By Cynthia Perry, chaperone and Operation Day's Work director
Although we stayed mostly in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, a two-day excursion to Volcanoes National Park in northwest Rwanda to see the mountain gorillas gave us a searing glimpse of rural poverty in Rwanda. Below is an excerpt from a journal entry written by Thetford Academy teacher Cindy Perry, who coordinates Operation Day's Work in the United States. The excerpt begins as we returned to our Land Cruiser after hiking into the jungle to see the gorillas.
"Exiting the trail at the foot of the Virungas, passing through the small eucalyptus grove, we were greeted by many local farmers and a couple dozen children, all under the age of about 12, many under six. All of the people wore clothes soiled by days of farming the dark volcanic soil and red earth. Many of their shirts, skirts and pants were torn and tattered, and almost no one wore shoes of any sort. They were lined up along the edge of the field by the parked 4x4s awaiting us. What we paid to rent the vehicle for two days, $400, was more than they would make in two years' time, if they were lucky.
"Feeling an overwhelming need to respond to these people, I ran through the contents of my bag in my mind. What do I have, what can I offer them? The money I carried was "group" money, counted out for every expense we needed on the trip, so it wasn't mine to give. There are no ATMs in Rwanda, so there was no way for me to replace it either. Cashews -- I had a rather large baggie of salted cashews. I am sure they never tasted such a treat, as I had only seen peanuts in Rwanda. (They grow peanuts there!) I pulled the cashews out and motioned to the large group of children to come to me as I walked towards them.
When they saw what I had, the large group pushed and squeezed together, hands extended, each trying to be a little higher than the next. As my heart broke and the tears welled up in my eyes, they pushed and shoved as I handed out small finger fulls of cashews, placing each pinch in a soil-caked little hand. The toddlers reached up from under the older children, and a baby on a young girl's back began to cry. I closed the bag and motioned to them to stop crushing the baby in the crowd, and to sit down. They all obeyed, but as soon as I reached into the bag, the hungry little hands all popped back up and everyone was fighting again for that little pinch of nuts. ."
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