Written by CorpsAfrica/Rwanda Volunteer Mr. Gilbert Mbonimpa
Once Chinese philosopher Liao Tzu said “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”, and for me, that step was the decision to become an African volunteer. The path ahead was shrouded in mystery, but it was one I embarked upon with an open heart and a commitment to make a difference in a rural community. From pre-service training to community integration through the first two weeks in my host family, my journey has been a tapestry of challenges, lessons, and moments of profound connection.
Foundations of Change
The moment I set foot into the pre-service training, I knew that my life was about to undergo a transformative shift. With no expectations and curiosity mixed with excitement, I joined other fellow volunteers at the training site to stay there for six (6) weeks of intense learning. The training wasn’t just about building skills; it was about building a community of passionate individuals, all driven by the same purpose: to uplift underserved communities. The lessons were many, and the days were long, but the camaraderie among my fellow trainees made every challenge surmountable. In the training, I found myself surrounded by a diverse group of individuals, each with their unique life experiences and motivations. Despite our differences, there was an unspoken unity among us – a shared drive to make a tangible impact in the communities we were soon to serve. As I said earlier, The bonds we formed were akin to forging new alliances for a common cause.
The days stretched out, demanding, and packed with sessions, hands-on activities, and educational trips. These encounters didn’t just enhance my grasp of the matters in question but also instilled in me the value of perseverance and flexibility. Our instructors weren’t merely teachers; they served as mentors and leaders, motivating us to inquire, create, and adopt a more comprehensive method to enhance community development. Each session, whether it was delving into the importance of an asset-centered strategy or delving into the intricacies of rural dynamics, only intensified my enthusiasm for this noble cause.
A Journey of Trust
The day I arrived in Nyejoro village, Kampanga cell, Kinigi sector in Musanze district, the community I was going to serve was a blend of excitement and apprehension. I was an outsider entering a world entirely new to me. Yet, from the very beginning, I was embraced with open arms, quite literally. The warmth of the community members, the smiles on their faces, and the genuine curiosity they had about my presence made me feel at home. I did not spare a moment to think about the cold weather caused by the high altitude of the volcano region. Their hospitality and eagerness to share their norms and traditions made the transition smoother than I could have imagined.
I realized that integration was not just about learning the language and customs – however, as Rwandans, we all speak one language but we have different tones depending on the location – but also about connecting on a human level. It required active listening, a willingness to adapt, and most importantly, patience. I was fortunate to find mentors within the community itself – individuals who graciously offered to tour me around the village so that I could learn its boundaries and the livelihood of community members. Each day was a journey of trust-building. As I humbly accepted invitations to participate in their community meeting, from verbal discussions to communal farming, I witnessed firsthand the power of shared experiences. It was through these shared moments that trust was nurtured, and the foundation for a true partnership was laid. Every smile, every shared meal, and every story told became a thread in the tapestry of our connection.
Lessons of Resilience
Living with a host family was an opportunity to immerse myself in the community’s daily life. The first two weeks were a whirlwind of experiences, each teaching me something new about the people I was there to serve. My host family graciously welcomed me into their home, and in their daily routines, I discovered the essence of resilience. The challenges they faced – the scarcity of resources and the need for sustainable solutions – became apparent. Yet, their spirit remained unbroken. Together, we tackled everyday tasks, like tending to the kitchen garden, fetching water, cleaning the house, and preparing meals.
From tending to the Kitchen garden, I learned about the delicate balance between nature and sustenance. Water, often scarce, was a precious resource that required careful management. Each day was a reminder of the importance of environmental stewardship and the need to develop sustainable practices. Fetching water, a task that seemed routine, became a lesson in the strength of community bonds. The communal well was not just a water source; it was a gathering place where stories were exchanged, problems shared, and laughter echoed. It reinforced the truth that in a close-knit community, adversity can be met with unity. Preparing meals was an art that reflected the community’s self-sufficiency. I was introduced to ingredients I had never encountered before, each holding cultural significance. Sharing these meals was more than sustenance; it was a symbol of the trust and acceptance extended by my host family. In these two weeks, I witnessed the community’s ability to thrive in the face of challenges. Their resilience was a testament to the human spirit and the power of a close-knit, self-sufficient community.
The Journey Continues
As I pen down these reflections on my journey, I am acutely aware that this is just the beginning. My pre-service training equipped me with knowledge, integration into the community fostered trust, and living with my host family taught me resilience. But the journey ahead is long, and the road is winding. I am committed to taking each step with purpose, guided by the principles of community-led development and the belief that real change happens when we work together. My heart is filled with gratitude for the trust bestowed upon me by the community and the support of my fellow CorpsAfrica Volunteers.
As I look back on the weeks spent in pre-service training, my initial integration into the community, and the invaluable lessons learned while living with my host family, I am filled with a profound sense of purpose. The journey ahead is uncertain, but it is marked by unwavering determination and the deep connections forged. I am driven by the belief that real change occurs when we work together. Each sunrise brings new opportunities to understand, adapt, and co-create solutions with the community that has embraced me as one of their own. I am profoundly changed by the journey of service, and it is a transformation I eagerly embrace. The path is long and challenging, but every step is a testament to the incredible experiences and the enduring bonds formed in the pursuit of creating lasting, positive change in the rural community I now call home.