Not your TV Africa

Impact: 4
Support: 4
Fun: 5
Value: 5
Safety: 5

Upon arriving in Kigali, our group navigated by foot the congested downtown core to find the public van that would take us one hour away to Gashora, the town in which we would live for the next 4 weeks. Working with a Rwandan development organization –Building Bridges with Rwanda– we helped to design and begin construction on an innovative building that would soon be home to a women's vocational training center, to Covaga's talented basket weavers, to a showroom for the women's beautiful handmade baskets, a quaint restaurant, and a community center.

After breakfast every morning we would make our way by foot to the worksite and be briefed on what the plan was for that particular day. Alongside the women of Covaga, the locally hired helpers and many folks from the laid-back community, we surveyed the land, cleared and flattened it, dug irrigation channels, fetched water from the local well, make thousands of mud bricks one by one and do all of the stonework – the local way!

The weeks we spent in Gashora were amazing. Everybody loved the camaraderie of having locals work with us, learning our language and in return teaching us theirs. The community embraced us so warmly and sent us off extravagantly on our last day. We were also invited to compete in large soccer (or football, as it is locally known) that were attended by no less than 600 cheering spectators.

The most difficult part of the experience was the logistical part of trying to get 50+ (often different people day to day) people to work together and pull in the same direction with the construction of the building. With few skilled tradesmen and minimal formal written plans, a lot of time was spent fixing unforeseen problems that we created, most notably a swimming pool sized hole that was dug over 3 weeks to help guide water away from the building which was later decided against, thus needing to be filled in. The language barrier coupled with the fact that we had tons of eager helpers keen to work but only 2 guiding voices to orchestrate the immense project caused quite a bit of confusion and frustration.

All in all, the project was an absolute blast to be part of. Despite sometimes feeling as though we were taking two steps forward and then one step back, we saw a great deal of progress. We saw a huge plot of land go from hilly and overgrown with weeds to level and cleared. We erected many precisely made columns around which the building would be framed. We connected the building to the town's main water source and completed many other important tasks to get this wonderful community a brand new community center. During all of the hard work, we also made connections that will last forever. Of the 30 participants that came to Gashora in our group, some have already returned and several have plans to go back in 2011 and 2012.

I would recommend that anyone go see Rwanda at some point in their lives. 1994 was a dark year in Rwanda's history but the country is now a miraculous story of recovery, forgiveness and healing. It is not a place to miss and Gashora is a great place to start.

Would you recommend this program?
Yes, I would