From the Field: Global Perspectives Dispatch 3

Caitlin O’Donnell, ’16, Reporting from Kigali, Rwanda

This semester, Innovate@BCSW is following the experiences of four BC Social Work students who have embarked on international field education placements in Latin America, Europe, and Africa. Stay tuned during the spring for ongoing updates through student-crafted blog posts, video diaries, and photography.


Blog 3: Relationships
By Caitlin O’Donnell

Some of O’Donnell’s fellow Catholic Relief Services staffers.

This month we were asked to write something having to do with the theme of relationships in our international field placements. It’s such a nice topic, right? And for social workers, relationships are the centerpiece of our practice, so there should be a lot to say here. I’m really, really struggling, though. I’ve been trying to write this post for more than a week but nothing has felt right.

The thing is, there’s a theme in Rwanda this month too, which is: Kwibuka. I’ve been seeing this word on billboards all over Kigali and on banners hanging in front of businesses. I was two hours outside the city yesterday for a field visit in the village and saw the signs there, too. Kwibuka means to remember in Kinyarwanda, and it’s been posted everywhere to honor the official period of remembrance for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, when about one million people in Rwanda were killed. The commemoration period began April 7, the same day the ethnic cleansing began back in 1994, and memorial services will be held throughout the country until July 4, which is remembered as the day when the genocide ended.

This backdrop makes relationships a complicated topic to think about right now, let alone reflect articulately on in a 500-word blog post. Those three months in 1994 can be framed as a time of betrayal, division, and hatred—a time when relationships were torn apart. Friends and families were lost. Neighbors couldn’t trust each other. International relations were rendered meaningless as the global community stood by and watched the violence unfold. Alternately, the time after those three months in 1994 can be framed very differently—as a time of forgiveness, renewal, and hope. Rwanda’s development and economic growth over the last two decades has been dazzling. Its government is globally considered among the most transparent and effective on the continent. The normalcy of life in Kigali today and the resilience of its people can be seen as a testament to the power of relationship in Rwanda.

O'Donnell with a colleague in Kigali, Rwanda.

O’Donnell with a colleague in Kigali, Rwanda.

It’s not my place as a visitor to draw conclusions one way or the other, and I suspect even Rwandans themselves will have varying opinions about what relationship in Rwanda means. Instead, I will wrap up by saying this: For my small part, the relationships I have with the Rwandans I know have been a great gift to me during my time here so far. My colleagues have been warmly welcoming at CRS, and have patiently taught me so much. The beneficiaries of our programs I’ve met with have been encouraging when I’ve stumbled over Kinyarwanda sentences, and hospitable when they’ve hosted me in their homes.  From this perspective, relationships actually is quite a nice topic to write about.

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