“My career as an undergraduate student at Saint Mary’s College is now behind me and I am conflicted about how I feel about it.”
There is a part of me that wishes it would never have ended and there is another part of me that is very excited about the future. I feel lucky and privileged to have received a quality education and I am quickly realizing the benefits of my now liberal arts degree.
I always listened with great interest when someone claimed that an event or experience had changed their life. What singular event or experience could have been so powerful as to effect such a dramatic change? I never really understood until such time as it happened to me.
I wasn’t expecting to change or to be greatly impacted by my Rwanda experience. In many ways, I didn’t have any expectations going into the trip. While I knew it would be interesting and exciting, I was surprised on the heels of the trip just how profound an effect Rwanda would have on me.
I often look back on my experience, the many people and new friends I met and reflect on the many lessons learned. One lesson in particular was especially important to me.
As we load onto the bus single file, I eagerly await for Zed to start the bus. It has been four months since I’ve been to SOS Enfante and can only imagine how much the children have grown and most of all, I can’t wait to see those smiling faces as I greet them once again. We wave goodbye to the Umubano Hotel and head off past the city center and start the trek through the red dusty roads waving to onlookers as we drive past.
SOS Enfante is a special place to say the least. A microcosm of children of all ages and from all backgrounds they share one thing in common – they’ve all lost their loved ones. These orphaned children may have lost their biological families, but with SOS, have formed their own loving version of loved ones they call family.
As we drive up to the entrance of SOS Enfante we are greeted by Richard, a reserved man who cannot help but grin from ear to ear when we step off the bus. Richard begins to introduce the facility as we start our tour of the grounds. Cobble stone paths weave in and out across acres to facilities ranging from a kindergarten playground to a technical school for teens to learn computer skills. The more we walk the more the word gets out, “Muzungos are here,” we hear one child yell across the yard meaning “white people,” and the buzz continues.
As Richard continues his tour of the sprawling facility, we come across a group of small homes. These homes consist of families. They may not be families in the traditional sense, but in SOS Enfante, these families are recreating lives. Each household consists of a “mother” and her “children”. Every household has a woman who has had no children of her own and is not married therefore able to look after all the children of her household. These children are very special children ranging from newborns to teenagers. As we tour an empty house, there is a room for boys with multiple bunks and cribs and across the hall the same for girls. These children have formed their own family where there may not be a traditional family but the roles of the family are still present; allowing these children to go to school and get an education all while having the support and stability once they return home.
Richard continues to walk us throughout the lands. Off in the distance we see the cows grazing next to the fields upon fields of banana trees. School-children dressed in their uniforms slowly walking out of their classes start the chatter, “mazungo, mazungo!” Their faces have a look of both bewilderment and excitement as they see a large group of white people from a distance.
That is when I see Diane. She stops in her tracks as she sees me and points in my direction, “I remember you!” And before I can speak she grabs my hand and we begin running up the stairs into her room filled with her fellow brother and sisters playing with the students and shows me to her room. She sits me on her bed as she begins to praise how happy she is to see me again. “I was wondering when you would come back again,” she gasped with excitement as she showed me around her section of her room covered with magazine cut-outs of celebrities from Beyonce to Justin Bieber. She points to a picture of Justin Bieber and asks, “do you know him?” as she begins to sing a tune that I pretend to know the lyrics of. (Her knowledge of American pop culture was vastly more advanced than my own). Diane’s bubbly song tunes then turned serious as she began to speak about her dream to come to America. “One day I want to go to America and be with you,” she said with a longing in her eyes as if I had all her answers. I wanted to tell her that one day she would make it, that one day I would see her in America and all her dreams would come true. What I told her next came to my own surprise, “If you work hard enough all your dreams will come true” is what I wanted to tell her yet I know this is something that we all hear and only has so much weight. Instead I told her the attainable truth, “You have to try your hardest and find how to make the best of yourself here in Rwanda.” Her reaction was one of acceptance with her pensive look upon her face as she sat down beside me. While I do believe Diane can make her American dream come true, I also wanted her to have her own dream for a life in Rwanda where she could also strive.
While we came to SOS Enfante showering children with gifts and games and friendship, little did I know that I would be receiving gifts in return. As we were leaving SOS Diane stopped me in my tracks yet again as she ran back into her room. She came back out grabbed my hand and placed something into my palm, “I want you to have this.” I opened my palm to find a car freshener. “It is my country, Rwanda.” Never has a car freshener carried so much meaning. As I thanked her and said our good-byes to all the children, I gave Diane one last hug and whispered in her ear, “I will see you again.” I said it because I knew I would and as I drive down my street and out of my neighborhood I have a constant reminder of that promise as that car freshener now hangs around my back view mirror. While a world away, I know I will see her again and be greeted with her hopeful spirit of the life I know she is destined to have.
My name is Caitlin Losi and I am a communication graduate from Saint Mary’s College of California. My first experience in Rwanda was an internship to develop a study abroad class for Saint Mary’s January Term. This trip was extra special considering my father was going to be the professor for the course. After my first experience in Rwanda in the summer of 2011, I then became a student in my father’s class in January 2012. Now graduated, I am hopeful to return to Rwanda and revisit all the friends I’ve met along the way and continue to travel the world.