Tuesday, August 25, 2009
"A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere...Where Soul Meets Body".....The creative process and the creation of UBUZIMA ART..
"If you have come here to help me, you can go home again. But if you see my struggle as part of your own survival, then perhaps we can work together."
-Australian Aboriginal Woman.
I drop passion fruit all over my pants as i write this and comtemplate on the words of the old wise woman who spoke them. Although, I never met her, I feel like if I did we could sit and share a cup of something deliciously indigenous and vibe. She seems to have summed up my entire experience in a few simple words of her own; "My Struggle," "Your Survival," "Work together." That is what I feel when I am with my children in the community. I feel the struggle, because poverty is all around. Yet I feel a great sense of overcoming and survival as we labor together to create a master piece. And i realize, to make a master piece, to create anything that is great; one must struggle for it.
In this process I am experiencing, I feel layers and layers of tough skin shedding off and a re-birth of who I once was coming back to life. The challenges are bearable, but procrastination is not. There are just too many children who are depending on me now. I see them everyday, they run to me in the mornings speaking my name like it is an ancient chant. We draw and read books together. We play games and share songs on the weekends. They help me with my bags and I help them with their water cans. They walk me to the taxi, I walk them to school. We drink Fanta, they sing and dance traditional dances for me. My life has become surrounded by children. I feel like a King or something regal of sorts, when they are filled with joy to share their culture with me. The joy I have found in sharing with the people, I have mostly found in teaching the children health and art. I know they are learning because they give me the work they have completed which shows the lessons they have learned. It just goes to show, that anything you give a child is what they learn to do and become. If you teach them how to use a gun they will use it. If you teach them how to use an instrument, they will play it. And when you teach them the basic concepts of hygiene, health and nutrition through a medium which is fun and expressive; they will make beautiful paintings and drawings.
When I first arrived to Rwanda and was placed in my site at Nyakabanda, Nymirambo, I didn't know what to expect. Actually, i just planned not to expect anything because i was literally walking into the unknown. I know it is so human of us to try to be comfortable all the time. For once I said, I will just adjust to discomfort. That I did, it was difficult with people always stopping what they did just to stare at me. Always laughing at the way I spoke and walked. Weird men who want to marry white women assuming that I would be interested in being their wife. Street children harrassing and asking for money. No running water and no electricity when you need it. Every corner you turn, you are reminded that you are not from here and you do not fit in. You can't fit in, especially if you can't even speak the language. Those were my struggles, but as time passed on, my struggles became so mundane when I saw the children everyday. They were the one's who would show me unconditional love. They were the one's I learned the language from, and they were the one's who always uplifted my spirits when I needed to be reminded of who I am and what my purpose was.
It was the children that reminded me of why I do what I do. They are the means, the reason, and the end to successful development in any country. They reminded me of who I used to be when I was a child with a vivid imagination and dreams to do something great in the world.
According to the Reichenbach Foundation, International Society for stress studies:
Today many children of Rwanda suffer from post traumatic stress symptoms. It was within a period of 100 days between April and July in 1994, approxiamately 800,000 to one million Rwandese lost their lives to Genocide. Fighting erupted between two artificially created ethnic groups. Neighbors killed neighbors, children murdered children, teachers killed their students and husbands murdered their own wives if they were Tutsi. After the Rwandan genocide, many children lost most, if not all, of their family members. The phenomenon of numerous child-headed households (CHHs) is among the tragic results of these disruptions. The genocide has left the country with a significant number of children who have no relatives.
Many of these children have had to become the head of the house hold and their is a study that states their are over 300,000 house holds in Rwanda are CHH households. In addition to this, these children and adolescents have to cope with serious physical disabilities as well as war traumas.
Living in Rwanda, and I mean really living in Rwanda. Not being some NGO that lives on the outskirts of the people in a lavish house and drives a nice jeep handing out incentives here and there. Living with the people and seeing this for myself, I know how the genocide has affected the youth in more ways than one can imagine.I have many friends who do not have a mother or a father and can only depend on each other.It also made me see that I have no excuse to complain about what I have and what I don't have in my life. I can also relate because I grew up with my brother and sister in a very independent manner, yet we always had family relatives who took part in our development. There are many youth here who do not have any relatives and the community has become their only family, and women like my supervisor Emmerance who advocate for these orphans.
This was where the foundation and formation of the project idea UBUZIMA ARTS was created. I met a few really creative and innovative young artists from Rwanda who started their own art studio called Ivuka. The founder and director; Collin Sekajugo is Rwandese but was born in Uganda, like so many of the returned Rwandese families who had to flee during genocide. A new generation of Rwandan youth have emerged and many are trying to do their share in developing their country. Talking to them and learning their history shed light upon the struggle and tragic events that had taken place. Understanding their struggle and seeing my survival in their art has flourished into a great partnership and re-birth of ideas and activities to better serve the Rwandan community. Actually, IVUKA means re-birth. It comes from the original Rwandan language known as Kinyarwanda. It is the language that I have learned to speak in my Peace Corps training and will be the language I take with me through out my life. I know there will come a day when I meet other PCV's who served in Rwanda or Rwandese in the US. We will greet each other, we will share some words from our Rwandan family. We will have something in common that brings us together, although we all look very different.
People are still confused as to what I am, and I occassionally get UMUHINDI... which is cool. Anything but MUZUNGU please.
On another level: I have been told by many Rwandans that I am Rwandan and we come from the same origin...lol. I have to laugh at this, but I am truly honored.
I do feel connected to them coming from two ethnic groups that have experienced genocide deeply embedded in our "so called" history. My mother who is West Indian and Native American Indian, her father, American Indian from the Naragansette tribe and her mother American born, but grandmother from St. Kitts and my father's family who is Jewish, (whatever that means, i'm still confused about the concept some say religion while others say ethnicity, me Im human... don't judge me). It makes an awfully confused child, and a great display of the Idea that is America and it's melting pots of cultures. Which holds enough generations of struggle and oppression, overcoming, disaster to triumph.
Everyday I am so thankful that I love my life here in Rwanda and that for the most part, I feel confident that the people love me too. Because I truly love them. They have given me purpose, in which I am working towards a righteous goal that will benefit us as a whole and not just myself alone.
So what is development? Many say...access to resources, access to money and tangible things, skills, education, good health, gender equality....? What else? Think about it. But what I have discovered here in Rwanda's development, as I have seen it, their courage and strength to love even their enemies. There is a lot that can be learned here from very young and courageous individuals I have had the privilege to know. Everyday I realize we are not here to develop anything, in fact we are being developed by our communities (slowly by slowly) and for that I am eternally grateful.
"At the core of our development process will be what constitutes Rwanda's principal assets: it's people."-ministry of health.