Friday, July 25, 2014

Conversations with no words: Kiziba refugee camp day 2

Ellie in the camp
By Ellie Hohulin

These past 24 hours have been some of the most fantastic of my life. Who knew the Kiziba refugee camp could be a place full of so much love, hope and newfound friendships. 

We began the day with the same beautiful drive up to the camp. Rwanda is graced with the most beautiful land. We arrived at Kiziba again, this time on the students' last day of school. The camp was a sea of blue, for the kids blue school uniforms, sometimes one of the only outfits they had. The hardest part of arriving in the camp was to see the kids first reaction to seeing us- waving their hands to say hi and then immediately holding their hands out wanting money or gifts. As soon as we exited the bus, we were swarmed with children. Touching us, holding our hands and trying to test their hand at english. Besides the usual “What is your name?” and “What is your age?” many kids said “Give me money” or “Give me bottle.” Thinking about this puts a pit in my stomach. Out of the few words and phrases in English that the kids learn, a plea for money and water is among those. We met back in the library and played games with a beginner english class filled mostly with adults. We taught them Go Fish and Uno and one man taught us a French card game that I, of course, lost. 

The FLY girl's team huddles
We then went up to the basketball courts to play some games. They really wanted us to play some female youth from the camp in basketball to encourage them to play. Due to the gender stereotypes still very present and seen in the camp, girls were hesitant to play, but we took them on and with the three shortest people on the trip a part of the starting line up, we obviously lost badly. Seeing the girls of the camp feel empowered to break down the gender barrier (and our team breaking the height barriers) and play a game of basketball was awesome and running up and down the court gave me a feeling of joy even if I did miss every single shot I took.

The boys then took a turn playing some basketball and I sat down to get some water. While sitting down, a young boy came over and took a particular interest in me. He was probably 4 or 5 and unfortunately his English was weak, and I don’t remember his name. He sat right next to me and his big smile was not one of oppression, but of pure happiness and joy. He just sat there and stared at me and began to imitate all my actions. We high-fived thousands of times, fist bumped and after a while, I was getting him to do the Macarena with me. His smile and big eyes are ones that will be imprinted in my heart forever. It was great just being silly with this young boy who now meant so much to me even without a shared word. And whenever we wouldn’t be making funny faces or barking like a dog, he would just be staring at me smiling with his hopeful eyes. He seemed so happy to meet new people and just spend time with someone new. I then broke out my photo album and while looking at pictures of me he would point to me, smile and say “you.” I realized that this young boy was very special and I wanted to give him something to remember me by so he would know the joy he brought to me. I had a small plastic snow globe of Chicago that I gave to him while most of the other kids were distracted. He gave me a big hug, put his hand in mine and walked away. 

Ellie and the team teach the Macarena
We walked back down to the library at this point with an entourage of children following us. I turned back and I saw my young friend walking alone with a very sad look on his face. I walked up to him and with tears in his eyes he showed me his empty hands. Someone had taken the snow globe I had given to him just minutes before. I was very upset that something that could have been important to him and a way to remember me was now gone from him, taken by the many children wanting gifts. We walked hand in hand back to the library and I gave him a bracelet, hopefully one he will keep and will help him remember his newfound friend. 

At the library we sang songs in multiple languages, clapping and dancing along and after a great speech by Andy, comparing Jesus to the library in Kiziba, Kyle and I sang our duet from youth sunday. It was a perfect way to end our exchange in the refugee camp. And as a lover of music, it was amazing to see so many people from so many different backgrounds coming together to sing one song. Music truly is a universal language, one to connect, unite and bring hope to people from all walks of life. 

Our last stop in Kiziba was a little shop ran by Natalie, one of the women we had spent most of the past few days with. Beautiful beads, bags and statues decorated the shop. Most people bought little gifts but one thing shocked me when walking into the room of  statues. I am very passionate about art history, specifically African art, and I recently took AP Art History at school. One of the Congolese statues in the shop was the same as a piece we had studied in class. It was a moment of epiphany. An object studied in my favorite class was real and sitting right in front of me. It wasn’t in a museum or on a screen on a powerpoint, but right in front of me straight from the culture of origin. Such a special experience. 

As we drive home through the same hills and valleys gracing the beautiful countryside, we all reminisce to the great trip we have had so far and the beautiful experiences we had today. I think and pray for my new friend, that he keeps smiling forever. We all think of Kiziba and the hope and joy the people there have, but the love they need. And as the sun sets as we pull into Kigali, the lights are just turning on, the streets are crowded and we are all perfectly content, smiling, singing, laughing, and ready to take on our next adventure tomorrow.   


  1. Love your new friend and all of the connections to people and music and art. This reminds me of when you were swarmed by kids at the school in Cape Town. Enjoy!

  2. The story of your little friend is so sweet, and I literally could not stop smiling!! That's so special that you could connect with him even without language. I feel like I say that on every post but it really is special!! I hope that the little boy always has a smile on his face, too.

  3. I am still amazed at how many connections you are making in such a short time. It is truly amazing how language is not really a barrier. It is heart breaking to hear that the first phrases they learn are to ask for money or water. Most people want to learn where is the bathroom, or to order food. How truly humbling.

  4. I think Ellie and her friend may have invented a new form of evangelism and fellowship. Miming Ministry, anyone?

    I was heartbroken along with you, Ellie, when you told how your gift to the little boy was snatched so quickly. The image of you then handing him a bracelet, and walking with him hand in hand is such a hopeful one. You showed him steadfast love and grace.

  5. This is actually a post from Tim Hohulin: It has been fun to hear all the great stories and memories being made. Being able to share all of your time and talents with the people of Rwanda is so meaningful, and I can't wait to hear even more stories as the adventure there continues.

  6. Beautiful photos Ellie! Keep more photos coming!