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. This is the fourth and final installment of the series.
Blog 4: Final Reflections
By Caitlin O’Donnell
This week my life looked like a postcard: Electric green mountains, shrouded in mist, rising up like waves everywhere. Pillowy cumulus clouds churning overhead, promising another thunderstorm in this heart of the rainy season. A swollen river cutting through the edge of the adjacent field where banana trees grow. I would’ve liked to see a giraffe or something to compliment the whole scene, but none showed up. Lame, I know. Who cares about volcanoes and rainforest when there aren’t any giraffes to ride around?
I wasn’t in Kigali this week, but in a village on the western edge of Rwanda called Nyambihu. For a whole five days I got to leave my desk behind, put a pause on my research work, forget about the Field Process Recordings, and help out on a Farmer Field School. CRS is starting a program out here called Crops for Health, which will sensitize local communities to good nutrition practices and train local agronomists in gardening techniques that will improve farmers’ yields on their small plots of land. My role was a supportive one, because I don’t speak Kinyarwanda well enough to present any of the training material, but as it turns out, language barriers are no big deal when it comes to digging holes and planting seeds. I write this with blisters on my hands and vibrant sunburn on the back of my neck (how did that happen, when it was cloudy the whole time?) but I am not at all sad about it.
In the arc of my semester here at CRS Rwanda, this week in Nyambihu was definitely an outlier. The beautiful vistas and exciting field visits really elevate my Instagram account, and they sure look glamorous on this blog, but they aren’t the whole story for a social worker practicing internationally. This, I think, is one of the great lessons I’ve learned out here: the social worker’s job doesn’t happen at the mountain top, but along the climb up to that glorious summit. This trip to the Farmer Field School was fun and it made me feel good, but it’s the less glamorous work between these occasional hits of adventure that will actually be my sweet spot. Moves get made in office meetings when we go over the designs for a project, or at my desk when I’m responding to a Request for Proposals. The real work happens in partners’ meetings, or at staff working group sessions, or in the small, dingy offices of UN buildings, far from that summit with the beautiful view which is fun and picturesque and wins me likes on Instagram.
But that isn’t a bad thing at all! My internship here won’t end until July, so I’ve still got a lot of learning opportunities ahead of me and a while longer to get comfortable with the metaphorical climb to the summit, instead of remaining fixed on the summit itself. Who knows, maybe there will a giraffe or two along the way.