Day 14: Saying Goodbyes, but Never Forgetting

Our group on the KICS basketball court,
one of the best courts in Rwanda.

Emily Mertes making friends during the
last PE class before KICS Field Day.

Matt Dudon showing his skills at
the soccer station of Field Day.

Kelly Henry and Adriana Grabski explaining
their relay race station at Field Day.

Our last day in Rwanda was quite bittersweet. It was a day full of smiling faces but also some hard goodbyes, especially to the resilient and kind people of Rwanda. To prepare for the coming Field Day at KICS, all of us students met the previous night to organize our plan. We split Field Day into six activities: soccer, football, basketball/dodge ball, sharks and minos, relay races, and ultimate frisbee. After splitting ourselves into our respective activities and breaking down the two and a half hours, we felt confident in our Field Day plan.

This morning we fueled up with some Nutella covered bread, mini bananas, plenty of water, and covered all our exposed skin with a layer of white sunscreen. After teaching two PE classes and scarfing down beef tips and rice with the kids at lunch, Field Day started whether we were ready or not. With nearly 130 students ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade, most of us quickly realized the patience and energy every teacher/parent must possess. There were plenty of booboos and sweaty shirts from the scorching sun, but there were many more smiles and laughs. Each student received a Virginia Tech certificate of participation signed by the PE teacher at KICS, Jeph, and our very own Danny White. We ended Field Day with everyone’s favorite: tug-a-war. With a few blisters and burnt limbs, KICS and our class took a final picture that proceeded by a farewell/thanks from Ben, KICS Director, and Jeph. Even though we were tired and parched, we felt so fortunate to have the opportunity to use our love and passion, sport, to influence so many children. It is something that not many people get to do, especially in a place like Rwanda and a school like KICS. We donated all the balls we brought to help encourage further use of sport for development at KICS and within the community. We showered, applied our aloe, said our goodbyes to the hotel staff, and boarded our flight to Brussels. Our time in Rwanda was over but the impact Rwanda had on us surely wasn’t.

For many of us, this study abroad experience was a once in a lifetime experience. Many times classes lack the applicable practice while theory is being taught. With the tremendous work of Danny White, Shelby Miller, and Dr. Bennett, our class not only learned about international development, sport in development, and leadership but also got to experience organizations that impact current international development topics and also used our leadership skills in sport. For two weeks, this study abroad allowed many of us to step outside our comfort zones, learn the daily ways of a new culture, and apply what we learned to practical situations.

Rwanda: resilient, forgiving, passionate, and surely kind. This is Rwanda and its people. Virginia Tech was once labeled as “that school with the shooting.” Yet, if you have ever met a Hokie you know we did prevail and we do have a community that is so indescribably united. We are not “that school with the shooting.” We are Virginia Tech. I think we all realized this about Rwanda and its label. Rwanda did experience one of the worst genocides in human history: 1 million people dead in 90 days. Yet, when we met people like Jeph and Hermann and heard their stories, we realized that these people are some of the strongest, most forgiving, and most passionate people in the world. You can doubt me, but I challenge you to meet a Rwandan and ask for his or her story. You will be blown away and likely brought to tears, just as I was. They are not Tutsi, Hutu, or Twa. They are Rwandan. They are all one country and one people fighting the biggest challenges humans have to face. We prevailed as Virginia Tech and Rwanda prevailed 23 years after the genocide and will keep prevailing against odds as one country. They will prevail as Rwanda.

As I said all week to the kids at KICS, with loads of excitement and two fingers in the air, “Two things to remember about today: have fun and encourage one another!” Rwanda left many of us speechless at times. All I can say is – thank you, Rwanda, for sharing your inspirational story. Just as many people in the world became Hokies on April 16, 2007 by learning the stories of our 32 fellow Hokies, I challenge you to learn the stories of Rwandans so you too can say you are a Rwandan. We are Virginia Tech and we are now Rwandan. We will prevail against all odds.

-Matt Dudon

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