About me: My name is Anna-Lisa Foegen; I’m 23 years old and studying medicine in 5th year.
Contact before arrival:
All the organisation stuff before arriving was very easy. There is Br. Teo who is responsible for all incoming volunteers who support social projects in the area of East Africa. I got his phone number and we were in contact via WhatsApp a lot and I was able to ask all my questions before getting there. Later Br. Teo sent me all the member names of the community, their phone numbers and email addresses for getting in touch.
Br. Teo organized the pickup from the airport as well – he sent a brother from the community for welcoming me there and taking me to Byimana. We first stopped in the community in Kigali because the brother who picked me up had something important to organize there. It was nice because I got to know the community members there too and they invited me to stay in Kigali whenever I will be there. When arriving in the community in Byimana everybody welcomed me so friendly and open hearted. It was a typical Sunday, so everybody was relaxing a bit and they showed me around the community and the school. The first days the two novices had a lot of time for me – they showed me the next village, the parish and the hills. Every community member offered me their help, for example getting a Rwandese SIM card in the next town, withdrawing/exchanging money or buying some snacks/drinks for myself.
Before your arrival at the airport you don’t need to prepare anything. At the airport you can get a single-entry Visa for 30 days (costs around 20/30 euros/dollars). You can pay cash (dollars, euros or Rwandese Franc) or with credit card. Within the first 15 days you must apply for a student Visa at the Office of Immigration and Emigration. That kind of Visa costs around 55 euros and can be as for a maximum of 2 years. Before giving your application to the Office of Immigration you must go to an “irembo office” near the Office of Immigration and they will check your documents and organize the whole process for you. There was no problem with getting the Visa for Germans and Mexicans.
Normally 5 brothers are always part of the community of Byimana. At some times of the year there are novices too, who do their community experience as part of their novice ship there. Byimana is such a welcoming and interesting community. All the brothers who were there at that time were quite young – between 30 and 45 years I think – so there was always something to do. All the brothers have different hobbies and its really cool to join them for example to play the guitar and to sing together or to play volleyball. Community life is depending on how much stuff has to be done in school. Normally, everybody is joining breakfast in the house after mass when school has started in the morning. At lunch time everybody meets again to eat. In the evening the community is coming together for an evening prayer and after that, everybody eats supper in the living room together. I really enjoyed the evenings sitting together, talking, joking and watching tv. I really like to play games for example card games – so I was always asking around for somebody to play with me and therefore I learn funny new card games. In the evening the brothers are sometimes tired of the day and just want to relax so you have to show
interest in doing something and be a bit motivating so that you are not watching tv all evening.
The weekends are relaxing because there are no lessons so more free time for planning something on your own. The brothers never tell you to stay in the community if you want to visit someone or if you want to do explore something on your own. I used several weekends to do trips exploring Rwanda. But on the other hand, the weekends in Byimana are a great opportunity to get closer to the brothers, students, stuff from school and neighbours. So, on weekends I visited teachers at their homes, I went to the market in Muhanga, I drunk beer at a nice place with some brothers and I joined student’s projects. I took time to talk to students about their interests, about life in Rwanda, about life in Germany, about their future … For me it was a nice experience to get closer with the students because they are so nice and funny. I had some meetings with them about topics like studying in Germany, possible scholarships and so on. I had the feeling that talking about things like university and about what they can do with their future gave them a different perspective of their opportunities. Nearly every weekend there was one special event from school or organized by the government and they always invited me to join. There were football matches of the stuff against stuff from other schools, community work days (“Umuganda” last Saturday of every month) or visitors for some days and little celebrations for them.
The community of Byimana runs two schools: the Ecole de Science and the Bukomero school. Bukomero is a local day school for everyone and includes primary and secondary school. Ecole de Science is a secondary and boarding school and also one of the best schools in Rwanda. I was supporting the Ecole de Science and another volunteer was working in Bukomero school.
So, I will tell you more about the work in the Ecole Science now: There are around 800 students – ca 550 boys and 250 girls. They are all living in the school and are going home only on holidays. All lessons are in English because Rwanda changed its official language a few years ago from French to English; all national exams at the end of the school are in English too. Because of that, getting in touch with the students and speaking with them was no problem at all. The teachers and the stuff were mostly very good in English too. In the beginning the headmaster of the school asked me about topics/subjects I am good at and then we decided together which classes I will support. After a few weeks I got interested in different subjects too, so I just asked the teachers myself and I was always welcome to join different classes and to help in the lessons. Once I planned a lesson for history on my own, because one class discussed the second world war and their teacher asked me to tell the students about the role of Germany during the second world war. It was a great experience, but you can always say “no” if you don’t want to do it or if you don’t feel ready at that moment. Another nice part of most days for the students and for us was the opportunity of doing different kinds of sports in the afternoon. Every student had to do his or her favourite sport four times a week – the sports were football, handball, volleyball, basketball, table tennis, judo or fitness class. You can change your mind every day and join a new/another sport activity. It was great to meet the students in a more relaxing situation and I got very close with the students while doing sports together. Furthermore, I got the chance to train the girls handball team because I played handball for several years in Germany. They were learning so fast and it was really fun for me too, even though it was my first time training a team.
The most important thing in school life for me was not to wait until somebody tells you what to do. Be motivated to organize projects, meetings and lessons on your own – you will be given a lot of freedom to organize something new and to realise ideas. So take that chance!
Activities / Exploring Rwanda
As I told you above, I took some weekends off to visit different places in Rwanda and to explore the country. I checked the Internet what to do in Rwanda and then I organized it by myself. If there are brothers going to visit other communities, you can always join them. You can always ask the brothers for a lift if somebody goes to Kigali for example and they will take you there if it’s on their way. Rwanda is a beautiful country, so take your time to see as much as possible of it. The public transport in Rwanda is very easy and safe. You can take the minibus or the motorbike taxis. The bus is always good for longer distances and the motorbike taxis are ideal in big cities like Kigali. You don’t have to be afraid of travelling alone because Rwanda’s security is really good. There are always security guys and police officers on the street. Everybody is so friendly and will help you as much as possible of you are lost. My trips: Kigali (a few times), Butare/Huye, Lake Kivu, Nyungwe National Park (Hiking) and Volcanoes National Parc (Hiking and Gorilla Trekking). As you can see there are a lot of different things to do and because Rwanda is a small country everything is easy to reach. I really liked to explore the villages around Byimana too. Sometimes I went for a run on my own in the villages or I went for a hike with one of the novices who showed me around. Just take your time to see all the beautiful sports of nature and to get to know the people in Rwanda.
To sum up my stay in Rwanda, I can say that it was an amazing experience because of all the wonderful people I met and who will always remain in my heart. I really recommend everybody to go there for a social project because the conditions and the organization were perfect. My advice for you: Be open to the different lifestyle and how things are done in Rwanda. Take your time for everything because life in Rwanda and the whole side of east Africa is going slow – I never met anyone who was in a hurry.
If you have more questions, please send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org