We recently went to Rwanda with 57 vegan travelers and Debra, one of our travelers said it best when she said; “This journey to Rwanda was life-changing for me.”
So, why does Rwanda have this impact on so many of its visitors? Why does this small East African country leave its mark in such a profound way on people’s hearts? We asked some of our vegan travelers from July 2019 to explain why, we looked through their thoughts and came up with some recurring themes in their replies.
Improving our capacity to forgive those who have done us wrong
In 1994, Rwanda underwent possibly one of the horrific things a country could go through when Rwandans turned on each other. The genocide killed approximately a million people in a period of 100 days. For any country, this is an unbearable thought, but for a country of only 7 million people, everyone who survived was touched in some way by this tragedy. For the survivors who had to recover from such an ordeal, the ability to forgive those who killed members of their families was considered a priority to help the country to heal and move on.
As there were over 100,000 people awaiting trial in 2001 (the system had a huge backlog and would have taken over 200 years to hear all the cases the traditional way) a Participatory Justice System — known as Gacaca started. Communities elected judges to hear the trials of genocide suspects accused of all crimes except planning of genocide or rape. The Gacaca courts gave lower sentences if the person was repentant and sought reconciliation with the community. These courts are intended to help the community participate in the process of justice and reconciliation for the country.
Today, many convicted and since released people live in the same villages and they interact in the community including with the relatives of the victims.
As one of our travelers, J said, ‘I’ll never forget our guide at Nyamata saying “ when you forgive you are free from the hurt. It made me rethink grudges I’ve held, negative thoughts. If they can forgive and move on anyone can.’
Slow Down, Keep Calm
“We rush around all the time and miss the beauty on our doorsteps because we are so attached to social media. I’m slowing down and doing things in Rwanda time.”
From our observations, Rwanda’s time is different from our own. Don’t get us wrong, things get done, they have a high level of customer service and requests are responded to in a timely manner, but there really is an unhurried feel to everything. No one is running about like crazy and desperately trying to multitask and maximize every minute. This is surely something that we could all need a bit of help with.
Practice gratitude for what we have
While Rwanda is growing quickly and is trying to become the Singapore of Africa according to US Aid there are still 1.2 million households without access to electricity and in 2018, 38% of Rwandans are still in poverty. Certainly, there are plenty of people who have struggles that most of us are far removed from.
S from our trip says “The trip has made me look at everything through new eyes… particularly the things that we take for granted but are so precious…clean drinking water at the turn of a tap; electricity in every home; the quality of the infrastructure here in Europe”.
Taking the time to be grateful for the positive things in our lives and for the things we take for granted can have a profound impact on our happiness.
A desire to connect with our real life neighbours and community
Umuganda can be translated as “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome,” a practice that has long existed in Rwandan culture but only recently became mandatory. On the last Saturday of every month, from 8:00 AM to 11:00 AM, businesses close and traffic halts as citizens across the country take to their neighborhoods, shovels, and hoes in hand, and together try to make them a little bit better than they were the month before”.
S – “The sense of community was so strong in Rwanda…something we’ve lost in part due to the nature of the way we live our lives.”
Once you hear about the concept of Umuganda, you just want to take it back with you and you also can’t help but wonder what might happen if Umuganda was mandatory in your own country. Could it make people less lonely? Would the forgotten members of our community become more visible and more valuable? Could it heal divisiveness?
A yearning to give back
“I’ve made a promise to myself to remember to be mindful and grateful but to also look for opportunities to give back. I don’t just want to visit places, come home with photos and souvenirs, and forget. My hope is that I can use my gifts in some way that is meaningful” – one of our travelers
You cannot come to Rwanda without seeing the impact of people taking the time to help each other and organizations helping Rwandan people (and animals come to that). People make it a priority in their lives to be of service to those around them and the joy that they get from it.
So, Rwanda is a special place. It’s not just about chimps, an hour with gorillas, or seeing elephants from the water, it’s a place to rediscover parts of you that you might have taken a backseat.
If you are interested in our life-changing trips please see our current offerings and while you are over there, make sure you are on our mailing list to get all our news and find out if and when we go back to Rwanda