Seeing smiles in Kigali, Rwanda


Rwanda is unfortunately known primarily for the 1994 genocide that ravaged the country and took the lives of approximately one million men, women and children.  Much progress has been made and Rwanda is now a rising star in Africa from a developmental standpoint.  The efforts at reconciliation, the community driven attempts at justice and the forgiveness demonstrated by many is unfathomable, especially in a country where many victims see the men who killed their families on a daily or weekly basis, living free lives, raising their own children in the same communities where they took the lives of others.  However, in spite of the successes, there is no question there are tensions still bubbling underneath the surface and countrywide trauma, guilt and brokenness is palpable.

Sports is important for children all over the world, but after a national tragedy like the one in Rwanda, it takes on an even more important role.  Sports gives children a healthy way to exert physical aggression.  Sports gives children who have been through trauma (nearly everyone in Rwanda) a physical therapy session.  Sports gives children, especially girls, who have experienced or witnessed abuse, a much needed sense of control over their own bodies.  Sports gives a chance for people to come together on the same team with those from other people groups, with whom they have been traditionally opposed, in this case, violently.  And the list goes on…

In partnership with Nyanza Primary School and Ten Talents Int’l, we brought a group of 13, mostly adults, to construct a court that will be used for basketball and volleyball.  Our team was made up of several business owners, VPs of larger companies, a doctor, consultants and other people of influence.   Part of our mission is to help awaken a desire in our trip participants to serve the needs of the world in ways that align with their gifts, talents and passions.  It was exciting to see the creative power of our team being unleashed as they thought of ways to continue to be involved and help into the future.

The team worked extremely hard building the court, but also participated in various other activities, such as playing games with street children in partnership with a bi-weekly feeding program, visiting an orphanage, touring examples of social businesses, visiting a church service, and probably most powerfully, visiting the genocide museum and a memorial as well as hearing testimonies from genocide survivors, haunting experiences to say the least.  The 8 days in Rwanda definitely made a huge impact in the lives of each team member.

At the Kicukiro Genocide Memorial, you can visit the mass graves of at least 4,000 Rwandans who were murdered early in the conflict.  The field is not large, and it is nearly as difficult for the mind to imagine 4,000 bodies in a field as it is a million bodies in the country as a whole.   But, if you listen closely while you are at the Memorial, you might hear the laughter and joy of children playing in the school next door.  The school is Nyanza Primary school, home to at least 1,300 students and a newly built sports court.  While this project was one tiny step in the reconciliation process, it was a step, nonetheless, and an important one for those children at the school and in the surrounding community.

While our mission of building a court was a very rewarding experience, our time with the street kids and the feeding program will be my highlight.  Seeing the kids’ smiles and unconditional love when everything they own is on them or with them, is very humbling.  They are so content and we never heard a complaint.  Their passion to sing and dance, despite their circumstances, will definitely make me think twice before complaining again.  I am also amazed at the simplicity of their faith and their ability to forgive.

I’m convinced that we need them far more than they need us.  My prayer for myself is that these images and needs do not become a distant memory but rather a time of transition in my life to be more concerned and aware of the needs globally.

I have been going through a lot of hard and difficult things for the past couple of years, so… I thought! I do know what I have been going through is real to me and has been really hard for me. BUT, when you see what reality is for so many others and what they are going through, it makes my stuff so small! To see everyone here and what they do to live (how they live) and to see them truly thankful for getting a piece of candy, or an old pair of gloves, shoes or anything else they can use, it’s simply amazing! I seriously want to be like them, I want the HEART they have, I want the JOY they have, and I want to be THANKFUL like them. They have been a testimony to me.