Ruth Wilson: What I learnt from a Rwandan refugee camp
Earlier this year, Ruth Wilson travelled to a Rwandan refugee camp with Save the Children in what was to be an eye-opening, life-changing trip. Here, she relays her experience.
"Shoot!" yells Karina, a tall, athletic 15-year-old Burundian as she launches a ball in my direction. I grab it, go for the basket and miss. To be fair, I haven't seen a court since my netball days at my covent school in Surrey and the competition is stiff. These girls can jump.
The last thing I expected to be doing when Save the Children invited me to see their work at Mahama Refugee camp in Rwanda was playing basketball, but it was only the first of many surprises – some good, a huge number heartbreaking and harrowing.
Our journey had begun the previous day when we'd driven two hours out of Kigali to visit an extraordinary school and village, where Save the Children are helping the Rwandan government in their mission to foster a love of reading and boost literacy in local communities. Volunteer-led reading clubs are booming across the country.
Critically, he's engaged the parents too. Many are illiterate themselves and yet they spend hours making educational tools for their children. Using inks made from crushed bricks, charcoal and green bean leaves, and pages made from rice paper sacks, they make their own books and bind them with twine. They create word games out of cardboard boxes and bottle caps. Ildephonse has even constructed a homemade TV out of sticks and rice paper sacks.
They have little or no access to the books or technology that we take for granted in the West, and yet the joy they have in learning is plain to see. My overwhelming impression was of a community pulling together for the greater good of their children.
My second day in Rwanda began with a three-and-a-half-hour journey through the country many call the Land of a Thousand Hills, for its lush, mountainous landscape. I was mesmerised by the brilliant colours. It teems with life. Banana palms crown every hilltop and there are sweet potatoes, coffee and sorghum in the valleys.
When people think of Rwanda, it's usually in the context of the 1994 genocide in which over 800,000 people died in six weeks. Kigali, the capital, was reduced almost to ashes. When you talk to locals, they tend to talk about life as if it began the following year.
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