Profile: Kaitlin Rocha

An experience of a lifetime

kaitlin-rocha-cuddle-webKaitlin Rocha, who will be graduating from Brescia this fall, is currently working, volunteering, studying for the GRE, and preparing for Graduate school, hoping to complete a Master’s program in Counselling Psychology. Her experience in Rwanda, described below, was part of an International Service Learning project offered as a part of a course on Western’s main campus entitled, Rwanda: Culture, Society and Reconstruction. Through the French department, Professor Henri Boyi leads this course (FRE 3140B), which is open to students in their second year or above at main campus and the affiliate colleges. She says that this course was the perfect way to end her undergraduate career and was a most life-changing experience.

My heart was captured and my life was impacted for the better in Rwanda.

Reading and learning about Rwanda was brought to life through the human experience of this international service-learning project. This was not something I could have learned in a textbook or in the classroom.

I was placed at Gisimba Memorial Centre’s (GMC) school and adjoining orphanage. I spent the mornings teaching English to 45 children ages 2-4 years old. In the afternoons, I would spend time interacting with the people of the orphanage.

Developed countries like Canada have a lot to learn from a place like Rwanda. Beyond the tragedies of the genocide and beyond the poverty, the people of Rwanda are human beings who love the very essence of life, and who were not defeated by sadness, but resilient to it. During my placement at GMC, I discovered the true meaning of happiness.

The teachers inspired me more each day with their abundance of happiness, energy, and passion for their work and the children. The people at the orphanage were loved by one another and treated each other as one big family; they brought happiness to each other. It was a relaxed, positive, friendly, and high-energy atmosphere, where we had the opportunity to interact and connect with many people. Our connections grew at GMC, friendships developed, and I began to see my peers more as mentors.

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It was not realistic to think I was going to be able to create huge change in this short amount of time, or give them as much as they were giving me, but what I could do was share as much as I could, connect with as many people, and try to impact their lives in some way.

Sharing culture, interacting with the teachers and children of the school, and people of the orphanage, getting to know their stories, and trying to impact their lives would make a difference. I made posters and visual aids to help with teaching. I sang songs and came up with creative activities to help teach various concepts. In the afternoons at the orphanage, some larger group activities were organized such as limbo, the human knot, and an art day. I also tried to reach out to as many of the people as possible.

The youth and young adults of the orphanage taught me traditional dancing, gave me Kinyarwanda lessons, while I taught them English. We painted our nails; listened to music and much more. I impacted as many lives as I could during my time there, we shared culture, we blurred the boundaries between cultures, we explored emotions, and I formed some of the most heart-felt friendships I have had in my lifetime.

The international service-learning project really opened up my eyes to a bigger world. It reminded me of how much I have yet to learn about the world around me. I witnessed the simplicity of life with minimal material items, and an abundance of pure and genuine qualities and emotions. I heard the laughter of children playing games with sticks and chasing a moving tire; the love of children as they dusted the dirt off the shoes of a friend or shared the food they were given with an orphan who did not have any.

I experienced the commitment of teachers working to better the children, the trust the children had in us as we were called their teachers and their friends, the kindness that every member of GMC showed us as they welcomed us every morning and afternoon, the selfless giving of the teachers and students of the school and people of the orphanage as they gave the one bracelet on their own hand to me as a gesture of appreciation.

I will carry these memories with me wherever I go, and I will strive to emulate the people of GMC in my life.