Land of a thousand hills, or more..

one of the sisters fitting a child for a hearing aid

As I enter into the third week of my stay here in Rwanda, it is hard to fully articulate the hidden treasure that has been my experience. I spent about a week when I first arrived in the capitol city of Kigali, with a wonderful family who hosted me and helped me learn a little bit of Kinyarwanda. During that week I was also looking for some kind of children’s center which would be good to visit or stay at. What the treasure lies hidden in is a lot of times of waiting and wondering what to do and practicing patience(this kind of patience has become a common theme in my travels), but after those layers of trials I was introduced to some people, and someone in particular who has really to me exemplified dedication to humanity and the dignity of each individual life.

Sister Josephine and I

Sister Josephine is one of my good friends’ Aunt. She works here in a rural area of Rwanda, in finding disabled, injured, and handicapped children and getting them the treatment that they need. If necessary, she works with the families to ensure that treatment continues at home and also to ensure that families understand how to help their children. For the first few days here with Sister Josephine in Muganza, I have been flipping through the photos and stories of the children that she has assisted and treated in the area. There are three albums full of pictures of the children that have already been treated, with corresponding numbers and names, along with the name of the condition. In another large binder there are detailed descriptions of the meetings, treatments, and goals for each child. The cases include deformation of limbs, broken limbs which have not been treated, blindness, deaf and hearing impaired, children with epilepsy, clef lips, burn wounds and other illnesses. Along with the pictures, notes and comments, on the condition, treatment, and progress of each child are kept. One photo simply shows an unmarked grave except for the flowers strewn across the ground. In this case the child’s handicap was too great and she was unable to be saved.

Soon, my understanding of Sister Josephine’s work grew beyond the pictures and reports that I had read through. When we went to mass early that Sunday morning, amid the soaring voices and the rhythmic clapping of the congregation, she pointed out to me children who had been treated. Among them one child who had had a cleft lip and another who had been treated for malformed feet. The choir at mass was composed mostly of women, who sat in the front pews of the congregation, dressed in bright prints and a few with babies on their backs. The men in the congregation echoed their clear voices and in some songs the women and girls stretched their arms and flexed their wrists in an elegant Rwandan dance that reminded me of the easy glide of a bird in flight. The motion reflected beautifully the soaring simple voices, unaccompanied by instruments but somehow not lacking in fullness. As the week wore on, I was able to meet several of the others among the handicapped children of the area. While on a walk around the village, a child of about 8 with a sweet disposition and arms that were not fully formed. There were also two boys with broken bones which had not been treated and remained broken or had become infected who came to the center where the nuns worked so that they could help them to get to a center of treatment. The village, or small town, (I’m not quite sure which one Muganza is) consists of one dirt road where are found several small general stores, and a longer stretch of dirt road on which are located all the houses and fields. The terrain is very hilly, and you can see the many surrounding hills around the village. It is easy to see from this vantage point why Rwanda is famously called the land of a thousand hills. I enjoyed the ride and view back from Kigali even though it was quite a trek in the rain to try to find the van that I had to catch. Now, back in Kigali I am enjoying being urban again, and of course the coffee joints that come along with an urban setting. Now time for a short rest and some reflection on what direction the winds will take me next!

P.S. A special thanks to Richard and Angelique for helping me with contacts!

The hills at Kitabi

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