Five months ago I picked up from the plushy life I was living in Tel Aviv to move to rural Rwanda. Many people asked me why I decided to make this move. I heard “Wasn’t moving to Israel enough of an adventure?” “Where is Rwanda again?” and the simple “Why?”.
It all started about eight months ago. I was living in Israel, working at a major pharmaceutical company and enjoying my life. But I was feeling an itch to explore the underdeveloped world and get a firsthand perspective on what life is like in Africa.
At around the same time, I had heard about a fellowship program with The Joint Distribution Committee, the largest Jewish humanitarian aid organization in the world. They were looking for a Communications and Partnerships Fellow for their program in Rwanda at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. In this position, I would live among 500+ of some of Rwanda’s most vulnerable youth, and help improve the Village’s capacity through interacting with donors and building partnerships. This would be a one-year commitment, allowing me to see the African country and experience it in a structured way.
Every day is filled with the upsides of Rwandan village life: the communal environment, the friendliness, the resilience and the idea of giving back to the community.
I officially made my move to Rwanda about five months ago. I now live in this youth village, located about 60 kilometers outside Kigali, the capital city. While this seems relatively close, it still takes a moto to a bus to a moto to get there. There are 525 kids in the Village, all orphaned or from vulnerable homes. We eat rice, beans and potatoes every day, with salad on Mondays and eggs on Tuesdays. Occasionally we will have meat, but that’s only when our cow population becomes too large to maintain.
I was given a ‘family’ in the village, and I am ‘cousin’ to that family. In this role, I teach the girls about the Western world and help them improve their English. For many of the girls, this is the first family they have ever had, and for some of them, I am the first white person they have ever met. When I first met these girls, many of them were so shy that they couldn’t make eye contact with me. One of them didn’t know how to open a door using the doorknob.
Some days I come face-to-face with hardship, such as learning that one of the girls in my family has lost her only living relative, or seeing a student not able to pay for basic things like a toothbrush.
Just five months later, the differences are dramatic. Our conversations, while still limited, are filled with laughter, questions and a general interest in the world around them. I’m learning their stories and experiencing the sadness as well as the joy they feel everyday. It’s interesting to think that my moto driver or the person selling amandazis on the side of the road could be their mother or father.
My professional role at the Village is to manage communications and partnerships. This has opened my eyes to the wider Rwandan economic and social environment, in which I interact with NGOs, social enterprises and major corporations. More than anything, this has taught me that Rwanda is a place of great rebirth, and that the business opportunities are huge. While the country has not yet proven itself a leader in any one sector, I expect that can change in coming years.
We have visitors who come to the Village, and I get to experience the magic of the place from their eyes: the incredible green hills, the amazing fruits and vegetables that the land produces and the goats and cows that you wake up to in the early hours. Some days I come face-to-face with hardship, such as learning that one of the girls in my family has lost her only living relative, or seeing a student not able to pay for basic things like a toothbrush. But, every day is also filled with the upsides of Rwandan village life: the communal environment, the friendliness, the resilience and the idea of giving back to the community.