Team Rwanda!!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 evening’s dinner.

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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.

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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.

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Ready for Reading: (L to R) Jean Marie Habimana, Protais Turatsinze, Furaha Ernestine, Claudine Umawahoro, Carol McGorry, Yves Kana, Augustin Hakizimana, and Emmanuel Ndayambaje

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Ready for Rwanda 2015

book bag It’s time to leave for Rwanda again!! This year, I’m excited to be working with Ready for Reading. Founded in 2007, by Betsy Dickey, this non-profit organization funds the Rwinkwavu Community Library and Learning Center in Rwanda. I’ve volunteered to carry two, 50-pound suitcases of dictionaries, books, IT supplies, puzzles and, my favorite, JENGA!

I’ll be delivering these amazing supplies, provided by Betsy, with Augustin Hakizimana and Claudine Uwamaharo. You’ve met Claudine in previous posts, now let me introduce you to Augustin. He is a painter from the Uburanga Arts Studio and works often with young children teaching them to create abstract paintings from personal reactions, memories and experiences.

We are planning a three-day stay in Rwinkwavu, to lead multiple workshops with Augustin and myself collaborating on reading, painting and writing. We will be working with children and adult women in these instructional and creative classes.

 

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Augustin Hakizimana at work on a public mural.

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Ready for Reading in action.

Site-Responsive Collaborations in Rwanda

It’s time to go back to Rwanda. This time, it’s all about International Creative Collaboration…fiber, creative writing, photography, painting.  Again I am going with Master Weaver Melissa Johnson so, of course, we will be working with CHAHBA: INEZA PUTNEY Weaving Cooperative Project. And, with Claudine Uwamahoro, our friend from Kigali who visited us in the US over the winter, we will be working to develop a community project around writing and visual art.

New this journey, after researching artists in Rwanda and coming across this recent NY Times article, I contacted Uburanga Art Studio. We are excited to collaborate with them in various media. One such way is through a new self-funded project, The Dreamers, by New York City-based portrait and documentary photographer, Abby Kraftowitz. “Here’s how it works,” she says. “I provide a printed photograph of a portrait or a scene.  The print becomes a canvas for the artist to create in his or her voice, directly on the photograph with any medium reacting to this image of a perfect stranger.” These photographs are coming with us on the plane tomorrow!

Creative Writing will be a new collaboration this year as well. I discussed with the Uburanga Art Studio my intentions, and instead of formulating a plan before I leave, I will be doing a site-responsive creative writing session with the artists at the studio. My plan is to join with the artists as we individually respond in our own writing to either a Kinyarwanda word or local imagery that I’ve photographed all within a cooperative working space. Kigali is no stranger to cooperative working sessions. According to the NY Times article mentioned earlier: “The lively art scene has turned this once-quiet and traumatized city into a place where not just art openings but also literary readings, dance performances and concerts take place regularly in the courtyards of galleries, and artists give lunchtime lectures at cooperative working spaces.”

Looking forward to keeping you all posted on the collaborations while in the field.

A New Lens

8\26…Monday in Rwanda. We arrive at the school, Groupe Scolaire Kicukiro, an otherwise primary school with a now dedicated room for adults wanting to learn the craft of weaving as part of the CHABHA program. Melissa Johnson and I find the women and Oscar weaving at the looms. With new loom in tow, it only needed assembly, not an easy task but with Melissa’s expertise, the local craftspeople and the Rwandan music and singing that went along with the weaving… it happened!

The students have only been weaving since late July, when Melissa and her students from the Putney School made their first trip to Kigali.

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Later Monday. Color is already laid on the warp beam.  The students easily work together designing and hand making colorful scarves. While one student will select a range of colors and imagine a design, they often and instinctively collaborate to finish one piece.

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The weaving project brought me to Rwanda, but once there, I met Claudine Uwamahoro, an administrator at the Gasabo School District in Kigali. Her story will move you — She is the sole genocide survivor of her family of 10.

Claudine generously took off from work that week and introduced me to intimate spaces in Rwanda — to schools, to churches, to the site where her family was killed. Below are snapshots of Claudine, wearing the purple dress, with Mary, the woman who hid her in her home and saved her life during the Rwandan Genocide.

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October…The States.  These connections, unanticipated, are reverberating. This week, The Putney School in Vermont is hosting Claudine on her first US trip where she will both teach and learn. Next week, at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island, she will share her story and discuss the legacy of genocide in the lives of Rwandans today.

Weaving and Leaving… Shetlands to Rwanda

Leaving today at noon for overnight flights to Rwanda to work with Melissa Johnson of The Putney School.  This is a follow-up to the trip Johnson and Putney School students made to Rwanda in July. At that time, they brought four Harrisville Looms to teach students how to weave and create income-generating opportunities working with CHABHA (Children Affected by HIV/AIDS). 

Johnson and I are packing a loom and yarn and knitting needles, so I’m going camera simple–bringing only my lightweight digital Olympus E-PL1 and just two lenses…one new that thankfully arrived just in time this morning before my flight. Although we’ll see as I close the bag…still thinking about throwing in a pinhole and a few rolls of film.

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Today’s trip is a second unexpected journey this summer connecting with weavers and textile artists.  In late July, I was in the Shetlands. There were so many highlights to share–like an outdoor circle of 80 knitters working on one project. This circle was made up of both Shetlanders, Nordics and myself… on my birthday no less!

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Knitting Circle at the Böd of Gremista

I was forging my own craft trail– to the South for a lesson in Fair Isle technique with Shetlander Elizabeth Johnston; to the North to visit with fiber artist Iwona Charleson who in addition to spinning yarn from her own croft-raised sheep takes time to create and handcraft one-of-a-kind polymer clay knitting needles.

Then, off to Yell on the ferry where my craft trail got the attention of two young French visitors. They asked to join along while they were en route to Unst, the most northerly point in the UK. I was happy to have co-pilots to remind me to stay to the left while driving to the weaving studio of Andy Ross. Ross is creating artistic and educational opportunities in a remote spot (900+ residents) for all ages. I had been following his blog for a couple of years now, so I couldn’t wait to meet him, see the space and share ideas. He gladly opened the doors to the three of us and within ten minutes had the French visitors weaving on a loom. What a privilege and so much more to share with you all about this part of the adventure. In the meantime, here is a photo of Cami, Carole and Andy at the loom.

Budapest Reel with Lomo Spinner

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Lomography Spinner camera makes for interesting motion when the subject is moving as well. Here the swirl of these Hungarian folk dancers is redoubled by the 360 spinning of the camera lens. It creates a kind of all-at-onceness that you can’t otherwise experience or take in with the eye. This image is a 30″ x 23″ print, scanned from the film and printed on Fabriano Artistico at Indian Hill Imageworks, VT.

Shot in Budapest. While roaming the streets, I walked  into a plaza and found myself in the midst of this festival.

Why I was in Budapest….

My friend Danielle and I were en route to Romania to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. The build was a new home for a widow with two grown daughters; the three of them had been living in a one room dwelling with no indoor toilet, the one-room sat just next to the train tracks. It was the summer of 2011, and it was a scorcher. As we wore hard hats, face masks and goggles, sitting on Romanian scaffolding on the second floor to apply stucco to the exterior of the home… we were so hot, sooo hot in the over 110 degree sun, but we couldn’t help to not feel grateful for all that was back home.

With the crew: Kristin Holmes Rouse, team leader.

With the crew: Kristin Holmes Rouse, standing in white tee, our team leader.On the scaffoldingOn the scaffoldingThe home nearly finished in Cluj, RomaniaThe home nearly finished in Cluj, Romania