Newsletter # 8 March 2011
A newsletter from Intercordia Canada is long overdue. I hope this newsletter will bring you up to date ... and in the future more frequent newsletters will keep you there!
Forty-seven students from six university campuses are in the final stages of preparing to spend their three month placement in Bosnia, Ecuador, Honduras, Ghana, Nicaragua, Ukraine and our newest placement Rwanda. It is a time of excitement and anxiety! We are also excited to announce that four students will do their placement in L’Arche communities in Canada as part of a new partnership we have formed with L’Arche Canada.
I recently returned from Rwanda where we have formed a partnership with Fair Children Youth Foundation, which is located in Musanze, in northern Rwanda. The project is a nursery and primary school, a school for hearing impaired children and a program for children who are heads of households. It was founded by Elie and his wife Bernadette and is staffed by Rwandan and Ugandan nationals who are all very dedicated and passionate people. Being with them and being in Rwanda was a very poignant time. Two short vignettes.
I am standing in a church in Nyamata, near Kigali, which is now one of many genocide memorial sites in the country. The rough wooden benches and the floor are piled with the clothes and shoes worn by the 10,000 people when they were killed here, the very place they sought safety from the Interahamwe. On the altar are a sampling of the weapons used to kill the people, as well as some personal artefacts from the dead. There are dark brown blood stains over the walls and bullet holes in the metal roof. In the crypt are the skulls, many with bullet holes and cracks inflicted during the killing and the bones of several hundred of the dead, a clear statement of what happened here in 1994. Standing here I am conflicted. I know the facts but it is impossible to imagine the suffering and violence that took place here. The guide tells the story with a gentle but clear voice. She tells us her mission is to make sure the story is not forgotten.
Sitting down later, I notice one dangling pant leg of blue denim, rolled up and stained with brown blood. I imagine the person, hours or minutes before death, rolling up their pant legs out of habit or in some effort to be practically dignified. I remember the story Carol Off told at an Intercordia event of seeing the sleeve of a blue ski jacket sticking out of a mass grave in Bosnia and how in that small detail the true horror of mass atrocities can be best understood. I feel a deep sadness, confusion and guilt.
I am sitting in a classroom with 20 hearing impaired children. The teacher is showing the signs for some new words. The children copy it exactly and immediately look over at me to see if I get it right. With a big smile and a wagging finger they all gather around me and correct my poor attempts. When I get it (half) right they are pleased and return to their seats and turn their attention back to their teacher. We are all having fun and learning. The simplicity of this moment, the eagerness of the children, the hope that I witness for Rwanda’s future through educating the youth, allows my earlier feelings of sadness, confusion and guilt to be counter balanced. As Jean Vanier has always wisely reminded us, it is in the small and hidden places that we can discover the hope and strength we need to continue on the journey.
I am so excited that this summer three Intercordians will go to Rwanda to support FCYF and to have their lives inspired and changed by living with people who have recently experienced such personal pain and tragedy and who continue to walk forward with dignity. These small moments of connection, friendship and support are so important for all of us when the scope of social injustice and catastrophe can poke holes in our belief in the goodness of people and our hope for a more peaceful future.
In future newsletters Intercordia will be sending out excerpts of student’s stories to give you a taste of the joys and challenges they experience while on placement. I hope their stories will continue to inspire your commitment to Intercordia and give you courage for your life.