By James Waterfield
Volunteering is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in other cultures, meet people, make new friends and most importantly- change lives. Last summer I spent a month in Rwanda teaching with the Debate Mate charity and I couldn’t recommend it more! Below you’ll find out what my typical week of volunteering looked like.
Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday
The first three days of the week were dedicated to teaching kids debating skills to prepare them for an upcoming competition. Each volunteer was in charge of a specific school,
which gave us an amazing opportunity to build relationships with the
students. Teaching brought many new challenges, for instance, in each class there was a range of both age and ability, and in most schools, the limited English left a sea of smiling and nodding heads. This was however a fantastic opportunity to learn some Kinyarwandan phrases, such as ‘Do you understand?’ and ‘Are you listening to me?’ As the days went by, I seemed to adjust well and I was very proud of the progress that my students made.
We taught every day from 7:30 am until 13:00 pm. Having the second half of the day off gave us an opportunity to explore Rwanda. We used this time to visit the local farming villages, art galleries, women centres and memorials. One of the most memorable visits was to the Niyo Art gallery, where we learned a traditional Rwandan dance and drumming from local kids. In return, we taught them some of our Debate Mate games which received a very positive reaction.
Competition day! This was the day we put on our tailored suits that we bought earlier in the week. We were excited to give the students the day that they deserved. The day was full
of emotions; while there was an overall sense of competitiveness, the kids were laughing
and cheering on their teammates. The schools debated on issues such as education, transport, exams and voting rights. It was amazing to see how passionate the students were, even though for some, English was their second or third language. It was incredible to observe the students I’ve worked with in the past weeks and see their excitement and determination to learn.
Friday & The Weekend
The weekend was a time for exploring Rwanda. Activities included: a safari in Akagera National Park and a trip to Lake Gisenyi. For locals, Saturday was when everyone would take a pause on their daily life and engage in Umuganda – community service. This involved cleaning the streets, forests, and fields. With the friends we made at the Niyo Art Gallery, we came together to clean out the drainage systems. A tiring few hours of work was finished off by an invitation to the village meeting. This was a very special moment for all of us as this meant we were accepted into the local community and recognized for our help.
As I now look back on my time in Rwanda, I think back to my students, the people we met and the multitude of friendships that I formed. Volunteering in Rwanda truly influenced my worldview and made me appreciate the work similar charities do for local communities. This is an incredible opportunity to help others while also discovering the world for myself. I will always be proud of the work my colleagues and I accomplished in Rwanda and I encourage others to do the same.