Friday, July 25, 2014

Actions overcome Words

by Connor Harty 
Kiziba, from the overlook

Connor surrounded by children in the camp
Waking up after our first night in our Kibuye guest house, we were all ready for one of the longest days of the trip (but what ended up being the best day). We had an early 7:30 am breakfast before we embarked on the 30 minute bus ride up to the Kiziba Refugee Camp. I thought we had seen all of the Rwandan countryside, but I was certainly mistaken. As we drove up the winding, dusty roads, the beautiful hills with the addition of the glimmering Lake Kivu created an outstanding view. We were continually greeted by Rwandans waving at us as we trekked up, finally reaching the top of a hill, looking down on the refugee camp. We exited the bus to just observe the whole camp from above, a truly marvelous spectacle of white roofs, home to the nearly 18,000 people living in this camp. 

Upon arrival, we already had many Rwandan children chasing our bus, and added another group of refugees from the camp, pecking at our windows as we waited to be allowed in. As we stepped off the bus, we were lead down to the library where we joined a group of the youth group in the camp. As we stood up to introduce ourselves, the refugees had a laugh at our age, as we quickly realized we were the youngest people in the room. 

After we were told about the camp from the president of the youth group, we transitioned into a very powerful song, sung in 5 different languages, Lingala, Swahili, Kinyarwanda, English, and French. It was extraordinarily moving, hearing the 4 different languages sung out at the top of their lungs. We also realized that not only in this camp, but also in Rwanda in general, it is a commonality to speak at LEAST 3 languages. To me, this made me realize how jealous I am, in a way, that these people have such a wide knowledge of languages and definitely something I wish I could do. 

Speaking of languages, following the song, we broke up into small groups to help connect with certain people in the camp. I met up with an 18 year old man (who looked older than 18) whose name translated to “January” in English, because of the month he was born in. We immediately went into conversation. Since his English was rather good for someone learning it as his 4th language, a conversation was not a burden, but more of a joy. Little did I know, I would be spending the next 5 hours with him. After we had been talking for a while, we began talking about the fact that I take German in school and he immediately wanted me to teach him some German. This was the best moment of my day as I was able to play teacher as I described simple German phrases to him that we continued to say until he had perfected it. I am extraordinarily excited to return tomorrow to keep working with him on it. It also was great because he later helped me in phrases in both French and Kinyarwanda, so that was very meaningful to me. 

After talking for about a half hour, we were able to take a tour of the camp, and I ended up being directed around by January so we were able to continue our talk about life and language, one of the best hours of this trip. By the end of the time we had at the camp, I decided to give him the bracelet I brought with me, to give him something to remember me for, materializing the talks we had with each other. It was finally time for us to leave, so we hopped on the bus and rode it out to the top of the hill. Since we were walking back from the camp to our guest house, Robbie (the International Team Intern) did not want us to have to climb up the large hill leading out of the camp. As we reached the decline, we got out and walked the rest of the 6 miles in about 2 hours. We covered the real Rwandan hills with just a few slips in the middle. We saw the flat but we also saw the steep. 

The most meaningful part of the walk was just listening to the surroundings, which is hard to do on a large bus, and just watching the village children stop what they were doing and fall into line with us as we walked. It was surreal how long they walked with us, to the point where we hoped they would be able to make it back home. Finally, we reached our guest house and immediately went to our rooms to change into our swimsuits for a soothing post-walk dip into Lake Kivu, a lake that was surprisingly clear - exactly what we needed after a long day already. 

But what’s most important is what we all learned. Today I saw, first hand, that actions are greater than words because there is certainly a language barrier with the Congolese people, and even the Rwandans, but it’s what you do that can be the most important. For example, teaching someone a new language can be more beneficial than attempting to speak through a broken language and spending a day together is more important than struggling over how to put it in to words. Even on the walk home, a simple wave says so much that words cannot. It was extremely special to experience that first hand. 


  1. What a wonderful day!! I'm so proud you are using your teaching (and learning)skills. Continue to soak it in and write it down. Proud Mom and Dad:)

  2. So good to hear your perspective on the trip and how everything is going there, Connor! So proud of you and everyone else there! Keep up the good work.

  3. I write for a living. I should have an enormous vocabulary. Yet every time I read another of these posts, the only word that springs forth is "WOW." Living this experience through your writing is so moving.

    Thanks, Connor.

  4. What a great experience you had today, so happy for you!

  5. Connor - thanks for the reminder that speaking different languages doesn't necessarily mean there is a barrier. I loved hearing about today's experience.

  6. Hey Con, so good to hear from you (and Mel and Kyle!!) the story of all of the people singing in different languages reminds me of the welcome pack we did on the last fly night. It's so special how we can connect through music. It's also awesome that you made a new friend and learned from each other. I'm so proud of you guys, you're all learning so much and growing. Love to everyone!!!

  7. What a truly amazing experience you had today. Making a connection across cultures is one of the most rewarding experiences. I am so grateful that you and January were able to share, and teach each other. What a powerful tool language can be.

  8. Thank you team for your essays. We enjoyed reading them on our long roadtrip in Wisconsin. They provided us with laughs, tears and visuals of your trip. Keep the words flowing!

  9. Love the description of the song, Connor. Thanks!