What energy!! From wheels down to take off, this trip to Rwanda was filled with many excursions to document and interview, do some storytelling, create art with women and children, facilitate and run workshops, and last, but not least, enjoy the company and music of talented Rwandans.
Our visit to Ready for Reading was no different in the level of energy and excitement. My team and I drove two hours east from Kigali to Rwinkwavu on our first work day. We had the two suitcases filled with books and activity games and art supplies for teaching painting workshops to 20 women and many children. It was a packed car as we were staying for a few days to visit and teach.
Day 1: We met the staff and faculty at Ready for Reading and within minutes we were in a lively discussion about Rwandan authors and books that reached the children’s hearts. Furaha grabbed her favorite book off the shelf; it was the “sound of the language” that moved her, she said. I asked her to read it to us so she invited us to sit, knees to elbows, around a grammar-school, sized table. Even though I do not understand Kinyarwandan, I could hear the beauty in the music of the words as she read.
In the afternoon, we planned to teach the children’s class. First, we toured the space and fell in love with the atmosphere of the back, outdoor brick platform where the light reflected off the warm copper-toned bricks, the orange earth glowed in the sun, and steps leading up to the garden gave an expansive backdrop that allowed one to glance off into the distance to create. It was an inspiring outdoor vista that Ready for Reading had created. Augustin suggested we hold the classes outside and, we all agreed. Immediately, we went inside and along with staff grabbed tables and chairs, hauled them out to the back brick platform and setup to teach and paint en plein air. The children arrived outside, chose a spot, and Augustin jumped right into talking about colors and how they can evoke emotions and connect a viewer. Without a prompt, they each began to paint, thinking and choosing colors based on what they learned. They created images with subjects that were close to them, most in literal proximity: houses, maps of their village, family, flowers and trees outside of their home.
Day 2: In the morning, we got to see business as usual at Ready for Reading. The doors to the classrooms are open and in passing through the halls, the productive flow of collaborative ideas between teachers and interaction between students is apparent. The teachers and staff are passionate, hardworking and accomplish much across a broad range of education. In the one morning, we were able to sit in on: computer training, literacy for adults, pre-K, and prep for students between secondary school and university.
Claudine decided to have an impromptu team-building exercise with the staff showing the importance of support from co-workers. Although, they weren’t expecting it, it was well received and met with laughter and applause. Click here for a short video portion of that exercise.
In the afternoon while we waited for the women’s group, we used our time wisely and shucked beans on the back brick platform for the evenings dinner.
Twenty women joined us around the table, in our now, outdoor classroom. We first introduced the book, Tested to the Limit: A Genocide Survivor’s Story of Pain, Resilience, and Hope by Rwandan memoirist, Consolee Nishimwe. Claudine read aloud poignant and moving excerpts from the book, which encouraged the women to share a personal memory of their own; some opened up about their experience during the genocide and others talked about hope and their lives post-genocide. After the discussion, Augustin taught them to convey the emotions of those memories that they shared in color and paint.
Day 3: In the morning, we visited the classrooms again and had a tough time leaving the staff, teachers and students. Thank you Ready for Reading for doing what you do and joyfully including us as guest presenters.
Ready for Reading: (L to R) Jean Marie Habimana, Protais Turatsinze, Furaha Ernestine, Claudine Umawahoro, Carol McGorry, Yves Kana, Augustin Hakizimana, and Emmanuel Ndayambaje