A team of 10 Aspen Heights employees are heading to Rwanda over the next week and a half through our philanthropy program, Aspen Heights in Africa. We’ll be capturing their journey through blogs, photos and more. If you want to keep up with up-to-the-minute updates, follow along on the Aspen Heights in Africa Twitter account. Here’s the first post from our GM at Aspen Heights Harrisonburg, Jillian.
This is my second trip to Rwanda with Aspen Heights in Africa. Last year it was simple; I was spilling over with anticipation, anxiousness, and excitement. This year, I feel less like I am leaving home to go to Rwanda, and more like I am leaving to go home. My anticipation for getting back to Rwanda is massive.
I can here the children yelling “Mzungu” running after the van, I feel the warm air and sun beating down on me as if to keep my smile. There is a peace that cannot be explained about Rwanda. Something that you only experiences when your feet land on the red clay and your hand is intertwined with that of a shoeless child. There is a hope and a warm feeling that floods through you when you see the sincerity on the face of a Rwandan. A feeling that I felt in a cab ride on the start of my journey.
I exited the terminal at 1:30 am and hopped into a white sedan with Taxi stretched down the side. As I slid into the back, I felt myself just wanting silence. When the cab driver asked where I was heading to for my trip, a fleeting moment of frustration popped my quiet bubble. I responded that I was traveling to Rwanda. His response was “Why?”
Before I had a chance to respond, he spoke again. “I am from Entebbe.” (Part of Uganda, a country bordering Rwanda). Without hesitation, the words began to flow and fill the cab with an indescribable joy. I had met someone for the first time in the past year who knew Rwanda and loved Rwanda as I have come to. For him? He had met someone who loved his country dearly. Probably not an every day occurrence in the life of a cabbie. Over the next few minutes, he and I talked about him not being able to return to his country, because of the government. I told him about my journey last year, Aspen Heights, and everything we were doing. I ranted on and on about the beauty of the rolling hills, the perfect smiles of his people, and everything that has given me peace over the past year.
As we stood hands embraced, one hand on our other arm (a sign of respect in Rwanda), both almost in tears outside of my hotel; he thanked me. “Thank you on behalf of the Rwandan people. Thank your company on behalf of my people for being so kind. I wish there were more people who believed like you did and loved our country as you do.” And that was it. The end of a moment destined by fate.
This was a moment that reminded me of why I return. Rwanda is a country of forgiveness, a country of kindness, a country of beauty, and most of all; a country of incredible people. So as we embark on our journey, as a company, and as individuals, I will leave you with this quote by Rick Warren: “In all my travels, I’ve never seen a country’s population more determined to forgive, and to build and succeed than in Rwanda.”
Aspen Heights is devoted to helping the people of Rwanda succeed. More than anything, I cannot wait to tell everyone how we are doing that over the next 11 days, as well as the experience of my second journey “home.”