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How Traveling To Rwanda Changed My Perspective

By Mary Goldberg

Mary Goldberg is a Junior at Loyola Academy in Chicago. She works with her cousins to increase awareness about Opportunity's work on her high school campus, and she traveled to Rwanda with her family in the summer of 2014. To learn more about bringing Opportunity to your school, visit opportunity.org/campus.

When I tell people that I went to Rwanda with my cousins, my grandmother and my uncle, a common response is, "Where is that?" Surprisingly, not many of my peers have heard about this beautiful country - its past and its hopes for the future. Last summer, I was blessed with the amazing opportunity to travel to Rwanda and see for myself how Rwanda is recovering from its past and building a new and reinvigorated country.

During our time in Rwanda, my family and I were able to observe components of various types of charity and philanthropy at work - and the first day of our visit was spent with Opportunity International. We met with a trust group of women who were able to put their children through school because of the businesses that Opportunity helped them establish and make profitable. I realized that in my own life here in the United States, I often disregard the value of a small amount of money. It was amazing to see what even a few dollars could do to make a difference in someone's life. 

After meeting with trust groups, we traveled to meet a woman named Beatrice. Beatrice worked with a trust group and as a result was able to build a business making beautiful earrings, bracelets, dolls and various other items. We sat in her new home, one of three that she owned, and she told us her story. Her entire family were casualties of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and she was injured so severely that she was nearly killed as well. Her story was horrific and as she told us about her life, I could see how hard it was for her to find the words to describe the devastation she had been through. What is amazing is that she lived - and continues to live - and has turned her life into something so beautiful. She said that she is grateful for every day, and she is always reminded that the end is not the end. It was because of Opportunity that Beatrice was able to move forward from her tragedy and build her life anew. 

After meeting with Beatrice, we visited the genocide museum. Needless to say, Beatrice's story became all the more significant as we learned more about the history of Rwanda. As we were departing the museum, my grandmother conveyed to us how many genocides had happened in her lifetime and how she hoped our generation would do better. When we returned to the hotel, I opened my journal and wrote that I do hope my generation can be known for doing good - and that we can continue to strive for a world of peace where no one has to suffer due to poverty or war. 

Through the rest of our trip, we had the opportunity to meet with a number of different organizations and individuals in Rwanda addressing the particular needs of people. We met Julie, Michaela and Pia, recent college graduates from the United States who are in Rwanda fighting malnutrition with the Global Health Corps. We met Charles, who taught us how to soak, dry and bake casava - a starchy carbohydrate that can be ground into flour and baked into cakes. We met small children who had no inhibitions - they came up and stood right by us. We saw one person share their recent accomplishments and watched as the entire village would cheer their congratulations. 

We visited Mother Theresa's orphanage, and upon our arrival, the children ran up and jumped in our arms. We scooped up children left and right and hugged as many as we could just to let them know they were loved. We met men and women with severe disabilities whose situations left me speechless. My cousins and I were uncomfortable, but this experience pushed us into unfamiliar territory, which strengthened our understanding of their situation. 

We concluded our trip with a visit to Musanze to experience the joys and wonders of gorilla trekking. While very different from the villages and organizations we had visited, gorilla trekking reminded us again of the beauty that Rwanda has to offer. 

Rwanda is a remarkable and marvelous country. The people have overcome such hardship and have turned their country into one to be admired. It was my honor to experience Rwanda and its people. The time I spent in Rwanda has truly changed me and opened my eyes to the world around me. The benefits of the work being done by organizations like Opportunity are undeniable. I went with the intent of helping others and yet I received so much in return. It is my hope to someday return to Rwanda, and while I would love to help othes while there, I now realize that the true benefit comes in being open to all that the Rwandans can teach me. 

Learn more about how you can travel with Opportunity this year. Travel on an Insight Trip with us! Learn more at opportunity.org/insight

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