Rwanda on the map of Africa

Vikas Ratanjee volunteered as as a district disability adviser in Rwanda. His role was to advise the Ministry of Local Government on mainstreaming disability issues in Nyanza District. He didn’t know what to expect when he arrived in the ‘land of a thousand hills’, but was very moved by the unforgettable reception he received and beautiful scenery he discovered. Here he reflects on his journey with VSO.

The first step on an enriching journey

When I was offered a placement in Rwanda, the first thing I did was to try to find out exactly where the country is. I looked on the map, but to my amazement, I couldn’t really find it. Eventually I did discover it, it was this tiny little speck on the map, so small that I literally needed to strain my eyes to spot it! On the face of it Rwanda looks like a miniscule country on any given map, but it’s a country with a cherished history of resilience. It has shown the world what it takes to bounce back from the brink of ignominy after a whole generation had been wiped out through the genocide of 1994. My decision to take up the placement was spontaneous, because I knew what a great opportunity this was, an opportunity to be part of rebuilding efforts for a newly resurgent country.

I could never have imagined that after hardly being able to see where Rwanda was on Africa’s map I would go through one of the most wonderful journeys of my life, a journey that would enrich me as a person and would enable me to touch so many lives. A VSO experience has got the potential to do precisely that for you, it can help you connect with people at many levels and in so many different ways.

The effects of genocide, poverty and negatively ingrained belief systems had left Rwanda faced with enormous challenges. The country had long been toying with ideas to come out with an effective strategy for bettering the lives of people with disabilities. I went to Rwanda as part of this wider government initiative which, in collaboration with VSO, aspired to strengthen local government capacity on disability issues by creating structures at a local level to work on disability.

Great successes

Working as a disability adviser for Nyanza District was one of my greatest successes. As part of my role I was able to get diverse stakeholders, prominent among them being NGOs, civil society, donor organisations and government departments on board to implement the district’s action plan on disability. I was also able to run a range of capacity building trainings to help civil servants at all levels understand their roles.

Unforgettable moments

Rwanda is a beautiful country, very scenic – it is famously referred to as the ‘land of a thousand hills’ (as most of the country is made up of hills). Night skies in Rwanda are a treat to watch, crystal clear and without a hint of pollution. Bus journeys up and down the hills in Rwanda can be really fascinating, with breathtaking scenery to look forward to for miles together and a chance to mix with local people while travelling!

One thing I will never forget is the grand farewell that I received from the District just before leaving.  The district had invited key people from the disability movement in Rwanda for the farewell. It was a truly special feeling to be in the midst of so many important people and to be applauded by all. A memento, a Rwandan basket specially crafted for me was presented to me as a token of appreciation for the work I had done in the district. The basket had this message inscribed on it:

“When we said hello to you, we never thought we would end up having to say goodbye so soon, times may take away our moments with you  but our memories can always bring them back.”

With tears in the eyes of Emmanuel, my district counterpart, I felt  a lump somewhere deep inside of me, wishing  I could stay just a little bit longer, wishing I could maybe enjoy this beautiful country  just a little bit more. I couldn’t believe that this was going to be it and my wonderful journey in Rwanda was about to get over. I’m so glad I made this journey. Rwanda, land of a thousand hills, you are special to me and always will be; maybe someday I’ll see you again!

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