Lessons of Loss from Rwanda

Olivia with little boy from town near Lake Kivu
Olivia with little boy from town near Lake Kivu

Summer has taken over and alas this blog is being sorely neglected. I thought I would share an experience that really belongs to Olivia who has just returned from an amazing experience in Rwanda. When Olivia was in 6th grade, a friend of hers came to school following a visit to her home from a man named Richard who was the overseer of some rural schools in Rwanda. She was so moved by his stories about the kids and what they had survived during the genocide in 1994 that she went to her own school and convinced some of her friends to have a bake sale to raise money for the schools in Rwanda. They raised $200 and sent it to Richard. The bake sales continued, as did car washes and the sale of sweatshirts and hats, all the money going to support orphaned kids. The organization had to step it up this year when Paul Allen donated a whopping $25K sending us parents – who up until that point had been making the odd loaf of banana bread – to suddenly spring into action and turn this into a real non-profit company. I have been helping with the website, while other parents have been helping to educate the girls in various ways.

When the girls were in 6th grade they made the decision that they would all travel together to Rwanda when they were in 9th grade to visit the schools they were supporting. This was the year. Olivia was extremely nervous to be going, worried about the emotional toll it might take on her, but deep down we both knew she would be able to handle it, and that it would ultimately change her life. And it has. Olivia agreed to allow me to share a part of her journal, as her lesson has a far reaching value:

“…we met up and walked to the Memorial Church (a church where over 10,000 people were massacred). I was holding Clementine and Blanche’s small hands. We were warned that it would be graphic, however I felt slightly unprepared because when you first walked in you see hundreds of rows of benches piled with gross clothes from the victims. I cringed knowing innocent people were brutally stabbed and shot in those shirts and pants. When you looked up you saw thousands of small bullet holes that had been fired through the ceiling. I could not believe that I was standing in the very room that 10,000 people were murdered. We walked down a flight of stairs where at the bottom was a glass case filled with hundreds of bones and skulls. On the very bottom was a coffin. I couldn’t handle it and began to tear up. Blanche and Clementine stood with blank looks on their faces. we got out and came around the back where we stood over a tiled floor. There was another flight of stairs that I felt very uncertain about as I began walking down there, I noticed coffins stacked up on top of one another, hundreds of coffins filled with the remains of the victims. There were also more skulls. I quickly walked back up the stairs and stood silent clenching my teeth. I got really dizzy but I still stood there regardless. The teachers and moms noticed my tenseness and stroked my arm. I knew their intentions were fine but I didn’t want to be touched. It made me want to cry even more. We walked back out to the front of the church. I was still dizzy and blank ad two of the FAWE girls started to talk. I walked down to the end and sat. I didn’t listen to the girls, partly because I couldn’t hear them and partly because I didn’t want to. As I sat there staring at the church I noticed the amount of butterflies that were fluttering around the yard. There were a lot. For me, butterflies symbolize transformation. Maybe that means that Rwanda has transformed into a better place. As I sat there contemplating that thought, a little girl walked over and sat next to me and took my hand into her lap. It was comforting as she played with my fingers. I realized this situation was switched around. I should have been the one holding her hand. She was almost happy. Maybe it made her feel better that she was comforting me. Although I was still upset, I noticed that this girl had forgiven. She forgave the cruel people who had slaughtered her parents and relatives. I don’t know how she did it. How anyone can forgive such a crime. I knew that if this girl could forgive the people who crushed her the most, that I could too. I learned that day that forgiving is the key to accepting loss. These young Rwandan girls have given me more than I will ever be able to give them.”

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  1. Supa Dupa Fresh July 13, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    Wow! Your daughter is pretty amazing. Do you know my friend Jen Lemen? She has done a bunch of stuff in Rwanda and loves it, too.

  2. diane fergurson July 13, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Olivia is someone who was born to help make the world a better place. I’m sure this is only the first of many adventures like this in her life.
    Enough of that! I hope the rest of her summer is happy, fun and amazing in it’s own right!
    We love you always Olivia, and are very proud of you! xx

    btw…. perhaps another future writer in the family? 🙂

  3. smartspider July 14, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    I am moved that Olivia had the grace to accept comfort when it was offered that difficult day – the very opposite of what she expected to happen. Perhaps this was the best message to the Rawandan girls – that they could and did help.

  4. Jill Carter July 14, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    I am so proud of my neice , its amazing the spirit of this experience and the power of forgiveness , so empowering thanks for sharing it Liv

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