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A gift...of hugs and many wonderful things...from Rwanda

Last week, I was part of a GLIA event in Rwanda. During the week, we made a SALT visit to a village called Ruhuha. This was about 90 minutes drive away from the capital, Kigali. The visit was remarkable in so many ways that it is very difficult to know where to start. But I will try.

In the village, a group of orphans had decided that they would work together to meet the challenges that they faced. So when we met them, one group was working to produce clothing for sale to the public. Another group was processing logs brought into them by customers. We found out that they were growing vegetables and selling them to the community and they were also selling water to the village. The money that they were making from these activities was directed towards making sure that school fees were paid and that medical treatment was available. The group came across as very determined to succeed and very confident that they would succeed.

We found out later that group had spread their message and their success to many of the communities around them.

The SALT visit began by visiting these activities and talking to the children about what they were doing and what they hoped to achieve in the future. We then went into quite a small room that was soon full to overflowing with people from the village, young and old. As usual there were some seats and chairs at the front of the room, but we the visiting group from the six countries of GLIA (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, DR Congo, and, of course, Rwanda) simply distributed ourselves randomly around the room and we found ourselves lost within the villagers.

The conversation was being facilitated by Prince Bosco in Kinyarwanda and it was going very well. At one point, Prince made his point in Kinyarwanda and I was quietly waiting for him to give a translation when I found myself enveloped by a mass of Rwandans, young and old who had responded, apparently, to Prince's invitation to hug the visitors. I felt overwhelmed by this wave of good will and good humour. This is not something that we are used to in the United Kingdom!

The visit went on and on. Lunchtime came and went. The villagers were determined to share with us their experiences and to ask us about ours. As we and our hosts finally reviewed at the end of the day what we had learned from each other, it was very clear that they had been taken aback and then appreciative of the way in which the barriers between us had been removed during the day. The hall was filled with energy, good humour and affection. There was laughter and noise. And, as always, there were children everywhere.

We finally got back to Kigali hours late. April's carefully planned programme for the day had to be thrown out of the window. Our schedule for the week had received quite a setback. And yet, I know that I and many others felt inspired by what had happened in Ruhaha. For the rest of the day, I did little but reflect on this SALT visit. And at the end of it, it seemed to me that not only had I received a wonderful collection of hugs from women and men of all ages, but I had received sufficient inspiration to sustain me for a long time to come. I felt I had received a wonderful set of gifts from the villagers for which I am immensely grateful.

And I will finish with a small word of thanks for the remarkable facilitation skills of Prince Bosco.

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Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on July 26, 2009 at 3:44am
Dear Phil,

Thanks for taking us on a wonderful trip to Ruhaha. What you have said is so true, "..the barriers between us had been removed". When from 'they' and 'us' becomes 'us' the exchange is mutual open and flows freely.

Your experience rings a bell. My first SALT visit two years ago and my latest SALT visit two months ago. In July 2007, I recall being part of a team which met a group of adolescent girls. A girl and I hit it off when we both realized that we had faced a similar situation when our respective fathers had refused to let us study in another city. In my SALT visit in May this year, our facilitation team had a sex worker who wanted to talk to me but was hesitant. I finally approached her and we got talking. We had a beautiful conversation and in the end she said that as we were from different backgrounds and initially she was not sure of conversing with me. In the end, I learnt more from her than she did from me.

Phil, I learnt from your blog that inspite of all the differences, we are human beings who may have language barriers but we do understand and are moved by a smile, a tear, a hug...

Thanks and best wishes,


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