him which is made possible through His death and resurrection.” The good news is that they already are – one of the reasons why Rwanda has become the model country in all of Africa.

Our God is a God who heals. He heals broken hearts, broken minds, broken lives, and broken relationships. In the words of one of Wellspring’s co-founders, Jeff Komant … “the Rwandan story is not the genocide, though understanding its history is important. The real story is yet to be written – and it is indeed being written.” And Wellspring is part of that story. The lack of Christian values-based education enabled the genocide – Wellspring is working hard to ensure that there will never be a genocide again. Please, oh God, may it be so.

Prayer:

Bring us to place of greater humility, help us be gentle and accommodating to our brothers and sisters who have suffered so much – let us be an extension of your grace. Amen

Hydration = Happiness

Mwa-Ra-Moot-Say (translation: “good morning”) from the Wellspring 2017 Vision trip.

Morning birdsong gently fills the air. Yellow cascading flowers drip off of the trees just at the periphery of your field of vision. African pop music pulses in the courtyard below. The air is full of humid warmth and the room is full of the brightness of mid morning. More importantly, the room is full of laughter.

This is day one of the Wellspring Vision trip and we are in the capital city, Kigali. We sit around in a circle at the hotel and share our worries and excitement about the days ahead. Contemplative silence fills the gaps and then, yes, lots of laughter. The group is mixing very naturally and finding many subjects of shared interest to bond over.

Hydration = Happiness
Hydration = Happiness

“Hydration = Happiness” Jeff tells us and he lightheartedly punctuates the day by regularly passing out little of bottles of water.

On a more serious note, he tells us wholeheartedly that by travelling from Canada to witness the work of Wellspring, we are giving dignity to those we meet and demonstrating the importance of their stories and their lives.

Sol e Luna
Sol e Luna

We eat lunch at a breezy open air Italian restaurant which appears architecturally inspired by Tuscany. Vibrant paintings are hung on the walls, the high ceiling is supported by big wooden beams, and the backdrop is a 180 degree view of the hills of Kigali. The pizza tastes just like home (as does my Greek Salad) and if it weren’t for that warm air and the aforementioned hills, I wouldn’t know where on earth I am. We all acknowledge that jet lag is dragging on our energy and creating a shared fuzzy sense of reality.

After lunch we take a beautiful driving tour around the city. We see many notable buildings and hear historical stories explaining their significance. Our attention is drawn to the different styles of housing and to both the prosperity as well as the vast amount of poverty. This city is pulsing with hope for the future. Modern urban development is sprouting up everywhere right alongside the little fields of corn and mud-sided houses. How does this surge towards a modern urban landscape and economy affect average people as they look to the future for their children?

Arrival in Kigali

“We are happy and grateful for travelling mercies, clean connections and calm skies as we have all landed safely here in beautiful Kigali, Rwanda.  Our host Jeff met us at the airport and after taking care of basic entry requirements we were all relieved to claim our luggage and be escorted to our new home for the next few days.  Many of us are settling in and getting our bearings, connecting with our roommates and anticipating a beautiful fresh start tomorrow.  We look forward to posting our thoughts and learnings as we go and invite you to be part of our vision trip by following along.   We also covet your prayers for health and safety over all as we explore Rwanda with The Wellspring Foundation for Education.”