On living together through compassion, forgiveness and love

Mentor Hannah blogs about her experience in Rwanda

While in Gisenye, I traveled to Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, where I visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. The genocide that took place in Rwanda is so often the only thing that is known about this beautiful country by folks in the minority world – this was highlighted as I told members of my community in Canada that I would be spending three months Rwanda this summer. However, over my time in Rwanda, it is hard to imagine or conceive of the horrible violence that occurred here. I spent everyday connecting with beautifully funny, kind, generous people in a stunning country lined with hills and blanketed in bright tropical flowers, trees and plants in a country that is rapidly changing and developing. It is extraordinarily clean, quiet, and calm. I witnessed moments of tenderness, joy, frustration, friendship everywhere I looked. I was occasionally reminded by those I am living with that no one, not a single person in Rwanda lives unaffected by the genocide – they all live with memories of having lived through it, were raised without parents or siblings because of it, have parents in prison, or are experiencing the intergenerational effects of loss, violence, grief on such an enormous scale. Each time I was reminded of this, the image I have of Rwandans and of the country as a whole grows in compassion, awe, and complexity.

While I was there, the country observed the annual 100 days of remembering the genocide in Rwanda. There is a remarkable commitment in this country to educate, to acknowledge, to mourn, to pay respect, and to work towards change. Change since the genocide has occurred at an extremely fast pace and it has been coupled with education, conversation, and community-building. I can only reflect on these things from an outside perspective so, it will be shallow and limited, but I am continually learning from the people I am living with about things like forgiveness and love. Things that cannot be taught but rather lived. They are so deeply entangled in humanity here.

I have been in awe of the way the Rwandan people have worked to understand the factors that created the genocide and to not stop educating, processing, healing together with a clear vision of the country that they want to be together. As I read Community and Growth by Jean Vanier, I can’t help but see the ways that Rwandan culture feels so similar to intentional community but on a country-wide level. I may be reading into that as an outsider but I see connections in beautifully simple ways, like Umuganda, when one Saturday a month everything in the country stops and people gather in their communities to do manual labour, clean their neighbourhood, discuss community issues, be together with a focus on improving their country and their community. It is an incredible privilege to learn from those welcoming us into their community in Gisenyi, Rwanda about what it means to live together through compassion, forgiveness and love.












Images: Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre (Hannah Deloughery)

Mutual reflection: Reflecting with

Hannah blogs from Gisenye, Rwanda on the mutual day of reflection that members of the Ubumwe Centre and Intercordians shared together!

This past weekend, Zacharie (Intercordia’s host partner in Rwanda) and a few other Ubumwe Community Centre staff, organized a day for the Intercordians and UCC managers to come together, reflect on the first half of the placement time and enjoy a relaxing day together.

The day started with fourteen of us squishing into a safari style vehicle with two benches that run along the back part of the car. We were cozy and bumping along the road! Most of the day was a surprise for us as it had been planned by Zacharie and Justin. We drove along the beautiful lakeside road that rolls up and down the hills. We arrived at a spot and all got out. The hot springs! These hot springs are set up pretty informally and are a place mostly where locals go for relaxing or to receive treatment for minor injuries. These hot springs are said to have healing qualities.

As a group we walked around this small tip of a peninsula and had beautiful views of the lake, different trees and plants (including the famous Rwandan coffee plant!) and then ended by getting to experience the hot springs ourselves, taking off our shoes and getting treated to reflexology, massages and exfoliation!

We then got back in the car and drove to another spot on the lake. This place, called Kifugi, is a guest house for Catholic nuns, and offers a calm and beautiful place to sit and be peaceful and watch the waves. While we were there, there were other visitors as well as nuns gathered in prayer and meditation. We sat as a group just to spend a few minutes reflecting on the experience and learning from the first half of the Intercordians time in Gisenyi, Rwanda. Although there was some shyness and discomfort in sharing, all the words spoken were ones of gratitude. Intercordians shared stories of things they’d learned, experience as UCC and in their host family homes, as well as bigger learning and appreciation for being here. We spoke of welcome, and challenges with new ways of doing things, and of things and people we will miss, as well as hopes looking forward to build on relationships that have really only just started.

It was a gift to have the opportunity to hear reflections from a few members of the UCC staff about what the experience of having this group of Intercordians here has been like. Many spoke of witnessing a real commitment from this group of young people, and of their appreciation for the ways they have been so open to offering help in the places where it is needed. Intercordians have been helping to correct exams (saving teachers many hours), accompany nursery kids on their bus ride home, sit in classrooms and help where they can to keep kids focused. All of these tasks may seem small or at times boring and tedious, but it is the kind of help that is appreciated most.

The thing that stood out most to me was the appreciation the UCC staff, most of whom are not hosting Intercordians in their homes nor do they necessarily know host families, have for the way in which Intercordians come with a desire to live with families, integrate into the community, and work together as a team with the UCC staff. There were many reflections on how meaningful this feels to them and that their greatest hope is that when we return to Canada, we take with us stories of the Rwandan people and the community and country where we were welcomed and lived for three months.

 William, the coordinator for inclusive education at UCC, put it beautifully when he said that it has felt to him like this group of Intercordians knew UCC before coming here and so when they arrived they simply became part of the team.

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” – Brene Brown

Tara, mentor, blogging from Otavalo, Ecuador! 

The Intercordia program asks: are you willing to be vulnerable in order to learn from another? To allow others to teach you their ways and withhold your own tendencies and opinions, accept that your way is not the only way, and embrace new ideas, methods and reasoning?

Through this process, I have made mistakes, and been at the center of attention and failed. I ask myself, do I have the confidence to continue? Recognizing that it may feel awkward, but I will gain from it – in humility, in understanding, and in fellowship. Often, our attempts to learn and engage with others go above the fact that we may have stumbled in our efforts, and we end up forming relationships and offering a sense of dignity to those we took the time to learn from.

It’s not easy! So many times I have been frustrated, because no one would just explain what was going on or because I had to suffer the embarrassment of doing it wrong. How lucky I am to have ‘suffered’ that embarrassment; to have been able to experience new culture and customs and discover differences and similarities between peoples around the world. I often recognize afterward that what I felt as discomfort at the time was a small price to be present for the experience.

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” – Brene Brown

Showing up in a new place means not always knowing what to expect. I am learning to have the patience and courage to wait for what’s to come, to learn without a text book and yes, probably to be the cause of some laughter. Cuz heck – it’s funny when we misunderstand or misinterpret a cultural norm or even the most basic daily tasks – buying groceries, taking the bus, washing clothes, or using the bathroom. Just acknowledging I don’t know how to do some of these simple tasks can be the greatest challenge. There’s an act of vulnerability for you – being an adult and having to ask someone how to use the bathroom!

I have realized people love to hear and talk about their own customs. It identifies their community as unique in some way and binds a group of people together. In Saskatchewan, where I am from, many people enjoy watching funny videos of silly things Saskatchewan people do and say. Many Canadians enjoy it too, an idea some beer companies have had success in marketing. I have noticed this same feeling goes for Otavalenos, Ecuadoreans, Dominicans, and so on. Many people enjoy sharing their customs and having others think they’re a little bit crazy, in a good way. So while I struggle through a misunderstanding, I am reminding others of the quirks, talents and peculiarities of their own people and maybe, in some way, promoting a sense of unity.

So let people show you how they are unique, and teach you their methods and maybe chuckle as you stumble – it’s not personal, it reflects enjoyment of the process. Wait until you are asked how you do things at home. Wait for the smile that crosses your face as you reflect on your own quirks and traditions, and when you see their reaction to your wild and unfamiliar ways. It is bound to generate a feeling of connection to your own family and community as you share the ways you are also unique, strange, and wonderful and, in many ways, the same!

Photos: Tara and her host family harvesting maize 

Mentors reflecting on change

Mentors reflecting on change and leadership

Intercordia mentors complete formal reflections in community with each other. These reflections are a new addition to the mentorship role. They have been added as a reflection of the way that the mentorship program is one of growth and development for mentors as leaders and as people interested in learning how to engage in the world in a meaningful way.

It is also a way to live alongside participants in a way that is similar to them – also engaging in a reflective process, considering and reflecting on leadership practices and one’s own growth.

Here we share an excerpt from one of the mentor reflections:

Recognizing this instinct and tendency in myself to lean toward harmony and then discussing that with others, makes me feel pretty vulnerable. Maybe it’s my love/hate relationship with that part of me. Possibly because we often view our own strengths as insignificant, and admire and favour the strengths we see in others that we do not see within ourselves. And because offering up my weaknesses, writing them down for others to see, allows others to get a glimpse into how I fear I might fail or be failing.

“Living in another language means growing another self, and it takes time for that other self to become familiar”

Mary, who is mentoring in Rio Blanco, Dominican Republic writes this reflection

(Español después)

“Living in another language means growing another self, and it takes time for that other self to become familiar.” – Allistair Reed

The first few weeks of Intercordia placement in the Dominican Republic was filled with many new experiences. The first time eating guineo, aveno, oyama, and other new foods. The first time using a machete to cut weeds, or having a bucket shower. The first time living in another language. All of these firsts happen quickly and the Intercordians have been embracing them with gusto.

The Intercordians met up in Bonao for their first reflection to share these firsts as well as their first impressions and how these were different or similar than the expectations they had before arriving in the Dominican Republic.
Stories were shared about successes in building relationships in their communities, families, and work placements. Tales of miscommunication caused lots of laughter. And some of the struggles and questions that occur when living in a new and different culture were discussed. It was an opportunity to look deeper at the why of difference and what that can mean for life after the Intercordia placement is over.


Mentora, Mary escribiendo desde Rio Blanco, Republica Dominicana:

“Vivir en una otra idioma significa a crecer un otro ser y requiere tiempo para que el otro ser se hace familiar.”  – Allistair Reed

Las primeras semanas de Intercordia en la República Dominicana fueron llenas de muchas experiencias nuevas. La primera vez a comer guineo, aveno, oyama, y muchas otras comidas. La primera vez a usar un colín para limpiar la tierra, o a ducharse con una cubeta. La primera vez a vivir en una otra idioma. Estas primeras se pasan rápidas y los Intercordians han sido aceptándolas con entusiasmo.

Los Intercordians se encontraron en Bonao para compartir estas primeras y también sus primeras impresiones y como esas impresiones fue distintas o similares a sus expectivas que ellos tenían antes de vinieron a la República Dominicana. Cuentas estaban compartido sobre éxitos en construyendo relaciones con sus comunidades, familias, y trabajo. Historias chistosas de malentendidos provocaron mucha risa. Y algunos de las preguntas y luchas que se pasan cuando viviendo en una cultura nueva y diferente estaban discutido. Fue una oportunidad a ver más profundo a la “por qué” de diferencia y que puede significar para sus vidas después la programa Intercordia está terminando.

Moments of joy

Moments of Joy

A few days ago we held our first reflection meeting in Ecuador. It lasted all day and we were able to share many stores, lots of laughter, a hike to a gorgeous waterfall and a few delicious meals together. The discussion throughout the day reinforced the understanding that, while we can relate and share similarities within our own stories, each person will live a unique experience through these next few months. We each found ourselves here for different reasons and our personal goals vary as well. It will be exciting to see the different lessons and insights discovered along the way.
During our reflection meeting, Intercordians discussed some of their initial challenges and shared some moments of joy. We learn so much by facing situations that challenge us. We learn different mechanism of coping with struggle, which will be useful throughout our lives. I believe we can also learn by recognizing moments of joy. Realizing what actually brings us joy can help us focus our attention throughout our life to find joy in our daily lives and also help radiate it to others.
What are Intercordians joyful about these days?

• Laughter shared with their host family
• Feeling loved and cared for by their host family
• Spending time drinking tea with their host mom
• Making personal connections with host family members
• Witnessing love expressed between members of their host family
• Spending time playing with the children in their host family
• Learning new skills and a new language with their host family
• Making breakthroughs in the language and understanding how to communicate in one specific situations

These examples came directly from the students. Most, if not all, come from building relationships and feeling a sense of connection, understanding and love.

Throughout the Intercordia program we have a rare and amazing opportunity to remove ourselves from our regular routine and familiar setting and we are encouraged to focus on building relationships. There are many distractions and challenges to occupy our attention – different food, different climate, different language, new pets, new work environment, physical sickness, home sickness, altitude sickness – the students are definitely occupied with change! These challenges will help each of us grow and gain some “life experience” – which to me is gained by finding yourself in new situations, hopefully making mistakes, and then living to tell about it!

So what can we learn from focusing on building relationships, despite all these distractions? When we recognize that often it’s through our relationships or simple moments with others that we feel joy, this can help up remain focused when we are faced with difficulties. Joy can help us work through these challenges, realizing even if we don’t fix the issue at hand, we have other moments to look forward to and be grateful for. We are able to prioritize our time and hopefully recognize how to find happiness and pass it on to others.

When did I recently feel some joy? When I went to a dance aerobics class with my host sister, picked beans in the fields with my host family and when I spent the entire day with all four of the Intercordians, sharing some laughs, being soaked by a waterfall and getting to know each of them more and more as we shared our personal reflections of the last seven days, since they first went to live with their host family. Had it only been 7 days?!

Tara with her extended host family – they took her on a hike up the Volcan Imbabura (above)

Intercordians with Samuel, our host partner in Ecuador, during orientation! (Right)

We are looking for three mentors for this summer!

We are looking for three mentors for this summer!

A mentor is someone who lives alongside Intercordia participants providing support throughout the international experience. Mentors accompany participants in their placements, act as a facilitator for regular reflections, check in with participants throughout their placements and other responsibilities that are dependent on the location of placement.

The program runs for either 8 or 12 weeks and mentors must be able to commit to living in placement for the full time plus arriving one week before participants.

Our placements include: Ecuador (9 weeks), Dominican Republic (9 weeks), and Rwanda (13 weeks).

Apply here: Charity Village

Any questions? Email our Mentor Coordinator, Hannah Deloughery at hannah@intercordiacanada.org