On February 4th, 2020 I set out on a life changing trip. Little did I know that upon my return, life as I knew it would be turned upside-down.
I travelled to Rwanda with a group of four incredible women. We were on a mission organized by the LemonAid Fund, a non-profit founded to achieve positive and lasting change in the lives of children, families and communities. We were in Rwanda on the 25th anniversary of the 1994 “100 day” genocide in which 800,000 people were slaughtered by ethnic Hutu extremists. Working in conjunction with a Rwandan organization called IBUKA, we were brought in to train both survivors and perpetrators of the genocide on the qualities of forgiveness, gratitude, and appreciation.
We spent four intense days in the village of Butare working closely with an amazing cohort of 20 villagers. We learned about their experiences during and after the genocide through journaling, tapping (a spiritual and cultural way to express oneself), as well as various bonding and self-expressive exercises.
While I will never forget the personal and agonizing nature of their stories, even more remarkable was the resilience of the storytellers. Their willingness to put in the extraordinary amount of effort needed to move forward with their lives, after having experienced such tragedy and loss.
What struck me most was how these Rwandan villagers accepted and trusted a group of complete strangers. Who were we to come in and teach them how to forge ahead when we could not possibly imagine what they had experienced and continue to live with on a daily basis?
These thoughts resonate even more since I have been back in our world of COVID-19 and society's efforts to achieve racial equality.
Every day I think of the villagers and the cherished lessons they taught me:
They have so little, but have so much to give.
They live simply yet fully.
They have lost so much yet feel as though they are fortunate.
They are willing to accept help and guidance even if the ones providing it “do not speak the same language”.
They work hard every day in imperfect circumstances to make themselves better human beings.
They recognize that forgiveness trumps hate.
What important lessons my Rwandan friends have taught me, especially during these unsettling times. If that is not turning lemons into lemonade… I am not sure what is!
P.S. If you'd like more information on the LemonAid Fund, please visit lemonaidfund.org.