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I was enchanted by Kivumu...
Friday, 07 June 2013 Written by Dejan Anić

I was enchanted by Kivumu...When the time comes for me to die, I would like Kivumu to be the last place I see. If I had only one sentence at my disposal to describe my stay in Rwanda, that would be it. Words are not enough. I would love if senses could speak. Only then would I be able to describe to you all the colours, all the smells and tastes, all the touches of Rwanda.

How did I come to be in Rwanda? For me it was a piece of cake. The internet, a search engine, the Padri Vjeko Center website. A couple of e-mails, phone conversations, and there I was, buying the ticket and packing my things. Was I aware where I was going? Not quite. Did I know what really awaited me? Not really. Was I afraid because of all those stories about Africa, malaria, yellow fever, AIDS, long journey, unsafe regions…? Not at all. The only thing that mattered to me was that there are some children there who desperately need help, and that there are some good people there who try to make those children’s lives a bit easier.

So I arrive in Rwanda and am greeted by darkness, rain, warm African weather. And fra Ivica, the man who has been running the Center for more than a decade, and whose dedication is one of the incentives for my coming there. The first night. I’m trying to sleep… thinking about what the next two weeks will bring.

The first morning, and my first impressions… the Centre looks like it’s in the middle of a big garden… greenery, grass, roses, bananas, avocado, coffee… wherever I look, all around me. All around us are beautiful, gentle green hills, cultivated gardens, groves of trees. How fascinating! Next we go to the new school. I look at the beautiful new school building with hard working locals and volunteers all over the place. Then I start to realize the point of it all – to make it possible for the children and youth of this poor country that so recently suffered conflict to get education; to obtain useful knowledge and skills which will enable them to step out of poverty and misery, and create a somewhat better future for themselves. And, in the end, the last and perhaps the most important impression of my first day in Kivumu… getting to know the volunteers. They’re all young, educated, communicative, attentive people. Here we have journalists, photographers, painters, musicians, architects, IT specialists... all of them fully dedicated and determined to do what they can to help the local community. They help me to blend in, and very soon I feel like at I am at home. And that’s how my first day goes by, and now I only have to hope that during the next two weeks – the length of my stay here – I will be of some use.

The days of my two-week stay in Kivumu, in Padri Vjeko Center, continue to go by. One of the things I am working on, together with the others, is interviewing pupils from the nearby primary school about their needs, desires - about what makes them happy, what makes them afraid. The impressions are incredible! Several hundred pupils welcome us together; they sing the national anthem; they are all smiling, cheerful, friendly. They watch us curiously and then, little by little, they begin to relax and start to hug us, pull us by our sleeves, and ask us to take photographs of them... The interviews go very well; the children are in the mood to answer all the questions, but some of the answers we get are very disturbing. They tell us how they don’t have regular meals; that they live in harsh conditions, without electricity and water, without bathrooms, without toys... I am subsequently left with a bitter memory of children who desperately need help, as well as my new African name, Dani (because the children found it hard to pronounce Dejan), which will follow me all the coming days, whenever I run into some of the school’s pupils or teachers.

Time in Kivumu simultaneously goes by both fast and slow. There is a lot of work to be done. We are mostly engaged working with the children. We continue to do interviews with the students (now also in Padri Vjeko Center vocational school); we sort out presents for students and teachers, sent by good people and donors; we tidy and clean the classrooms in the new school. When that is done, there is always some work to do in the Center itself. We chop firewood, we put the house we’re staying in in order, tidy up the yard... Of course, besides working, there’s always enough time for resting and socializing. So during these several days we manage to hang out with each other and have long conversations after supper, drink a glass of wine or a Primus (the local beer brand), play rummy, make a barbeque, sing and play the guitar...

One of the days was set aside for a trip to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Several of the volunteers had things to do in the city (going to the airport, picking up a visa), and I used the opportunity to get to know Kigali, if only for a few hours. I was greatly surprised. You see, after all the poverty which is quite evident wherever you go in Kivumu and Gitarama (a nearby larger town and regional centre), in Kigali I was surprised to see modern buildings, European articles offered in shops and shopping malls, and a lot of stylishly dressed people... Rwanda is obviously a country of great contrasts, which is difficult to find back home in Europe. I return to Kivumu somewhat sad, because I know that the vast majority of “our” children, from Kivumu long to visit and see Kigali but don’t have the means to do that. It is only an hour’s drive from them, but an unbridgeable divide in the amount of less than a euro, which they cannot afford, is what keeps them from seeing the city.

I’m still in Kivumu, and my departure from Rwanda is also slowly nearing. I try not to think about it, because I know I will be sad to leave all that surrounds me. What I already do know is that, when I leave, I will take back full bags with me. In them will be packed all the children’s smiles, all the curiosity, their spread-out hands, their greetings and shouting “Dani” whenever I meet them. Also, I will take back with me memories of beautiful landscapes, Oswaldi’s (the friary’s cook) pie and soups. And, perhaps most importantly - from here I take back with me the friendship with Maja, Emica, Domagoj, Katarina and all the others who once more have shown me that there are still people in the world who put goodness before their own interests.

I hope that Rwanda won’t wait long for me to return!

Translated by Branimir Mlakić
Edited by Valerie Kae Ken

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