Not Your Typical Immersion- But Really What is Typical? – Jacqueline – John Carroll University ’12
I have been on immersions to Reynosa, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, but no immersion was as eye opening as my immersion to Rwanda. Here is where you may think I am going to talk about a little ‘African’ child who stole my heart, poor , starving people, wild animals, or crazy menu items that all helped me to realize how blessed I am and how I need to do more to help ‘Africa.’ But that is not how this story is going to go at all.
Through visiting Rwanda I learned that Rwandese do not need help, the media does not depict 100% fact, and that Rwandese are ‘normal’.
Prior to visiting, I knew very little about Rwanda other than what I learned in my required Rwandan history class. Also I was under the impression that events going on in the continent of Africa were uniform to what is going on in each country because news reports usually talk of ‘Africa’ as a whole rather than each individual country. So when hearing about neighboring Somalia’s failed state status and Democratic Republic of Congo’s rape as a weapon of war problems, I could not help but think Rwanda may be the same way. By only hearing mostly about starvation, corruption, and poverty in ‘Africa,’ how can I not have assumed that I was visiting a struggling country that needed help?
However from the moment we drove from the airport to where we would stay in Kigali, it was immediately evident that Rwanda was doing well. Streets were paved, people seemed happy, and most importantly people looked like they were taken care of- much different than the realities that textbooks and media have suggested. I was pretty blown away not because I was shocked that Rwanda was doing well, but more so that the media’s viewpoints were so warped. Obviously all countries have problems but for the media to focus solely on incidents rather than also talk about positive things, such as the major growth of the Rwandan economy seems a bit unfair.
As we traveled to more rural areas of Rwanda there were some unpaved roads and some more poverty than in Kigali but, again, nowhere near reifying the media depiction. People were happy and enjoyed the same things as me such as running, technology, singing, dancing, and volleyball. My whole life was filled with this depiction of ‘Africans’ being the ‘other’ and there I was in Rwanda feeling like I was still in Cleveland, OH. Rwandese wear jeans and button down shirts- SHOCKING! To be honest I was really embarrassed during the trip as I was constantly slapped with the reality that I have been living vicariously through ignorant, biased opinions of others.
Another question I asked myself during the trip was about my definition of ‘help.’ What is help really? Is it helping when John Carroll sends eight students to another country to do service for a week? Before I stepped foot in Rwanda I may have answered yes to the latter, but after leaving Rwanda I realized the greatest help that was given during the trip was from Rwandans to us eight students. The help we received was threefold: us students recognizing that Rwandans are capable to help themselves but do appreciate us coming to visit and see the real Rwanda, us students seeing that the media is not depicting the true reality of day to day life in Rwanda, and us students not seeing Rwandans as the ‘other’ but rather just like as any other human being.
Presently, after spending two months in Rwanda this summer too, some of the preconceived notions I had pre immersion trip seem absolutely ridiculous, stupid, and ignorant which is upsetting to me. But rather than being upset and embarrassed of my ignorance, I am going to attempt to turn it into a positive by sharing my learned lessons with all who will listen.
Therefore my overall message I would like to leave with whoever reads this is: Let us try to not make an opinion of somewhere if we have not been there and even if we have been there, let us acknowledge that our opinion is not a universal truth. Also the biggest help we can provide to our world is being open to each other’s culture, being non-judgmental, and actually listening to others rather than thinking we know it all. Help suggests a knower and a needy one. Being in solidarity with another suggests two or more people on equal ground. Maybe the world does not need help per say but rather solidarity amongst all people.