I just returned from five weeks in Rwanda, where I traveled to learn about national reconciliation and peace building in the wake of the genocide against Tutsi. From the undulating hills of Kigali to the blue waters of Lake Kivu, I was immediately struck by the country’s natural beauty. But more than the physical landscape, the people etched unforgettable marks on my memory. Rwandans from all walks of life were quick to flash a smile and welcome a muzungu to their “land of a thousand hills.” They immediately disproved the international stereotypes of Rwanda as a country still caught in the grips of genocide: where I expected to encounter death, I found a people that honored their past while looking towards the future with enthusiasm and optimism.
My experience would not have been nearly as memorable or meaningful without the wonderful relationships I was able to form with Servas Rwanda members. Emmanuel and Charlotte Nyampatsi welcomed me into their home for several weeks. Our daily conversations over dinners of fufu and vegetables, afternoons playing with their children, and their determination to help me learn as much as I could from Rwanda filled the five weeks with memories that I will never forget. With them I visited genocide memorials shared stories, discussed community therapy and tried banana wine. Claudine Uwamahoro took me along to her community’s umuganda community service day and over meals of beer and goat brochettes taught me about conflict resolution strategies she’s used to heal divisions in her village.