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Rwanda 2012, Week 1

First, a few words about transitioning (yet, again) from one country with its own culture, language, way of life, etc. to another without any break in between. I’ve performed this kind of total transition three times (US→India→Kenya→Rwanda) now within a span of 18 months.

The first three to five days are the toughest. You’re reluctant to get out of bed. There’s anxiety about the day in front of you because you face an unknown landscape and you don't yet have confidence things are going to be alright.

Your only certainties, at times, include brushing teeth, getting dressed, meals, and the like. You’re not sure about the flushing protocol for this new toilet that doesn’t flush. You’re not sure where to fetch water if you run out. Where and how do you wash your clothes? The concerns tend to revolve around your personal comfort, especially the comfort from having a known routine you feel in control of.

What you find though is that others, even strangers, are concerned for you, knowing what kind of situation you are in and do help you out. This helps.

There are also those long periods of time where you don’t have much to do, and you find yourself bored and feeling ineffectual. Also normal, and necessary. It takes time to build up a new flow that generates activity to keep you occupied throughout the day—it’s just like uprooting a tree and planting it elsewhere, your roots don’t tap water instantaneously.

Everything always works out. This has to be the Golden Rule of international travel (and for living life). 99% of your worries don't come to pass. Even in the 1% of cases where "worst case" scenarios come true (I've had a couple of those!), everything still works out and a solution is found.

Back at Remera Mbogo School

This third transition to Kigali, Rwanda was by far the easiest since I’ve been to the country twice before in 2010 and 2009, though not on my own like I am now.

I’m setup in a wing of a teacher’s dormitory at a secondary school situated on the top of a remote mountain just outside of Kigali, and will be here for the next three months conducting programs with the students.

Remera Mbogo school sits on the top of a mountain just outside of Kigali, Rwanda.

Remera Mbogo school sits on the top of a mountain just outside of Kigali, Rwanda.

This school, called Remera Mbogo, enrolls 300 students, approximately 100 are orphans who survived the 1994 genocide.

By comparison to the Brosis School in Nairobi, Remera is financially much more stable, and mostly OK. There are some sustainability challenges (e.g., difficulty affording new textbooks) but none, in my opinion, that require much outside intervention.

All the students are paying school fees, where at Brosis the majority were not because of their poverty level. While the students of Remera Mbogo all, by in large, hail from financially poor families—the poverty is not as desperate as what I observed in Nairobi.

Sustainability of Brosis was my primary focus, here at Remera it will be with the graduating seniors, as well as with a group of orphans who still grapple with lingering trauma from what they experienced during the genocide.

teaching Entrepreneurship

The challenge the graduating seniors face is that most (historically, upwards of 90%) will not earn the marks on the final national exam to enable them to apply for college. Without a college education, it’s difficult to find employment in Kigali, a rapidly developing city, which can mean a life lived in continued poverty performing lower level types of labor.

Why are so many students failing the exam? Because it's given in English and the school can't afford the necessary textbooks to teach the language properly. As such, the majority are taking a hard exam in a language they only have a basic understanding of.

Senior class meets at Remera Mbogo.

Senior class meets at Remera Mbogo.

That is not an issue I'm equipped to solve in the time that I have here and with the resources I possess. It would require successfully implementing a substantial income generating activity the school could rely on for additional revenue outside of school fees.

What I can and want to do is share with the graduating seniors about entrepreneurship and "taking matters into your own hands" when a prescribed path seems blocked. Perhaps this could help with the anxiety many experience when looking ahead to potentially not being able to go to college or find a job. It's always helpful to at least know you have options. 

(It’s interesting to note that President Kagame has attempted to address this exact issue by making credit available for Rwandan citizens who can’t find employment, in order for them to be able to start a business.)

So, I will be developing a leadership/entrepreneurship style course for the seniors with the  idea for them to get a visceral feel of starting a project on your own and working on it to completion.

Trauma Therapy

I’ve heard first hand the stories of some of the students who survived the genocide in 1994.

They saw and experienced things no human being should have to experience. What kind of toll would it take if you personally observed both of your parents get shot or macheted to death in front of your eyes? If you were beaten and left to die on a pile of bodies?

These horrific things they saw and experienced, at less than 10 years of age. In addition, many had to fight for survival in the chaotic aftermath of the genocide, without any form of support.

As of this publishing (the numbers have been much greater in the past), 100 of the students attending Remera survived the genocide, though were left without parents and scores of family members. 18 years later, they continue to suffer from the effects of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (cPTSD), which makes learning at school a highly challenging task.

These brave orphans are also plagued by the visual memories of the genocide, which can lead to full blown trauma episodes (panic attacks, running away from school, inability to speak or move, violent shaking, etc.) requiring hospitalization.

All the community development work you might have read about on this website is born out of my years of training and experience with traditional approaches to medicine and health. I see community health sharing all the same principles as individual health, so the two disciplines have natural overlaps.

Jin Shin Jyutsu is an ancient form of medicine native to Japan that was revived from obscurity around the time Einstein developed the Theory of Relativity, and has quietly grown in popularity throughout the globe, though has remained somewhat unknown and underground.

It is hands on in nature and addresses the root causes of physical, mental, and emotional disease. It had life-altering, dramatic effects with me, and was incredibly effective with the few genocide survivors I treated in previous years.

Jin Shin Jyutsu works well with those in a traumatized state because no talking is involved, as treatments are conducted in silence. It has a gentle, yet powerful nature that expunges stored trauma in an elegant way — little by little — so nothing becomes too overwhelming.

I plan to do what I did before, i.e., treat those students still suffering from cPTSD on an ongoing basis over the coming weeks to, hopefully, mitigate some of their symptoms. In addition, I am trying to arrange for once in a week group meetings where we can share and do therapeutic activities together.

The wounds of the genocide run so deep, they will likely never fully heal. However, psychological and emotional stabilization can most definitely occur and with this a desire to live life well in honor of all those who you lost.

Such are the river banks for the next three months, as I wind down this nearly two year journey abroad.

Continue to the next update about my work at the Remera Mbogo School.