Give of your time, give of yourself

At Papyrus café and bistro a few weeks ago I met a young American lady living in the Eastern Province, Rwinkwavu to be exact.

To say that I found that a mite baffling is an understatement, it hadn’t crossed my mind that a visitor to our country would choose to live there. It doubt whether it has the basic amenities of say Kigali, Ruhengeri or Butare.

I doubt that you can get regular electricity, forget about enjoying a cappuccino and wireless internet.

In other words, it wasn’t a place you’d think that a young woman, living in Rwanda, would choose to call home.

But she had.  Why , I wondered, would a young, educated woman decide to leave her country and live in a village? Because, she told me, she was a volunteer at a local primary school in the area, teaching young children how to read.

The conversation had me thinking. Why should someone travel thousands of miles to teach our children skills that we certainly can teach just as well?

Because she had the spirit of volunteerism while we don’t.  I find this fact uncomfortable because as I indict other Rwandans, I must be honest enough to acknowledge that I, too, am part of the problem.

We are so busy attempting to get ahead in life and earn the big bucks. They say that time is ‘money’… and well we’ve become disciples of this gospel.  However, is that enough?

Like I said earlier, I’m the first to acknowledge that I fall short. However, that doesn’t mean that I, or anyone else, should shrug our shoulders and continue living like we don’t see the need.

Our government is doing a great job in bringing development to all corners of the country.

It’s using our taxes (which I think are ridiculously high, but that is a topic for another day) to build road networks, put up schools, bring clean water to homesteads and provide health insurance for the poorest in our society.

However, it can’t do everything. Society must contribute as well, and it has.

The Bye-bye Nyakatsi and the One-Dollar campaign are examples of initiatives where Rwandan society took up the mantle of development.

So, giving away our money for altruistic purposes isn’t a facet of character that Rwandans lack. Maybe what we don’t want to do is actually get our hands dirty. Sometimes money can’t fix everything.

Talking to the American volunteer, I listened as she told me about the challenges that the children had.

While the school had plenty of books (kudos to the Ministry of Education) the children didn’t enjoy them because they didn’t have anyone to read to them.

Hearing this I was heartbroken. I’ve loved reading since I was young and the thought of life without the magic of books is one I cannot envisage. But I needed someone to get me started.

Luckily I had parents and teachers who read to me and as soon as I learnt how to read, my imagination ran riot.

The books took me away from the confines of my bedroom to places as far away and Nepal and Austria. They opened the world, with all its possibilities to me.

So, while the government did its best, providing books, the kids didn’t have anyone to simply read to them. That is, until someone came to read to them.

It’s as simple as that. Sometimes we don’t have to simply throw money at a problem until it goes away. Sometimes, by our very involvement, problems are solved.

A few years ago, I went to ‘solidarity camp’ (ingando) after high school and I thought it was great. However, I think the people that planned it could have done better.

Instead of having a bunch of teenagers march up and down and what not, I think the entire programme would have been more far reaching if they had taken us to different parts of the country to volunteer in building homes for the needy, building wells and yes, reading to school children. I think that the ministry of education should work in tandem with the local government ministry to make this a reality.

Teaching Rwandans to give of their time, and not just their money will be a result of this proposal.

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