Shannon Fish
Shannon Fish
Rwanda 2018
Amakuru! I am a recent graduate passionate about education, and the sustainable impact it can have on people and societies. Join me for seventeen weeks in Rwanda, as I tutor in English and equip students with skill sets that will allow them to strive intentionally towards their dreams and goals. Read More About Shannon →

Exciting news!

I have news y’all! I decided that my time here in Rwanda is not finished. In the middle of my fellowship, I spent time reflecting if I should come back, and then decided that there is still so much more for me to do and learn in this country. So I decided after returning home for Christmas and presenting my convo at Belmont University, I will be returning to Kigali, Rwanda.

I was offered a fellowship as a Start Up Fellow in the department of New Ventures at Akilah Institute. Akilah is the first all-girls institute in the country, and the founder actually went to Vanderbilt University. Small world! I will be working directly underneath the Managing Director of New Ventures as her fellow. Our mission is to find new, creative ways to generate money for the university to sustain the growth and expansion of Akilah! I am in fact combining three of my greatest passions: research, entrepreneurship, and girl’s education. Honestly, it is quite remarkable that I found this fellowship in such a short amount of time and that the week I decided to look for jobs, they had just recently posted the job information. Can I get a God is good all the time, all the time God is good.

I had been to campus previously when I visited for my research. And let me tell you, these women radiate confidence and it was so easy to make friends after only being here for a few hours. Returning back from my interview, I ran into so many wonderful new friends that greeted me and were so joyful to hear that I will be working with them. This working environment is going to be amazing! I can not wait!

So, that’s my news! I get to work with bad as women who are changing gender dynamics in Rwanda, empowering their local communities and pursuing excellence in their lives. I can not wait to work to encourage these women further to pursue their dreams.

Ain’t life crazy!

Let the adventure continue… Komeza imbere.

FD8936D1-BE4F-4EAB-9555-D399A598A2C1                  C7848204-F08A-44F0-92AB-19826E467B41

Go Shake it, Shape it, Beat it



Yesterday was graduation day for RLS. Honestly I couldn’t keep a smile off of my face, and my cheeks hurt from how much I smiling. I am so ridiculously proud of these students, and all they have accomplished.

At graduation, Robin, the founder, ended her opening remarks to these graduates by saying, “Now it’s your time to go out into the world. Go shake it, shape it and beat it.” I see the fire burning in these students minds and hearts, and I am so excited to see where they go with their talents and skills. Robin’s thought particularly struck a chord with me, and she definitely fueled some fire in me. I’m learning how to shake against injustices here in Rwanda, and how to construct capacity building and encourage open mindsets. But there is, of course, still so much more to learn and do.

After graduation, I headed over to a local hotel where Mobile Arts for Peace (the workshop I participated in during my second week in country) was having a second workshop. All of my old friends warmly welcomed me, and I had to chance to see the final presentations of the students from the week. To explain again, MAP is seeking to encourage drama clubs in schools for trauma healing and reconciliation efforts. The first workshop, that I attended, was to train the facilitators. This second workshop was a small camp for students in the village, two of my students from RLS actually joined the workshop as well. This semester we had a trial Drama Club to see if this would be something students would be interested in, and they definitely can not wait to see this Drama Club be apart of their week. Especially after we had the poetry slam a few weeks back, thank you student Derrick (brilliant idea!), the students have been very interested in the arts.

Which I love!!! As music, art, acting, and drama can all be extremely effective tools to experience and process emotions as well as to seek therapeutic healing. I even ran into one of my first friends, Laure, who is a mental health therapist in Kigali (which is HUGE, because mental health is extremely taboo in Rwanda), and we are getting coffee tomorrow to catch up.

Yesterday was one of those days that will definitely stick out when I reflect back on my fellowship. I was able to see the small impact of my time spent at RLS, and how I was allowed to be apart of these students’ journey towards knowledge. I am so stinking proud! (Phrase credits to Thandi Dinani). I also saw the result of my investment in Rwamagana, and how it was so marvelous to run into old friends. I am so grateful for these shared moments, and relationships that I will continue to develop and invest in. Wow, what a good day!


Rwandan dance at graduation.








The cutest choir ever.


Parents standing behind the graduates during the blessing.

47502274_574747692965446_1724760051761020928_n Damascene!

47199933_2164623947120611_2527501460996882432_n     Richard, the rapper!!

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Sweet Jeanette!
















Gaga, the first student to arrive! (Most guests were 2 hours late haha)














Ornella, the librarian.
























Katie, a past RLS volunteer.


Living well

This is one of those funny reflective moments where I think back to a past prayer, and realize God completely put my thoughts to action. I remember at the beginning of college praying to gain patience and practice patience. A few years later after God continued to work on my heart to seek humility, empathy, and love, he also placed me smack dab in the middle of a culture that requires the utmost patience.

Patience is a necessity when you live in Eastern Africa. Everything requires patience here – conversations, any form of transportation, and all transactions with anyone ever.

The whole Rwandan culture revolves around “African” time, even the language. For example when trying to explain a simple task, a Rwandan can speak at length in Kinyarwanda because it requires more words and creatively piecing words together. Additionally, there is SO MUCH repetition in Kinyarwanda. When explaining and understanding a game, there is no jumping in through trial and error, but instead each rule must be understood and discussed at length. While I respect the Kinyarwanda language and this way of learning and processing, it drives my Western-self crazy sometimes... Especially when teaching students.

In addition, I had to gain patience with my host family. I loved living with Laura and Peter dearly, but often they would arrive very late from work (mostly around 8:30 pm but sometimes as late as 10:00 pm). Their mornings are early and their nights are late, and I have complete empathy for how long their days are and how challenging the commute must be. But I will still say it was difficult for me to be at home for hours with the kids and practically play babysitter every night. Don’t get me wrong I love these kiddos and I am so blessed for all the dance parties and games we played together. But it was hard to discipline children when I didn’t feel it was my place or my responsibility, yet I was the only one around to do so.

It was also challenging to eat so late every night around 9 pm – 10 pm. In fact I’ve been meaning to write a blog about the difficulties my body and health have had while here in Rwanda. The main diet here is beans, rice, green bananas, and potatoes. Halfway through my fellowship, I questioned why my energy levels had plummeted so drastically. I didn’t feel like my full optimistic, energetic, driven-self and that was directly correlated with my diet.

My diet has been starch, starch and more starch. Bread for breakfast (sometimes an egg), fruit for snacks (sometimes), rice/potatoes and beans for lunch (sometimes chips ie. french fries), and rice, beans, banana chips (sometimes), and green beans soaked in oil and cooked until wilting (for health reasons to cook out bacteria/parasites). Here’s the thing, I kind of gave in to the diet because the house helper cooked and I wasn’t allowed to help since I was the guest, and honestly there aren’t a lot of food options in the village I lived in.

Throughout my whole fellowship, I have been aware of my body, but I realize now that my body has really begun to deteriorate while living in Rwanda and I need to restore my body to a healthy condition where I receive proper nutrients and portions.

Patience and health have been two notions on my mind these past few weeks. I have really gained an understanding for how my emotional and physical well-being resonate from what I eat and from my surroundings. Also, I understand more fully how being even slightly undernourished can impact my whole life.

You might say, why don’t you educate locals about the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables, but that simply is just not the Rwandan culture. The Rwandan diet is so starchy in order to give that immediate, easy energy for hard long days of working in the field, since most Rwandans work in agriculture. Filling their plates with foods that make them full is a gift, as there are many living in poverty and starving. Also, they just produce a lot of rice, potatoes and bananas which makes them cheap and readily available! This doesn’t mean their habits of eating can’t include a bit more of nutritional factors, but there are so many socio-cultural determinants to also consider.

Of course everything I just talked about doesn’t only apply to Rwanda, but health in the United States is also completely correlated with the wealth gap. Those who live in poverty in America have less nutritional foods that are available and affordable. I suppose if you want to try to correlate my experience to your own, I would think about how you are treating your own body and if there are things you can eat or do that would give you more energy, joy or a better life.

How can you also serve your community to give everyone the opportunity to have a better lifestyle?

There are so many ideas, ways and arguments on how to do this. I mean, of course, we all think a little differently and have our own talents and passions. But my question is how can you use your talent or passion to make your community a little better?

Just some food for thought.



I had a local America baker make pumpkin pie for my host family to celebrate Thanksgiving!



My host family’s house.

Wrapping Up

My fellowship ends so soon and right now I am feeling so many things. Firstly I am still discovering new places in my community. For example, I just learned that the Imigongo Art Center in Kibungo has a cafe! And this is like a 15 minute drive away from me! Again, you can take the girl out of Nashville but you can’t take Nashville out of the girl. AKA I sure do love my coffee... especially when it’s Rwandan.

This upcoming month I will visit Muhoma Refugee Camp with Pastor Edward, take a craft demonstration class at Urugo Women’s Center (and maybe an imigongo class at the Imigongo Center), visit Handspun Hope this weekend, and volunteer for Mobile Arts for Peace at the end of the month. Even with all of this, I feel like there is still so much more to learn and to research while I am here. 

At the school, I finished tutoring my three students this week. Firstly, for Kevin Mucho, my P1 student, I have been a resource and a friend. I began tutoring him, because he is new to the school as of this year. While I have been helping him in English, I have also been checking to see how he has been doing with academics and his social life. Kevin has a good-natured disposition that seeks to learn, and I am very proud of his progress this semester.

In addition, I tutored Margaret who is a little bit of a trouble maker, the refusing to wear her socks and stick to her dress code kind of trouble maker. She would often try to have a conversation with me instead of focusing on practicing reading, but sometimes I rolled with it and challenged her with some new vocabulary and with critically applying what we have read through speaking. Despite being a bit of a trouble maker, I know that we were able to form a wonderful connection based off of trust, respect and intentionality, and that if I imparted anything to her, it was the importance of knowing English and practicing acquired skills.

Now, for Jeanette – my prized student.

With Jeanette, we practiced building confidence. This applied to confidence in speaking English, presenting in class, discussing our ideas in conversations, and believing ourselves and our abilities. Jeanette is on full scholarship, so often before tutoring I would ask her how her mother and siblings were doing. Her mother is sick and is expected to pass away sometime soon. I know that in a way I was able to provide her refuge and comfort if only for a few minutes by being someone she could talk to and being someone who actively heard her. She told me about how her grandfather recently passed away, and how he promised to take her to Uganda one day. The day she told me this, we ended early because her grieving caused her to become overcome with emotion.

The thing with Jeanette is that she has this incredible zeal to learn English and a desire to gain an education to help her family gain a better life one day. She wants to do this by starting her own business. When I asked her what kind of business she wants to start, she told me she wanted to sell clothes at the market. I can understand why she would say this given her socio-economic upbringing, but I encouraged her to pursue higher education and to enter into entrepreneurship after gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful.

On our last tutoring session, I had her draw her hand and write some words around the hand on what she has learned during tutoring and how it has made her feel. She really didn’t understand why we were doing this so she didn’t want to participate, so I drew my hand and did my own reflection as an example. Eventually she wrote a bit on the hand, and I filled in the rest on how I have seen her improve and why I am proud of her. I thought it honestly didn’t go too well, but I chalked it up to the fact that she has exams and is dealing with family illness.

But yesterday, a school volunteer gave me a note from Jeanette, and y’all, it was the absolute sweetest note. She apologized for being “so sad” on many of our tutoring days, and she explained it has been because she was stressed about her family. She also apologized for not wanting to do our warm up most days because she lied and told me she was sick. Our warm ups consisted of stretching, and then she would show me a new Rwandan dance step and we would put words to the movements. After doing this for a month, I really saw her confidence level exponentially improve as well as the volume of her voice when speaking in conversations. But eventually it faded out because she would tell me she had cramps almost every time. In the case that she did have cramps, I absolutely didn’t want to push her to do the exercise. Especially, as I have been in her position many times.

Even more, this note shows me how much of a good heart Jeanette has, seeking forgiveness and setting her wrongs right.

She is determined to learn and gain an education.

She has dreams and goals.

She is seeking to be brave and ethical,

And I am so proud of her.

In our sessions, I would often talk about how she can translate the confidence she has while dancing to speaking and presenting (which is why I combined the two in our warm-up). Jeanette really touched my heart this semester, and I absolutely will seek to encourage her in any way I can in the future.

This note reminded me that what I have become someone my students can trust and relate to. I have sought to encourage these students to be the best version of theirselves, to trust in themselves and to pursue greatness for their life. It’s a daily journey with students (and all people, of course) and there are many ups and downs, and I am just grateful I had the opportunity to be apart of their journey.

Lastly, classes end tomorrow, and today we have a poetry slam. Tomorrow there is also a talent show, of which I have been helping students with mashing up songs and teaching them simply about breath, posture and vocal warmups. Then next week we have final presentations at school, and S3 and S6 begin to study for their graduating exams. There is lots to do before going home, and I am trying to take in all my last moments at the school before going home for Christmas.

PS: Please notice the subtle pun in my blog’s title. I am definitely “wrapping up” and preparing for Christmas over here 😉

Off to the Cape!

This past week I traveled down to Cape Town, South Africa for 6 days to see one of my dear friends from high school. Jen is currently traveling on the Watson fellowship for a year. She began in Columbia and is traveling to South Africa, Greece, India and Mongolia. Firstly it was so unbelievably wonderful to have a piece of home so far away from home. Despite the trip being so short, being able to connect in person with each other after not seeing each other since July was so remarkable. Most of the trip consisted of discussing our lives, hiking mountains, laying on the beach, exploring downtown, eating delicious food, staring in awe at all the options at the grocery store, laughing hysterically, listening to Christmas carols, and just enjoying the time we had together.

I was so grateful to have a little break for a few days and to get to see a familiar face in an unfamiliar place. Honestly, the whole time I was trying to convince myself I was so far away from home because it felt like Jen brought home to me. I am learning more and more throughout these travels that I find home in the people I am with. While my heart is still apart of California and Tennessee, I am finding that I can find home in so many different places. Suffice to say, I am so grateful I got to spend time with my best friend while abroad and I am so excited to see where we both go and experience over the next year. Cheers, y’all!

Here are some photos of this beautiful trip!






We hiked up Lions Head —>

B84771EA-E369-4690-8488-01A79E4265E9   At Signal Hill!






A pop up food market!





Penguins at Boulders Beach!








At the Cape of Good Hope!!!!

5CF283DF-CDA2-4282-85D5-C3035B91586E                                                       We celebrated Christmas together <3
8D5BE136-AE7C-49A9-983D-4CA82F60F506  So proud of this girl!!

89CD35D9-9E22-4802-B17B-FF75BC45A762   & with that I was leaving for Kigali.




Finding Your Voice

Why is it so hard to be heard? In the line of communication, where do our voices get lost? If we speak out against hate, disparity and prejudice, how far is our voice actually carried? Why are some voices given priority over others? What can we do to allow everyone the equal chance to step onto the platform and speak their truth?

These are some questions I have been reflecting about in the past few weeks. Thinking about others’ voices and my own.

So, what do I mean by “my voice?”

My voice is MY opinion.

My voice is MY own personal experiences that no one needs to validate, except for myself.

My voice is MY desire to seek change and prosperity.

My voice is MY outlet for loving and supporting those in my life.

My voice is MY public projection of who I am and what I think.

I should be free to use my voice and not suppress what I think and feel. But in a world that polarizes more and more each day, I often choose the easier choice of keeping quiet and not polluting the world with just one more loud voice.

Recently I have been struggling with the action of using my voice and not being afraid to speak my own truth. As a person who hates conflict and heated debates, I often steer away from telling my whole truth and revealing exactly what I think. Well I am known to say how I feel about something if it impacts something greater than myself, when it comes to every-day decisions I often choose to go along with the opinions of those around me and reserve how I truly feel.

Yet while I encourage my students everyday to be bold and confident in who they are, what they are feeling, what they are learning and where they are going, I often struggle with this myself. Yes, I am an empowered, capable, passionate, confident woman who has been given the agency and opportunities to successful seek an excellent education and pursue my chosen career. But I am also a woman who struggles to say my whole truth in the event that someone would disagree or get hurt. I believe that there is a balance between using your voice and abusing the ears of others listening to your voice. In other words, attempting to destroy other peoples beliefs, and tear down the spirits of others is not the proper use of your voice. Instead you should seek mature discussion of issues and challenges, then seek transformation in your communities and spark change. But then again, that is just my opinion and my own voice telling you how I feel.

In order to feel that I can fully encourage my students to use their own voices, I am too seeking to demonstrate how I am using mine. Currently I am trying to more bravely stand up for what I believe in and use my own voice to speak up against hate, violence and discrimination.

For example, there are so many things I see every day that have become a norm in my mind: street children asking me for money, boys walking with girls at night about to engage in prostitution, people living without proper access to nutrition, girls suppressing their voice, single mothers being ostracized from their family and society, girls missing school due to their menstrual cycle (being out for nearly a whole week or more), girls beating themselves up over being 20 and single without kids, mistreatment and misunderstandings of those who are mentally ill, and men constantly speaking over women in conversation. Sometimes I shock myself for how I have normalized what is going on around me and how it doesn’t infuriate me every second of the day. How I have assumed this stance of, “Okay, I would love to change this, but what can I do about this? Are you kidding me? Organizations with millions of dollars streaming into communities barely create a few ripples of change. In fact foreign development can often create more harm than good. So what can I do? Let my know when you find the answer.” Quite frankly one person does not change the world. In fact one person can barely change a community – let alone a person.

So when people back home tell me: “Oh good for you, sweety. You are changing the world. Go change the lives of those Africans. You will be so good for them. They are so lucky to have you there to empower them.” I am infuriated. Not only are there so many things wrong with this western-centric mindset, but I can’t believe this mindset is still being propagated in the United States when we have the means to know differently.

Firstly, my goal while I am here is to develop relationships and encourage my students to pursue the very best in themselves and in their society. By the end of my fellowship, I may have only impacted one student or one teacher, and it would have been well-worth my hard-work and dedication. The reality of international development is that I may never see my efforts come to fruition, or see the impact of my work.

Which leads me to the “changing the world” part of that phrase. The reality of international development is that the most sustainable developmental work comes from creating relationships with the local people and equipping local leaders with the agency to address the problems that they themselves see in their community. So when international agencies and donors seek immediate outcomes and data tables proving their work is “doing good,” often workers on the ground are rushed to find immediate solutions instead of meeting with community leaders and members to strategize the best answers to the community’s problems. An organization that combats the normal metholodogy of foreign aid is Mocha Club, and I highly recommend you look them up to see what this proces looks like.

Next sentence: “Go change the lives of those Africans.” Africa is a HUGE continent. HUGE HUGE HUGE. Congolese and Kenyans are so different in mannerisms, opinions and speech than Rwandans, and they are neighboring countries! You can not group Africans into a category. There are Rwandans, Nigerians, Egyptians, Moroccans, South Africans, and 49 more nationalities with people who have drastically different cultures and mindsets.

Lastly, I have a problem with the word “empowerment.” This word has been consistently misused in the field of international development and foreign aid. Counterpart International said it best in their recent article, “Banning the Phrase ‘Empowering Others’”:

“Empowering is giving authority or power to someone to do something. International development organizations do not have power to give to citizens. And talking about us as an organization empowering people robs them of their agency to take control of their own lives and claim their rights.”

What if as Western nations we stopped using the word empowerment, and began to support leaders in communities to obtain transformative agency that would equip others with the means to change their OWN lives? What would we call that? Possibly, it would simply be called sharing resources, education and opportunities? Maybe we would see the real solution to be participating in humanity by seeking peace, security and happiness for all. What do you think?

I hope this blog post sparks a new conversation between you and your family members and friends. I encourage you to bravely seek your own voice but to never lose sight of practicing empathy for those in your life who have contrary opinions to yourself. Once you find your voice, encourage others to find theirs! It’s a big ask, but you won’t be alone; I’ll be working on it with you. And with time we may just be able to create small seeds of change and steer the conversation of development towards new directions.



On the bus ride from Kigali to Rwamagana.










On Safari in Akagera Game Park!



Visiting the Kibungo Girl’s Soccer Team!



Helping my friend Lily set up at the market.



0692BF5C-F126-4053-92D4-A4988A0371D5My host sister.

BD346205-5EF3-48ED-AC10-75E5876DA9A4 With my host mama, Laura.

2EB2DF8F-2915-4A3B-BA51-79C3518B626C AD3EFD9E-6B68-4C30-B84D-05F9B758D7CC 79362CE5-0009-4101-8F5A-57A5C7B0BE3E53677C46-3394-4ABC-B274-443606692597

Visiting a friend’s home, Jean Claudine, with my friend Meredith.

91E5CE06-5EF1-4D51-9B0D-BDBCF681CDB8  A Sunday afternoon in Kigali.

BA29110D-5769-4711-94D1-A91ADD09F5C1  Leading the first Drama Club at RLS!

The Power of Stories

Dedication: This week a dear friend of mine passed away on a trip in Vietnam unexpectedly and without just cause. This set the tone for my week. I have been confused and angry at the circumstances, and sorrowful for the dreams Ryan had to make great change in the world. Grieving in Rwanda has been an interesting setting and process, as death is common and funerals are frequent. My close friends, recent graduates of RLS, Mabel and Ornella have been so loving, empathetic and supportive during this week. In fact, I have felt a different level of empathy from my fellow teachers and host family. It’s as if everyone carries the burden and weight of death on their shoulders in Rwanda, but they do so collectively, holding each other up with resilience and strength. A humbling and poignant realization. I and so many others will remember Ryan’s heart and continue his mission and passions in our own lives. May you be at peace Ryan. This one’s for you.


In the past week I have visited Nyamirambo Women’s Center, Urugo Women’s Center and Akila Institute. Nyamirambo Women’s Center began in 2007, and today they have become a booming cooperative that sells handmade goods, and offers a basket weaving class, cooking class and walking tour around the Nyamirambo neighborhood. I took the weaving class and I actually ended up being the only person who signed up that day. I was so grateful it was just me though, because I had the opportunity to communicate one-on-one with my teacher, Alicia. I even had a translator who helped me communicate with Alicia. As we worked with our hands and got caught up in the therapeutic monotony of weaving, Alicia began to tell me her life story. She told me how she raised her three children as a single mother, and worked to give her children a good life. She told me, “I support my children with my hands. I got here by using my hands.” He determination and ambition has led her to work hard at the women’s center and give her children a healthy, educated lifestyle. After the workshop, she generously gave me two pairs of earrings as a gift and some thread to make more earrings. Once I finish my next pair, I’m going to go back and show her!

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During my research, I have found that when I ask women questions about their life story they will begin to tell me their whole story and then stop in the middle and say, “I’m babbling, are you sure you want to hear this?” To this I always respond that it is an honor to hear their story and I am so grateful that they are willing to share it with me. I have found that when someone listens your story, you find validation and you feel understood. It’s freeing, troubling and healing all at once. The best friendships I have formed in Rwanda are the result of deep, meaningful conversations, where I have learned about their heart, soul and desires.

When I visited Akilah Institute, the first all-girls institute in Rwanda (which was actually started by a woman who went to Vanderbilt funnily enough!), I was welcomed with open arms. I was actually running late because the bus wasn’t on time from Rwamagana, and I only had 45 minutes to tour the campus, talk with Nadine, the External Relations Officer, and interview some students. Since Nadine had to run to a meeting, I told her I would just go get lunch and come back after her meeting. I did so, and while waiting for her I chatted with Ernestine, the librarian at Akilah, for at least an hour and a half. Ernestine is honest, real, upfront and courageous. Her family was displaced during the genocide, and she came to Kigali when she was 11 to work for a pastor as a house helper so that she could support her parents who could not find employment in Kibungo. She did this for a year without having the opportunity to gain an education. Eventually the pastor offered to allow her to attend school. All the way through 0 level education (elementary school) she studied at school during the day, and worked as the house helper when she returned home. When she entered P level education (middle and high school), she went to FAWE School for Girls which was a boarding school. Serendipitously, she studied in the same class as Laura’s sister. (Yes! Laura is my host mother.) She in fact knows Laura as well, which was such a fun connection to make. She was in the first class at Akilah, and came to work as a librarian soon after. She put her two sisters through school at Akilah, and hopes to help her brother obtain high education one day. She raises her son alone and loves the people in her life fiercely. I learned all this as we chatted and ate bananas – of which she hounded me to eat more than 2. Let me tell you, don’t mess with Rwandan mommas. They be fierce and they want you to EAT.


Afterwards, I had the opportunity to chat with Nadine more, and then attend Akilah’s Gender Club. The girls were so welcoming and we talked about what barriers girls face when trying to obtain an education, and about how they see gender inequality in their own lives. Afterwards, I spent some time talking with Esther, the VP of Gender Club and Student Body President, and we are going to hang out soon. Woot woot! I also connected with their communications director, who is an expat as well. Let me tell you, if you are willing and open-minded while traveling you will make so many valuable connections, and even-more, lifelong friends. As I type, I am preparing to leave to eat some chili with my friend Kurtis, past peace-corps, and Sela, a Kenyan researcher in Kigali that I met at the workshop Kurtis put on. To add to the willingness factor, you also have to be intentional with new relationships or else they slip away. For me, as I came here alone, only having briefly talked to the founder of RLS, I already have a huge support network of Rwandans and expats in Kigali and Rwamagana, because I try to continually put myself out there and to courageously form connections.

I know that I still have a good amount of time here in Rwanda, but time is moving so quickly. I honestly don’t know if I will be ready to leave when the time comes. I really do love this country, despite cultural barriers and challenges that come up. In Rwanda, my character has been building so dynamically and I feel more strength and courage by the day during my time here.

The students in the Gender Club asked me for advice, and I really didn’t know what to say. What I told them was to BE BOLD. To use their voices to help other girls and women find theirs. And to create ripple effects by going into their communities and creating change. I encouraged them to keep working towards their dreams, and to know that they are at one of the best higher ed schools in the city and that they must use their education wisely and thoughtfully to empower others. That being at an all-girls school gives you the power to unite with fellow women and build each other up through healthy competition and collaboration, without tearing each other down. That they are world-changers and that if they ever come to America, I’m going to show them around and we will have a blast!


I feel so lucky that one of my jobs here is to listen to women’s stories and connect with powerful bad as women who are leading their families and communities. It makes my heart oh, so, full. And my time here so much more special.


“We are the ones we have been waiting for.” -June Jordan, “Poem for South African Women”

Dawn to Dusk

My favorite part of the day is the last few hours of daylight before the sun goes down to rest, when everything seems to glow and I can have some final moments with the sun before night. Dusk is the time I feel most contemplative and at peace during the day. Yet recently, I have begun to adore the very first moments of the day as well. I wake up at 6 a.m. most days when the birds first awake, when the sun brightens up the clouds, and when the day is still crisp and dewy before the hot African sun begins to make an appearance. I find comfort in the familiarity of dawn and dusk no matter where in the world I am. The end of the day means that the next day there can be new beginnings.


On the top of Mount Kigali^

These past few weeks in Rwanda, I have been focusing on my roles at RLS, furthering my research and traveling back and forth from Kigali. Life seems very normal and natural. At school, I have settled into my roles and have begun to come up with ideas on how to improve certain programs and contribute to others. I tutor 4 students: Jeanette in English-speaking and confidence-building skills, Kennedy in mathematics, Kevin in English, and Margaret in English and helping her to create useful study habits. I alternate from having them read books and write short little essays about things they love to having them just speak to me so that they can practice speaking and thinking critically out loud. I also seek to be someone that they can come to when they need to talk about something challenging or whenever they need a resource. In Brene Brown’s book, “Braving the Wilderness,” she discusses the importance of vulnerability in creating relationships and focusing on building trust in order to have candid and powerful moments. I seek to accomplish such intentions with my students. She also discusses that we as humans should live from a wild heart and not a weary one. That we should have a…

Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.

Living with purpose and curiosity, seeking to making meaningful connections and to continue learning every day, is in my opinion the purpose of life. While I want the students I tutor to learn and grow their minds, I more importantly want to make sure that they know the power of relying on another person through friendship and how to practice trust, empathy and vulnerability. Only after making valuable connections and relationships, can we begin to shape communities and seek to create solutions to cyclic problems in society. 


I really look forward to tutoring Jeanette each week, as I get to work with her on building her own confidence in herself, her speaking skills and her English. So far I have had her practice speaking loudly by having her repeat loud and soft voices in order to differentiate volume levels and feel more comfortable speaking in a loud voice. In Rwanda, women are discouraged from having a loud voice and are instead expected to be reserved, quiet and un-vocal. With Jeanette, I am trying to break this social expectation and have her feel comfortable having and more importantly OWNING her individual voice. For example, I have her repeat sounds that I make along with the movements of traditional Rwandan dance moves; Jeanette is in fact a magnificent dancer, which is why I wanted her to connect something she loves with something new and unfamiliar. I have also had her read a storybook aloud like she was presenting to a classroom. I can already tell some major improvements in her attitude towards speaking English and her desire to build up her confidence.


My other role at the school is leading music class with Dan. I surprised myself by how naturally I fell into the role of teaching and commanding a classroom. In the class I led by myself, I opened by having them say their name, their favorite animal and performing their favorite dance move. Then we stretched and vocally warmed up. I taught them the song “Hosanna” by Hillsong United, and then we played singing tag (which is basically tag but the person that is “it” sings whatever song they like until they tag someone else.) To my surprise when I taught my youngest class the week after teaching them the song “Hosanna,” they remembered the whole song! To explain, it’s not like I gave them sheet music or anything, I just had them repeat a line of the song after I sang it. So the fact that they retained the melody, rhythm and lyrics was very impressive. I believe that this ability stems from their culture that puts such an emphasis on storytelling and oral tradition, hence allowing them to retain oral sounds and messages more adeptly and accurately. I wonder too if this ability is ingrained in genetics as well as culture. Just something to ponder.

Some other roles I have assumed at RLS are: managing social media, researching potential grants for our school, and helping with random projects that pop up. I am hoping to organize a discussion during one of our clubs to discuss gender equality and to help the students think critically about their communities. Additionally, at the next staff meeting, Dan and I will be presenting what we learning at the MAP workshop which will be incredibly helpful for some extracurricular grounds and for CREW (their class focused on developing critical thinking through activity-based applications.)


On the side, I have been furthering my research! This past friday I went to the Women’s Bakery in the Remera district in Kigali. I spoke with my friend Hilary, an expat, who works as the Project Manager at WB, and I interviewed Ruth, the Cafe Operations Manager. Our discussions were extremely fruitful and they have lead me to many more connections and new ideas to pursue. This upcoming week I will be attending a weekly meeting at Nyambinga, a project of Girl Effect that seeks to advocate for the health, creativity and agency of Rwandan girls in the Eastern district. I will also be visiting my friend Kurtis at Mashrika, the organization that organized the workshop I attended two weeks ago. Lastly, I will be taking a basket-weaving class at the Nyamiramba Women’s Center in Kigali this weekend. My goal is to visit as many organizations that empower women as I can, so that I can begin to make connections with other people involved in similar work. Additionally, I want to accumulate as much research as possible as I can over the next month, so that I can begin writing and connecting my previous research with the observations and interviews that I make during my time here.

For the interviews, my goals are to ask women to share their stories and explain how their choices have lead them to where they are today. I want to understand what barriers they have encountered and how they have faced these challenges. I also want to understand individual understandings of feminism and opinions on gender equality in Rwanda.

My overall goals for my research are:

-To study the differences between Western and African feminism.

-To understand more fully what African feminism means.

-To define Rwandan feminism.

-To understand how there are still so many obstacles for the women in Rwanda, and yet they are ranked as the fifth-most gender equal nation out of 143 nations.

-To analyze the accuracy and relevance of rankings/data research.

-To see what roles Rwandan women play in society – public and private.

-To learn how the women I interview have led and impacted their communities.

It has been affirming and energizing to get back into my research, as my thesis-writing was such a big part of life this past year. Also, writing has given me an outlet to explore new ideas and share the incredible testimonies of resilience and leadership here in Rwanda. Amen for that. Sawa Sawa.


At the annual Rwandan Cultural Fashion Show with my friend, Shema^


At the beginning of this week I purposefully reflected that my goal throughout the week was to be generous, empathetic and curious. Generous to the students, the teachers and my host family. Empathetic of those feeling pain and despair in my village, especially Laura who just lost her aunt due to cancer. And curious of the things I may find bizarre and unreasonable. I too sought to be confident in myself, my opinions and what I have to teach my students, as well as focused on the goals I have set for myself. I truly feel that I have accomplished immense growth this week, and that I have stepped more into my role here in Rwanda.

This was the first week I felt like I could breathe. Ever since I arrived in Rwanda, I have been inhaling everything in and holding on so tight to my breath. I’ve been sucking in this new life and there have been times when I have really wanted to spit it right back out. I have questioned why this new air smells, tastes and sounds so different. I couldn’t seem to breathe out my tension, stress, worry, loneliness, confusion and frustrations.

The first moment I truly let myself exhale these emotions is when I talked to Meredith, my American colleague, about how I was struggling with culture shock. I then talked to Robin and received wonderful advice and support from her.

Breathe out.

I have learned more about how to get around my village and do normal things like buy water, fruit, and where to get the best pastries in town.

Breathe out.

I know how to call the bus and ride it to Kigali, and how to direct a moto despite the fact that there are no addresses in Rwanda.

Breathe out.

I am starting to plan adventures and trips with friends.

Breathe out.

I am starting to trust in myself.

Breathe out.

Breathe out.

Breathe in.

I am starting to take in new air with ease and certainty. I am breathing in everything I love about Rwanda.

Breathing steady and faithfully.

Finding my place in Rwanda //


This week I formed powerful connections and invested in a wonderful new community. Oh how God’s timing is generous and bountiful. My second day here, Kurtis, an ex-peace corps volunteer invited me and my fellow music teacher, Dan, to a training workshop to learn how to facilitate and incorporate drama into daily teaching curriculum. I really didn’t come into this workshop with any expectations. Honestly I felt a little lost on how to find purpose at my school before this. Yet through the relationships I have formed this week and the leadership I have observed, I feel so much more BOLD and certain that I am competent and ready to create lasting relationships with my students and new friends.

The program I attended this week was called Mobile Arts for Peace and was organized by a non-profit called Mashirka. My first friend at the workshop was Cela, the researcher on the project who lives in Kigali and is actually Kenyan. I was immediately drawn to her, because she spoke wonderful English and was cool, confident, opinionated, courageous, humble and loving. Over the week we had some wonderful conversations, and I am so grateful to have a new friend to visit in Kigali.


I also grew close to Laure who was the mental health therapist there to observe and step in when necessary. She has such a servant’s heart, and a passion to serve the Rwandan community. She was telling me in one of our conversations that Rwandans have been in fight or flight mode for the past 20 years, and when they come down off of this current need to strive, persevere and move forward, there will be some nasty repercussions from bottling up their trauma. In fact there are 12 million Rwandans and about only 4 sites to receive mental health care and treatment in Rwanda. Her social enterprise seeks to reconcile this and create a culture of support, discussion and healing. I am grateful I will get to visit her in Kigali as well, and I am very excited for what will become of our new friendship.

Through this workshop, I have been able to observe Rwandans together, how they lead each other, how they respond to each other, how they translate English to Kinyarwanda and the reverse, how they love each other, and how they do life together. Something that sticks out to me in the Rwandan culture is their use of, the phrase, “You are welcome.” When you meet someone in Rwanda, they will most often say this to literally welcome you and make you feel comfortable, but more so to show respect and honor to you. At times I laugh because 10 people in 5 minutes will tell me at breakfast, “You are welcome,” and then just walk away and leave the conversation at that. It’s a new form of small talk I suppose and a way to make someone feel included. I do find it amusing at times, but I definitely love the thought behind this new phrase.

In fact, I really did feel welcome this week. As a participant, I collaborated, brain-stormed, co-led and co-facilitated with these Rwandan teachers all week. I really learned how to break through language barriers, cultural barriers and gender dynamics. For example, I heard a lot of Kinyarwanda this week and have begun to catch on to key phrases that will be very practical and just fun to use in everyday life. I also observed that Rwandans don’t jump into things like Americans do. Often in America we will jump into something ill-prepared and just wing it, but in Rwanda everything needs to be fully clear and the instructions need to be repeated strenuously before any action can be put into place. Learning as you go is a foreign concept for Rwandans.


For the issue of gender, I saw that they tried to balance the participation of women and men, but I also observed that there were times when men would be more forceful than they needed to be with women. For example when a Rwandan man was instructing a game, he would just move a woman aside and make sure she was standing in the right position for the game. Or when we were discussing in a circle, one guy literally moved a girl’s head because she was in his way. Their physicality and lack of consideration was really frustrating me and I made sure that every guy knew that it was unacceptable to grab my hand/elbow or move my shoulders/head without asking for my permission. There are so many more gender dynamics for me to observe, especially between the teachers and students at my school, and I promise I will be blogging more and more about gender issues as my time here continues.



As this new week begins, I plan to focus on establishing trust between my students and myself, to teach students in my music class new activities I have learned at the program, to study more Kinyarwanda, and to begin to set up some interviews. I hope to fill my lungs with curiosity and strength this week so that I can teach and learn as much as is possible.











August 20, 4:00 pm

Mwiriwe. Good evening. There are so many sounds to wake up to in Rwanda. I just woke up from an afternoon nap and I have begun to pay attention to the sounds outside my door. I hear goats, a roaster calling for the last hours of the day, a motorcycle, the constant thrum of traffic down below, children playing, Rwandans laughing, horns honking (a very common thing in Rwanda to say “hey, hello, I am here, I have arrived”), hollars/singing/faint remnants of a song in the distance, feet shuffling, afternoon birds chirping, dogs barking, and some things I can’t even place. One of my favorite things to do when I travel or even if I go to a place I have been many times before is to listen to everything happening around me and to be still myself. I do it at home when I go to the beach, at Sevier park in Nashville, and when I travel to new places, because I know that there will be comforting sounds, interesting sounds, joyful sounds and new sounds. 

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August 21, 3:00 pm

I write to you exhausted and tired this afternoon. I have been in Rwanda for officially 3 days now, and I have had some wonderful moments but I am just so tired from trying to get used to all these changes. This morning was particularly draining. Robin, my host for the time being, and I went out to go bird watching. The thing is we went to a popular dirt road that passes down a valley connecting two hills in an impoverished part of town. Of course there were people traveling with water, hay on their heads, some hearding cows, children wandering about, and Rwandans just trying to get somewhere. The difficult part was that as we would stand and watch birds, Rwandans would begin to crowd around us. It started with little boys who participated in our bird watching, but then grown men and more children would crowd around to gawk at us looking at birds. It was really hard to stick out like a sore thumb and to have people stop what they were doing in their day to follow us around. It was helpful that Robin is fluent in Kinyarwanda, because she was able to explain what we were doing, and what our funny contraptions (the binoculars) were. At a certain point she pulled out a book of East African Birds and I kid you not, 4 adult men and 5 children crowded around her to look at the pictures. Having people just stand and stare at us as we walked was unsettling. My takeaway from this experience is that as a foreigner I will stick out and people will watch me so much more closely, which will be unsettling and uncomfortable at times but I will learn to take it with grace and humility.

Cultural barriers are definitely ever-prevalent. One of the hardest things is how much thought has to go into every day action. But as the days go by I am beginning to get more familiar with the ways of Rwandans, and used to Rwandan life. As for language and culture, I have learned many different ways to greet someone – be it a child, an elder, a new friend or an old one. I am also learning kinyarwanda, which is an incredibly difficult language, but very rewarding.

The first day Meredyth showed me around Kigali. We walked to the market (Kimirojo Isiko) and took some motos over to a coffee shop called Question Coffee (which supports female Rwandan farmers). We asked the manager for the story behind their entrepreneurship, which was very eye-opening and inspirational because he spoke about the positive impact of this co-op on the women. He said that one of the hardest challenges in the beginning was fighting against husbands wanting to keep their wives home to take care of their children or to maintain the home, and that furthermore these women just didn’t have the desire to enter into a co-op and do a laborious man’s job. But over time these views began to change, and these women have ascertained sovereignty, confidence, dignity and leadership in their communities. Now there are 3,000 female farmers and near 1,500 are in training! Their collaboration and motivation to work together has been a huge step for their communities and most importantly for the families of these women. Q Coffee has a coffee taste testing room where they educate you on local and international coffee. They also do excursions to the farm to see their production methods, learn about their business and meet the women. I hope that I can do both during my time here.


August 23, 9:00 am 

Waramutse! Today has been a wonderful morning. I met my host family yesterday and they were so welcoming of me. When Laura first met me she opened her arms wide and hugged me so tight. What’s remarkable about staying with Laura and her family is that Laura is a woman championing change here in Rwanda. She teaches English, French and Swahili at our school, but more than that she mentors girls in schools across this district and is the representative for youth in Rwanda for FAWE, the Federation of African Women Educationalists. She in fact won the Woman of Courage Award from the US embassy this year. Our pairing couldn’t have been more perfect. I will have so much to learn from her!

So, back to this morning. I walked to school for the first time from my host families house and I finally had a moment to start a wonderful habit. In the states I love to walk around (campus, the park, a new city, etc), so getting the chance to walk at my own fast pace with my own thoughts was really helpful. I additionally didn’t realize how much I missed listening to my music. Music has been such an integral part of my life, especially in the past few years. I have always listened to music in mornings to get my day started, be it as I get ready, drive to my internship/work, or walk to class. It’s been my driving force and the pulse that gets me ready for the day. So having the chance to listen to my music and just have time to myself was beautiful. It’s not surprising that what I needed to easy my stress and exhaustion was music.

Yesterday was particularly hard for me. I was having some really bad culture shock and home sickness from the combination of so many things. The hardest thing to get used to has been the attention I get just because of the color of my skin. Every person I pass on the street stares and is just so curious by me, and the kids will yell out “muzungu” which means white person. I try to respond with a smile and an “Amakuru” which means “what’s up” in kinyarwanda. I would say 4 out of 5 people respond when I say that, and 2 out of the 5 give me a smile back. It’s still weird and hard, but I’m learning how best to act in this situation. The next challenge has been the cultural barrier, people are still people who need the same necessities such as love, friendship, food, water, shelter, and family. But when you look past these things there is so much dividing me with a lot of the people I talk with. Often the teachers will talk in kinyarwanda over lunch or when they are together, so since I obviously can’t participate I normally just read a book. Another challenge has been the fact that there are so many different ways to shake someone’s hand or greet someone. I’ve been catching on, but I can also tell I’ve already offended some elders by not doing it the right way.

Another challenge has been the fact that I haven’t had alone time. With Robin I was getting used to everything so I needed a lot of guidance, and then now at my host house there are 3 kids running around. They are wonderful and adorable, but it’s hard having someone tell me when to eat and how much, and never really having quiet. But I will begin to form habits, such as spending time in the word in the morning, walking to and from school, and maybe buying myself a treat from the market, which will help.

Yesterday I got to know the wonderful students and teachers. I sat in on some classes, helped organize their resource closet, got to know some students, and helped with an after-school club for driven and exceptional students to talk about preparing for their future. Today I have a little bit of time in the morning which allows me time to publish this blog, but later today I will begin tutoring which I am definitely excited to start. I think it will give me a little bit of purpose and insight into what I will be doing here. Also, an expat will be coming to talk about starting a musical theater program today, and I honestly can’t wait to meet another American and get to participate in something I know a lot about.



I wanted to give you a flavor of the emotions I am feeling by not just posting a reflection from one day. In this past week, since I arrived on Saturday night, I have been growing, dealing with unforeseen circumstance and culture shock, relying on my incredible friends and family back at home, and just hoping that each next day will be easier.

”The price is high, the reward is good.” -Maya Angelou