Posted by: hannanussbaum | November 13, 2010

Mbale Reflection Paper

Here is a reflective paper on my time in Mbale, written in a magazine article format. I would love to hear what you think!

Reciprocal Education

By: Hanna Nussbaum

Undeniably Muzungu

Many Westerners enjoy the luxury of exploring and traveling to the many corners of the world. In past centuries Caucasians have been the most eager and able to travel and encounter people groups different from their own. With the history of Western colonization and missions tattooed on their skin, every white person spending time in Africa today carries the baggage and connotation of “muzungus” before them.

In fact, the term “muzungu,” which is used widely across Africa to describe white people, is literally translated in Kiswahili as “person who walks in circles,” revealing that African’s first impression of white people was disorientation and incompetence.

As a student studying in Rwanda and Uganda for four months I struggle daily with the frustration that my skin color influences every situation and relationship with Africans, although it is a characteristic that I am powerless to change. Despite my efforts to blend in, I practically have “$$ MONEY $$” written across my forehead. Therefore the question becomes: how can I, as a person who without choice represents the white race, change the assumption that all “muzungus” come to African with pockets bursting at the seams with hand-outs and replace it with the mentality of partnership and service?

Marare, Uganda

The community of Marare sits just outside of Mbale, a small city in Eastern Uganda. Its residents generally farm maize, cassava, beans and sweet potatoes. Until a few years ago Marare lacked a clean water source, trained medical professionals and a primary school as a base for an educational system. Food for the Hungry, a Christian NGO with a field office in Mbale, initiated a partnership with the people of Marare a year ago. Since then FH, alongside the locals, has built a sustainable and clean water source, as it was the most urgent need.

In addition, significant time has been spent in conversation between the FH staff working in Marare and the community elders, church, and parents to understand what needs should be prioritized. Education was the clear and resounding response. Without a primary school building the education of Marare children has been limited to informal lessons under the shade of trees taught by poorly trained teachers.  The literacy rate of Marare residents is less than 10%. When I asked a village elder about his dream for the community, he replied, “Send a Marare student to university; it has never happened before.”

How to Educate

Although many of the children of Marare have not received a formal classroom education, I was stunned to realize the practical knowledge and skills they had mastered at young ages. Cooking, caring for young siblings, helping transport bricks for the construction of the primary school, and fetching water were all tasks that I watched Marare children do to with an attitude of service and understanding of the necessity of their contribution. I was humbled by the responsibility of these children, and more aware of the blessing of my education, but also how that has predisposed me to selfishness.  Thus it is crucial to realize that Marare children are not completely “uneducated.” Many of them do not know how to read, write, or do arithmetic, but I have no doubt that a twelve year old girl from Marare can provide for herself at least as well as I can at twenty years.

In addition, most African communities like Marare transfer knowledge through oral traditions. Riddles, proverbs, stories and folk songs teach children about their history, important lessons, good morals and skills.

I was blessed with the opportunity to sit with many children and parents in Marare one morning and simply listen to them tell riddles, sing songs, and teach through proverbs. To sacrifice this unique community-centered learning style for the sake of formal classroom education would be an enormous loss. Therefore, a creative combination of learning approaches, which embraces both the richness of oral tradition and the discipline of book learning, should be implemented in Marare to leverage the people’s gifts.

Still, one of the largest challenges in developing the Marare educational system is the lack of trained and dependable teachers. Ugandan teachers are very poorly paid and therefore have the tendency to come late to class or not at all some days. As the Marare Primary School is built, finding dedicated and knowledgeable teachers should be a priority.

Meeting the physical needs including clean water, nutrient rich food and accessible and affordable health care are essential to the well being of the people of Marare. Yet educating children in ways that are both relevant and practical, using both oral traditional and classroom education is the crux of the community’s progress towards development.

The Core Need

However, equally essential to the community’s need for education is the need for a long-term mindset within which progress is made. In the month that I interned with FH in Mbale it became vividly clear that the staff base all aspects of their community work on developing relationships. With the big picture of priority needs in mind, the staff spent hours each day conversing and listening patiently to the community elders, mothers and children.  Instead of blindly teaching skills that seem necessary, they mentor and live as examples of how certain skills apply to daily tasks.

FH Mbale Staff

Mutual Learning

Because organizations like Food for the Hungry depend on financial support from Western Christians there is an ever-present challenge of fulfilling the desires of Westerners and doing what is best and most sustainable in the field. The contrast between these two agendas was made blatantly clear when a short-term missions team visited Marare for five days.

A group of eight Canadian adults came as representatives of their congregation with the purpose of kick-starting their partnership with the church in Marare and helping the community begin building a primary school. It is clearly a blessing and encouragement to the Marare congregation that there is a church on the other side of the world that is committed to working with them towards long-term development.

However, I was deeply troubled and concerned watching the approach and tone of the short-term team. One morning in particular highlights several points of my frustration. Each morning the children were divided into four groups which cycled through four, thirty minute rotations including music, sports, Bible teaching and crafts.

That Tuesday morning I was designated as the assistant leader of the craft station. The woman leading the activity was enthusiastic about helping the children make a spinning paper wheel that when rotated revealed the Lord’s Prayer written in both English and Lugisu, the local language of Marare.

Within the first five minutes of working with the first group it was clear that this was an activity designed for a group of 15 Western children, but quite the challenge with 60 African children. They had little experience with scissors and because the physical activity of putting the paper wheels together consumed the full 30 minutes with each group, none of the groups had time to recognize what the writing on the wheel said. As each group were quickly finishing, the Canadian leader would try her best to get a word in and say, “Wait children. Do you know what the wheel means?” only to have her attempt at formally teaching biblical values fall on preoccupied ears.

The other frustrating situation that morning occurred during our last rotation of children at the craft station. Working with this last group the craft leader remembered that they had brought packages and packages of stickers for the kids to decorate their paper plate wheels. As the kids were finishing, the leader revealed the stickers and quickly found herself surrounded by a mob of children, tugging at her shirt, grabbing at the stickers and constantly asking her to give them some.  I watched in amazement at the chaos as she lifted her hands above her head and cut segments of the sticker pages to fall to the ground where the children were rummaging. The entire scene was outrageous and the ensuing chaos unnecessary.

The most vivid point in the experience was when the woman leading crafts stepped outside of the classroom area after handing out the stickers, visibly flustered by the incident, and muttered under her breath, “Ok, let’s get out of here.” Regardless of the fact that it was lunchtime and she needed to leave with the rest of the missions team, in my mind her statement immediately paralleled the international community’s response to Africa in the past; see a need, drop materials that are irrelevant to the community’s context or unhelpful in the long-term, and then “get out of there.”

In reflecting recently with Dr. Dwight Jackson about my concerns with the short-term mission team he asked, “Was the trip planned by the Canadian church or the FH field staff?” After thinking a moment I responded, “The Canadian church arrived with a packed schedule of activities, lessons and crafts that their church discerned would bless the people of Marare, and in particular the children.” In processing with Dr. Jackson further he articulated a dilemma that I had not been able to put into words; that the “African gene” of hospitality and desire to welcome new-comers can keep field staff from vocalizing what things short-term teams do that are filled with good intentions but create unnecessary challenges for long-term progress.

From the perspective of the Canadian missions team, they perceived a need of material possession in Marare and therefore brought many suitcases full of games, pencils, toothbrushes, soap and washcloths, stickers and much more. What they failed to recognize was that presenting Marare with these suitcases created a challenging and complicated situation for the FH field staff that work with Marare long term. In the community’s eyes suddenly FH becomes a funnel for handouts from muzungus, which is exactly the reputation FH has worked so hard to avoid.  Yet the FH staff has the responsibility for distributing the suitcases of “gifts” to the people of Marare. In a culture where relationships matter more than time or things, I cringed at being associated with a culture that obsesses over schedules and material wealth.

Helpful Partnerships

In order for communities like Marare to lift themselves out of poverty, they need partners outside of their community to offer their resources, expand their social network and walk with them through the long-term process towards sustainable transformation. However, as muzungus, what “offering our resources” means must be reevaluated.

Traditionally Western involvement in African communities has manifested itself in the form of food aid, school and medical supplies, money and resources for construction projects, and preaching the gospel.

If education is the prioritized need in Marare, then those seeking to contribute towards its development need to education themselves around what is truly helpful considering the social context. For example, instead of giving bags of rice, teach farmers how to fertilize the soil; instead of immediately teaching Bible stories, take the time to listen to the wisdom of local proverbs and folksongs.

Short-term missions teams can be incorporated into NGO’s work in developing communities “as a tool to achieve their goals, but should never be used as a strategy” (Dr. Dwight Jackson). Groups like the Canadian missions team can positively impact communities like Marare if they ask, listen and are willing to learn, before they speak and teach. Teams that come to serve for only a few weeks are most impactful and do the least damage to the long-term staff if the activities and projects are designed by the field staff who know and understand the community. This requires a humble and willing spirit for short-term teams because the work they are assigned to do may be more behind the scenes physical labor than glorified interactions with children at orphanages.

Ultimately, Marare’s greatest need is not only education for its own children but also reciprocated education on the part of those passionate about building the Kingdom of God through lasting partnerships.

Mothers helping to build the Marare Primary School

Posted by: hannanussbaum | October 26, 2010

Practicum – so much to learn.

Mbale, Uganda. What can I say? The last three and a half weeks I have been on practicum in Mbale, a small city in Eastern Uganda. The 15 GoEd students are spread in pairs between seven very diverse practicum sights around Uganda and Rwanda for the month of October. Leah, my partner, who is a senior psychology major at Messiah College has become a close friend as we have journeyed and processed the last several weeks together. We are volunteering with the Food for the Hungry, Mbale field office which is an international Christian NGO working towards sustainable community development. Leah and I are living in a bedroom at the Food for the Hungry office with Justine, a wonderful and hilarious 19-year-old born and raised in Mbale who works for FH, cooks for us and has become a dear friend of mine. What would I do without Justine, the way she makes me laugh, her patience and willingness to teach me about her home? I have no idea. Our first two weeks here it was challenging to discern where we could be of most help and generally ended up working with FH’s Child Sponsorship program; taking updated photos of teh sponsored children, arranging their files, etc. Last week was significantly different because an 8-person missions team from Canada was here to run a Bible Camp and begin building a primary school in Marare, a community where FH is just beginning to work. The last three weeks have contained so many experiences, but I will try to give you glimpses of my time in Uganda.

Here are some of my lessons learned during practicum, some the hard way, but all very important.

1)   Be flexible. Most days after staff morning devotions Leah and I have a few hours of down time as we wait for the staff to prepare to go out to the community. Then abruptly we hear from a staff member, “And we go!” alerting us that suddenly it is imperative that we leave immediately J. For the first few days these transition was startling and at times frustrating – but it is now one of Leah and my favorite sayings, and at this point when we are in the middle of washing our laundry and called to the field we yell, “And we go!” shake our heads laughing, put on our shoes and walk out the door.

2)   Cultural immersion requires sacrifice. To be honest my first week in Mbale was not easy in any sense. I struggled to find my bearings in Uganda, a noticeably louder, physically dirtier and more chaotic place compared to my experience in Rwanda. Homesickness struck harder than it had all semester and I missed the comfort and fun of living with 14 other American college students. Although I have come to love them dearly, at first communicating with some of the FH staff was challenging, not because of English but simply because of the culture gap. My go-to refreshing alone-time activities; running, biking and playing piano became irrelevant overnight. I dug into reading, listening to music and long walks but felt antsy some nights not being able to leave to house after 7 p.m.

Playing cards with Justine at Sipi Falls.

While the streets of Mbale are as chaotic as ever, I still can’t hop on my bike and take off for 30 miles to relax, and I spend every evening here at home I have come to terms with sacrificing what I view as “fun” or “relaxing” or “social.” In return I have come to appreciate the art of cooking as an evening activity. Justine spends at least five hours in our little kitchen a day. Millet porridge for breakfast with a sweet banana, and many combinations of matooke/beans/cabbage/chapatti/posho/rice/g-nut sauce/cow peas and carrots/chicken for lunch and dinner. The three of us girls spend much of our evenings in the kitchen laughing, singing, sharing about our home cultures, discussing cultural standards of beauty (lucky for us GoEd girls who are not shaving our legs all semester, apparently in Africa women with hairy legs are “blessed” – ha!) and talking about our dreams for the future. I wouldn’t trade these hours or delicious meals for anything.

Another humorous side note….I can still hardly believe it but yes, at 8 o’clock every night Justine, Leah and I watch Mexican soap operas that are terribly dubbed in English but Ugandans absolutely love them. What?? But by Day 2 Leah and I had embraced this idea and find as much entertainment watching Justine immerse herself in the drama as the actual show. All this to say, it wasn’t an easy transition here but now I love it.

3)   Leave your pride at the door. This past month has been refreshing in the sense of being a college student but not letting college define me. I realized recently that the FH Mbale staff know that I am a university student in the US and studying sociology/politics but beyond that we haven’t discussed college. Who cares about what honors classes I’ve taken or how many extracurricular groups I’m involved in or what leadership position I hold or how many coffee dates I have planned with friends. We are here to serve God together and build the Kingdom based on grace, humility and compassion.  I have spent many hours this month copying lists of child sponsor names and ID numbers by hand. Am I frustrated by the inefficiency of the system? Yes. Have I been taught that no job is below me, regardless of my college education or social status? Also yes. The FH Mbale staff have blessed me with a refreshed identity rooted in how I relate to people instead of what I can prove to people.

Kiddos. My favorite - always.

4)   Figure out what transcends language. Smiles. Hand-clapping games. Laughter. Coloring. A handshake, hug or pat on the head. While visiting a primary school for deaf children a young deaf girl sat on my lap for an hour and a half and we colored together – totally content despite our ability to communicate. One of my favorite memories with kids in Marare happened the other day when Leah and I were surrounded by a crowd of children (like always) and decided to try entertaining them in a new way. Beat boxing. We are both admittedly terrible at it, and initially felt like fools from the blank stares we received from the kids…until a little boy in the back joined in and soon all ten kids had their hands covering their mouths mimicking us “boom boom ch, boom boom boom ch.” It was fantastic. A huge turkey happened to be gobbling nearby, so a few kids picked up the gobbling sound to add to our authentic African beat box! Also one day Leah and I were trying to entertain 60+ kids and taught them leap frog. Chaos but so so fun!

Celebration with Marare in their traditional dresses

5) Give your time and energy, not stuff. Last week was challenging for Leah and I as we watched a, 8-person Canadian missions team come and go in five days. It was a whirlwind of Bible Camp activities in Marare (a nearby community), hygiene lessons, working along side the community to start building a primary school, devos/worship each morning and evening and helping Justine in the kitchen whenever I could. While I know that they are truly passionate about Marare and their church is committed to partnering with them long-term, I cringed at the many suitcases they presented to the community full of crafts, school supplies, hygiene supplies, stickers and balls. While some of the supplies like pencils, tooth brushes/paste and soap were paired with teaching sessions and understandably distributed, others like stickers, and random toys seemed to only perpetuate the notion that “muzungus” (white people) show up to give them stuff. Ugh. It is also important to note that FH is being responsible and intentional about the distribution of these resources and I have appreciated hearing their perspective on the challenges that these suitcases bring to their long-term partnerships with communities. Leah and I spent much of last week processing how we want to be remembered as being relational, not as materially wealthy. Please understand that these musings are not really about this specific Canadian team, they are wonderful people, but reflect the tension that I see in being blessed with material wealth but felling called to offer my time, listening ear and creativity. I am eager to hear your thoughts on this balance – I see how it feels hypocritical to teach a group of people how to brush their teeth and wash their hands without equipping them with the materials, but at the risk of creating a dependency cycle of temporary supplies? All in all Leah and I are both so thankful that the Canadian team came, added such a different element to our practicum experience and opened our eyes in a new way.

6) Ugandan women are amazing. Over and over again this month I have encountered the strength, determination and passion of Ugandan women to develop their communities, teach their children and learn how to lift themselves out of poverty. I have also been deeply impacted by the heart of many Ugandan women to serve their families by cooking, taking care of the house and children and getting water. At the same time it is painful to see how many disengaged and demanding husbands/fathers are – and that that is the accepted role of “head of the household.” One conversation with Becky (an FH staff member) in particular will always stay with me as she explained that many African women suffer the daily oppression of tirelessly serving their husbands and submitting to their authority because they do not feel the autonomy to say that it should be different.

On left Uncle Patrick, then Papa Moses (FH staff) with Papa Moses' Family!

The men at on the FH staff are incredible and encouraging examples of Ugandan men who are committed to loving their wives well, helping at home and eager to spend time with their children. I could go on and on about this topic, but for now please take my request – husbands and fathers, help your wife cook a meal and spend quality time with your children. Partnering in daily responsibilities unites a family like nothing else can.

7)  Visit Kapchorwa, Uganda before you die. Please do. Leah and I have spent the last two weekends tucked away in mountain villages in Kapchorwa hiking through barley, pea and maize fields to explore waterfalls and caves.

Sipi Falls with Leah & Justine

Hands down it is one of the most stunning places on earth. Two weekends ago Leah and I visited our three GoEd friends who are working with Food for the Hungry in Piswa (way way up in the mountains) and this last weekend we went to Sipi Falls with Justine, our friend/roommate/sister from Mbale.

8) Trust God’s timing. Two weeks ago I made a major decision that had weighed heavily on my heart for the last several weeks. Earlier this semester I was presented with the opportunity to return to Rwanda for the spring semester. I would be helping my professor Dwight Jackson kick-start a five-year research project focused on long-term resiliency-building community development. Between this research internship and two independent study sociology classes with him I could earn a full semester’s worth of college credit. How could I pass it up, right? I have felt drawn to Africa for years so why would I say no to any opportunity to stay here?

My other option was to participate in Messiah College’s Philadelphia Campus program – where students assimilate into Temple University for a semester. This program is known for being a helpful atmosphere for students returning from study abroad semesters in Africa to transition back to Messiah College. Temple also has very well respected Sociology and Anthropology programs and the chance to study in a large diverse university setting is I believe a valuable addition to my time at Messiah.

Ultimately I have decided to return to the Philadelphia (MCPC) program for the spring. I struggled to make this decision while I was homesick and lacking the relational support that I generally rely on heavily to verbally process big decisions. It was hard for me to not equate the choices with Africa: adventure, Philly: wimpy, safe option. But through prayer and the encouragement of close friends I have realized the worth of embracing my four years of college while they are here and taking in as many diverse opportunities as possible during that time. After Spring 2012 I will never have the chance to take up the opportunities that are unique to the college years, but I am confident that God will open the door to return to Africa at another time. It it was also important for me to realize how much I really do love and miss the classroom setting and being surrounded by university students energized about learning. I also trust that my time in Philly will sharpen my eyes for Africa in the future. And please come visit me in Philly in the spring! I am looking forward to the more reasonable physical proximity of friends and family and the chance to share my experiences and listen to yours in person. Since making my decision it has been incredible to see how at peace I feel about it and honestly how much more I am able to enjoy being in Africa now since I don’t feel anxious about pumping myself up for an independent semester in Rwanda.

Here is a passage that encouraged me many mornings as I took walks and prayed about the decision. I pray that it also blesses you as you seek daily guidance from the Lord.

“So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed. I remember the days of long ago; I mediate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Resuce me from my enemies, O Lord, for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground” – Psalm 143:4-10.

9) Enjoy the thrill of Africa! White water rafting on the Nile, bungee jumping, getting my hair braided like so many African women, hiking to waterfalls in Kapchorwa, exploring caves with 40+ Ugandan children by our side (ha), boda boda (motorcycle) rides on Ugandan dirt roads to the communities where FH is working, and incredible food! I’m just taking it all in!

It is hard to believe that Leah and I are headed back to Kigali already this weekend. My heart is torn in leaving the FH staff who have taught me an incredible amount and been more than hospitable. Now that I am finally adjusted to being here and finding my place – I leave. Next time, much longer.

Posted by: hannanussbaum | September 25, 2010

“If you had known me and known yourself…”

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Shoot, I am terrible at blogging! This is my attempt to revamp this blog and I hope from this point forward to keep you more frequently updated. For the last month it has been an incredible blessing to enter the Rwandan community and begin to appreciate the complexity of their culture, history and values that drive them forward. For now I will just give you snippets of how the last month in Rwanda has expanded my concepts of community, pain, forgiveness and poverty and blessings…

Last week over evening tea and a breakfast of bagels and coffee on the porch I felt like I learned a month’s worth of course work from talking with Dwight Jackson, my prof for Context for Community Development. I absolutely love the way that my learning here is by no means limited to a classroom or designated time for learning. Dwight lives with us here at the house and I rack his brain as much as possible, in my sweatpants and all, no problem. Our class time with Dwight has challenged me to reflect on issues that are unique to the Rwandas community as well as those that span all communities trying to progress. Some of the questions and sayings I have been mulling over include: How do we encourage both practical knowledge and education, especially when packed and ill supplied classrooms in Rwanda do not ensure that the children are gaining knowledge? How do we build upon a community’s base of knowledge instead of just replacing it with “advanced technology?” How do prioritize measuring community development by long term impact instead of just quantitative outcomes? “It is easier to manage money than ideas or people.” What is the responsibility of the government to protect its people?  Rwandan proverb: A man with only one identity is a weak man. How do our multiple identities, for me as a daughter, sister, friend, student, Christian, young woman enrich our perspectives and networks? And on and on. It makes me laugh to sit at breakfast in my pjs with Dwight and have my journal nearby to jot down notes but I don’t want to miss the opportunity to gain this knowledge, not just formal education.

The other class we completed last week, Issues in Peace Building was taught by Pastor Anastas, a Rwandan who directs a number of peace and reconciliation groups throughout the country. I appreciated the number of guest speakers he arranged in order for us to hear about Rwanda’s history, challenges and progress from several perspectives. We spent a morning with a lawyer who is one of the eight overseers of the Gacaca Courts (the unique justice system that Rwanda adopted in 2001 to try the 120,000 imprisoned criminals from the genocide), a member of the NURC (National Unity and Reconciliation Commission in the government), and a pastor who is vice chair of the National Reconciliation efforts within the church. We discussed justice, trauma, uncovering truth, the Church, international intervention, the government’s role, and forgiveness. More thoughts to wrestle with from these conversations: “It is in our human differences that we have found a way to dehumanize each other” (Rwandan poet). Rwandan proverb: Better is an enemy who is near you than a friend far away (There is an unbelievable system of mutual dependency and support with your neighbors – regardless of if they are friend or enemy – it is a matter or survival). “Justice delayed will lead to justice denied” (How does a country try 120,000 criminals fairly?) “The greatest sin of the genocide was the sin of omission.” “Saying, ‘I wish I knew’ is saying too little, too late” (Reflecting on the lack of international intervention during the genocide). “The Rwandan church as an institution failed during the genocide, but it was the faith of the people that kept them alive.”

The other element of this class that has forever impacted me was visiting three genocide memorials. The Kigali genocide memorial has three very informative and moving exhibits, one on the history leading to, events of and consequences resulting from the Rwandan genocide, another an exhibit in memory of the children killed in the genocide, and a third outlining genocides that have occurred around the world in the last one hundred years. There are 30,000 people buried at this memorial in mass graves and the number grows as people recover more bodies in the Kigali area.

We also visited two church genocide memorials which were completely overwhelming. Driving a while outside of Kigali, we reached the Ntarama church memorial where we were ushered inside a small church to be immediately stopped in our tracks at the sight of shelves holding the skulls and bones of the innocent, their filthy clothes hanging from the rafters and covering the walls, and rusty machetes on the floor. Several grenade holes in the church walls marked the entrance points of the killers to access those locked inside. In a small room to the side our guide pointed out a dark section of the wall, the blood stains of children who had been smashed against the wall and died of cracked skulls. 5,000 were killed at Ntarama. My mind reeled trying to imagine the chaos and fear of the victims last moments.

Thirty minutes after visiting the Ntarama memorial we arrived at another church memorial in Nyamata. Here we saw the clothes of victims whose bodies had been thrown into latrines, blood stains on the alter cloth and shrapnel holes in the floor and walls. We were led outside to visit the mass graves which we entered by walking down several steps to a cool, dark aisle in between racks of shelves holding the skulls and bones of the 10,000 killed at Nyamata. At each of the memorials we were told by our guides that now it is our responsibility to tell the story of Rwanda. Of its pain, suffering and forgiveness. I am humbled and thankful for the chance I have to see and hear of the reality of Rwanda’s experience and it is my prayer to bring some of this reality back to you. At one of the church memorials a single banner hung that said, “If you had known me and known yourself you would not have killed me.”

As a change of pace let me tell you about the beauty and joy of Rwanda. The first weekend in Rwanda we headed east to Akagera National Park for a two day safari and camping trip. My parents can testify to the fact that seeing a hippo and giraffe on an African safari have been on my bucket since about age 7…and it was every bit as wonderful as I had always hoped! It was also a great time of group bonding at the start of the semester – being caked with dust from hanging out the truck windows all day, watching the sun set over the rolling hills and singing camp songs around the fire. Then, last weekend, after completing our final project for our Peace Building class we relaxed at Lake Kivu in western Rwanda for two days. The water was clear and the perfect temperature, the Rwandan food delicious, hiking on Bat Island entertaining, girl time so great and rest much appreciated. A beautiful place to recharge.

Another wonderful experience to share was attending one of my neighbor’s traditional Rwandan wedding with Sarah and Melissa, two GoEd friends. The street was packed with cars so the three of us curiously walked by to just try to get a glimpse into the gate, only to be ushered into the yard by one of the men welcoming guests. They insisted that we join them in the celebration and before we knew it we were sitting in the front row with the bride’s family. Not quite dressed for the occasion and not being able to understand anything going on we politely smiled as the father of the bride and father of the groom joked over their microphones about their new white daughters and how “today we marry one daughter but tomorrow we will marry off our three new daughters.” Yep, blissfully unaware as to why everyone was smiling and laughing at us until someone next to us translated. Lesson learned: it’s always worth it to jump in and experience authentic culture, just don’t nod too much when you don’t understand that men are bargaining about the number of cows to bring tomorrow 🙂

To change to tone once again, yesterday we returned from five days of community research in the Nagatare district, Gacundezi cell in eastern Rwanda. It was by far the most eye-opening experience of my life. After writing all of this already today I will share more about the research in coming days as our group processes and debriefs the knowledge we gained and stories we heard. I am compelled and now hold the responsibility to share the stories of the families whose homes I have sat in and struggles I have worked to articulate. Dwight’s words of encouragement to me last night are my driving factor today to continue writing these family profile stories; “Sadness, anger and guilt are natural responses that we must embrace after encountering absolute poverty, but don’t let it immobilize you. Let these emotions motivate you to take action.” For now, my prayer is that we recognize the incredible material wealth that we are blessed with and prioritize the stewardship of our gifts and serving others generously today. Much more on this later.

I will leave you with a Psalm that has been close to my heart during my time in Rwanda. Since being here I have tried to read scripture through the eyes of a genocide survivor and it is transforming the way I view God’s faithfulness and redemption.

Psalm 73:21-28 encourages,

“When my heart was grived and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with you counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom I have in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be hear God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.”

May God be the strength of our hearts and portion today,


Posted by: hannanussbaum | September 2, 2010

Poverty: not just physical.

I have hesitated to blog since being here because every day I learn and think about so much and have felt unsure about how to cohesively communicate what I am experiencing. After not even two weeks I understand why people say, “Africa changes you.” How can a place so rich with culture, tradition, and history not? I have come to expect and love that each time I leave our house gate and find myself on the dusty dirt road going into the city a new experience awaits me. For now I will just share a few scattered thoughts about my new home.

All of Kigali, Rwanda is my classroom. From learning basic Kinyarwanda language skills from locals to using bustling public transportation, from eating delicious African foods to discussing approaches to international development work in our “classroom” consisting of chairs and a table under a tin roof, from building relationships with my GoEd peers to feeling daily frustration about the separation that my skin color creates – my world view is expanding. I am thankful for the challenging yet safe atmosphere that that GoEd program creates – it is a gift to live, learn, eat, laugh, worship, relax and struggle through hard conversations with the same group of 15 students this semester while also having plenty of time to explore the city and meet locals.

A crucial part of our GoEd orientation in DC before arriving here was to help us pause and evaluate how we have generally defined poverty in the past. I will readily admit that my first thought is “a lack of basic needs” – food, water, education, sanitation, opportunity ect. While I acknowledged before coming to Rwanda that of course there exists physical, emotional and spiritual poverty, I realize now that this was a statement that rolled of my tongue easier than it sank into my heart. During orientation two weeks ago I was told to keep my eyes open this semester to how God might open my eyes to ways that I am impoverished. Michael Pucchi, the GoEd program leader said, “we should continually be searching for how we are impoverished and let our own poverty be our strongest motivation for learning and pursuing the Lord.” I was amazed to discover last week when exchanging my U.S. dollars to Rwandan francs that the largest bill printed here is a 5000 franc bill – equal to about $10. I have been told that the average Rwandan will likely never hold one of these bills. The Rwandan government has declared that currently over 50% of the Rwandan population lives below the “poverty” line, with over 3/5 of those people living in “extreme poverty.” Although I may carry a 5000 franc bill in my pocket, I walk the streets of Kigali feeling emotionally and spiritually impoverished in comparison to the richness of the forgiveness, grace and healing that the Rwandan people hold.

May we each be humbled and motivated to transform in acknowledging our deepest poverty and need for our Creator.

Posted by: hannanussbaum | August 22, 2010

Blessing the Space Between Us

My new home!

Rwanda at last. I’ve been anticipating studying abroad in Eastern Africa since my junior year of high school, and four years later I’ve finally arrived. I landed yesterday in Kigali, Rwanda with fourteen other college students to study and immerse ourselves in the culture for the next four months. During our time here we will take four classes; Context for Community Development, Issues of Peace-building (starting tomorrow through September), Post Colonial African Lit and Traditional African Religions (November – early December). For the month of October our group will be in pairs living in different communities throughout Uganda serving in practicum positions that fit our majors. To finish the semester with a bang, my mom and I will climb to the rooftop of Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro, from December 10-19th.

Already I am being charmed by Kigali’s beautiful hills, great weather, friendly and welcoming people, striking cleanliness and contagious energy. I believe that God has prepared this group to grow and expand our understanding of our Creator’s heart and Kingdom in a unique way during this time. I look forward with eager expectation to how I will be different in four months and the stories and adventures that will bring me there.

I want to begin this blog with a poem that my mom and dad tucked in my suitcase for me to find upon arrival. I pray this blessing on each of us as we journey with the Lord to unknown places…

To Bless the Space Between Us

By: John O’Donohue (emphasis mine)

Every time you leave home / Another road takes you / Into a world you were never in.

New strangers and companions on the other paths await.  / New places that have never seen you / Will startle a little at your entry. / Old places that you know well / Will pretend nothing / Changed since your last visit.

As you adventure, you find yourself / Alone in a different way / More attentive now / To the self you bring along / Your more subtle eye watching you abroad / and how what meets you / Touches the part of the heart / That lies low at home:

How you unexpectedly attune / To the timbre in some voice / Opening a conversation / You want to take in / To where your longing / Has pressed hard enough / Inward, in some unsaid dark / To create a crystal of insight / You could not have known / You needed to illuminate your way.

As you adventure / A new silence goes with you / And if you listen, you will hear what your heart would / Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing: / Make sure as you go, to take the time / To bless your going forth / To free your heart of ballast / So the compass of your soul / Might direct you toward the territories of spirit / Where you will discover / More of your hidden life / And the urgencies that deserve to claim you. / May you travel in an awakened way / Gathered wisely into your inner ground; / That you may not waste the invitations / Which await along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrived refreshed, / And live your time away to the fullest; / Return home more enriched, and free / To balance the gift of days which call you.