I, naively, thought I was going on a standard summer-church-trip-to-the-Third-world, to engage in worthy and practical activities, like building houses or running youth events, both of which I am reasonably prerequisitely skilled. I didn't really.
Anyway, as part of me having to process the experience and feedback to donors, I have written a list of lots of things I never did.
I thought we would build houses; our church has been funding this for years and we expected to help practically. We didn't. However we did get involved in the dedication of the most recent houses, formally handing them over to the first proud occupants, gifting typically Scottish items and praying over them.
Our programme said we would also get involved in repairing some of the houses that have become ravaged by weather and time. We didn't. Although we did carry bags of sand from one end of a village 300m to the other, to the house of a man who was about to start rebuilding. Not big bags but heavy enough to make it tiring in the heat. It did however give us practise at carrying stuff on our heads; I even managed no hands. Once. Then it got too tiring on my neck.
However, I was taken to make mud bricks to build some new houses. But I didn't touch a morsel of mud all day. Instead I was deputed to donkey the water up the hill from the locked pump. Tiring.
There were big ideas of doing youthwork, playing organised games and running precise craft activities. We did turn up for these activities but none of them ran in a neat and structured way as I prefer. Instead, we vaguely oversaw joyful chaos, talked in halting English and shared stories.
We carted case loads of medical supplies from Scotland which I thought we were distributing. We kind of did, but to people in the Congo, not Rwanda - that was a side-trip that I had no visa for, so I didn't get involved.
There were baby clothes donated which we took to Kigali to give to new mothers. I didn't do that either, more from an awkwardness at being one of very few men hanging around on the fringes of a very female-focussed event.
We were also promised long hours of sitting listening to speeches, from dignatories, preachers, mothers, survivors, widows, friends, community workers. We did that! In a pineapple field, on a hillside, at someone's home, in newly-built houses, in church, in a kids' home. Much listening with occasional inputs. But on every occasion it was inspiring. So many different stories of surviving the genocide, of forgiving the perpetrators and moving on together, of hope for the future.
And we were told to expect to meet lots of Rwandese and hug them three times. Left right left or RLR, I never quite worked out which was correct, but I got away with only a few awkward face-on-face moments. But we certainly did this. In fact Ben, one of the Rwandese guys organising us, said that often this is the biggest impact we can have, just meeting and hugging and listening. When you hear the history of how the western world walked away in 1994, leaving them to be slaughtered (read the details of history if you think I exaggerate), it's no surprise that a group of Europeans returning is a point of note. Particularly, the fact that there a large group of us and that many in my group were on their 2nd or 3rd visit, a message was apparently being received that they were no longer abandoned.
I don't know what lasting benefit there will be from our visit in Rwanda, if any. But I'm trusting that Ben was right that just being there and showing we care was enough to make an impact for individuals. Certainly it's the people that I will remember. Patricia, Mathilde, Gershom, David, Ben, Clement, the girl supervising me drawing water, the toothless smiley old lady in the red woolly hat, the mayor shovelling sand into my bag, Claude driving the rickety bus, the unnamed ex-perpetrator who has been accepted by his ex-victims. I took no photos but their faces are burned into my memory. What they said, what they did, how they made me feel; that's where the lifelong impact remains.