Journey of a lifetime in a land of a thousand hills.
I remember the day I was told by my Guider Sister Monica that the Girl Guide Association of Zimbabwe had opened its interview doors for the small community of Rangers at Monte Cassino Girls High School in search of 2017 YESS participants. That very moment I remembered the day we had been told about the then new program facilited by WAGGGS in partnership with FK Norway, the YESS program, as the thoughts flowed in my mind, I found myself thinking about how we had welcomed the Yess Participants to Zimbabwe the previous year. Suddenly I felt the rush to compile my CV and try it out, ”After all you have more than 8 months before you go for university, GO FOR IT!” I told myself. Days went by and the interview day got closer, I had not noticed how much days were flying until the day I sat right in front of the representatives of the National Board in my Association. These people had been my mothers but that particular day, they stood as my interviewers. Well that was really not easy for me to handle until the time they told me ”Feel at home, it won’t hurt a bit”. My interview flowed as I embraced one question after another. I especially enjoyed talking about myself and what I enjoy doing. It was all milk and honey until the time they asked me just one question which I apparently was unprepared for. It was a question concerning Guiding Provinces in my own country. I felt shivers run down my spine, at first I thought, ”Ok well that’s easy let me use my geographical knowledge on this one”, I thought I had nailed it, until I got corrected by one of my Advisors. Suddenly I became drained, I felt very cold in very hot weather, all the confidence was gone and this made it very difficult for me to proceed as comfortable as I had been beforehand. The only option I had was not to give up and luckily that had been my last question. How happy I was to be finally escorted out of the interview room. After I went back to school the interview experience became something forgotten to me. I never thought it possible to become a participant after all I had totally screwed up.
Results came out and I had been selected ”impossible!” I exclaimed to myself, failing to believe my ears. Well the impossible had become possible it was time to work on myself towards this huge experience I was about to jump into. I knew that although it was a thing to be done, it was nothing to be taken with a light heart.
Telling my parents was not easy because I knew they weren’t accustomed to me staying away for such a very long period, it took them forever to get used to the idea of me living in a foreign country for six months. Permission granted I waited anxiously for any news from my Association but I painfully lived with the thoughts of leaving my parents for six months, however I told myself ” Be strong one day the only option you will have is to leave them for good’’. It was hard but it had to be done. It never occurred to me that the Association was aware about the hesitance in my parents to let me go, until the time they visited our home, applauding them for the courage they had summed up in letting me embrace this once in a lifetime opportunity. This visit engraved within my parents great assurance that I was in safe hands and they needn’t worry.
Excitement got me turning and tossing in my bed each passing day. I was glad to have taken the challenge and I kept thinking and telling myself, ”You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore, be brave and take risks nothing can substitute experience!” I was ready to explore, to be a Girl Guide not just in my country but beyond boarders and to learn about guiding in a completely foreign set up. I embraced the challenge of learning something new, and making a huge contribution towards WAGGGS in improving membership as well as in reaching out to more girls so that they, like me, could benefit from the movement. In so doing I would be doing the world a huge favor because the greater the number of girls reaching their fullest potential then certainly the greater the chance the world had of becoming a better place. I took the challenge to be the change, make the change and see the change.
The 12th of December marked the beginning of a great journey as I began my preparatory course at our Headquarters in Harare. I enjoyed each and every passing day as I discovered something new about WAGGGS, my associates and my family at the Association learning about communication, intercultural differences and many topics the Association had prepared for us. A family dinner for all participants together with parents and the Chief Commissioner marked the end of our Home Association Preparatory Course and the beginning of my six month journey in a world unknown to me.
On the 16th of January we left home for the preparatory course in Uganda. I could barely say good bye to my parents because I was overcome with emotion, I could barely talk I was afraid I would burst into tears. But being an adult in the making, I gracefully departed with my parents and travelled all the way to Uganda without shedding a tear. If I wanted to be strong, it had to start then.
The preparatory course in Uganda at Speke Resort Munyonyo was one unforgettable experience for me. I got the opportunity to socialize with my fellow participants from the nine countries. I made a lot of new friends and got to learn a lot more about WAGGGS, time management, business etiquette, first aid, running campaigns and a whole lot more. I fully utilized the opportunity I had to use the facilities available at the Resort, for example the gym and the pool to mention just a few. Although the preparatory course took about a week I felt like it was for two days because I was in the moment, I especially enjoyed the Cultural Night when all the nine countries were show casing different cultures, traditional attires, dances and food stuffs. It was simply amazing I did not want it to end but I also had the FK Norway Youth Camp to look forward to, so I let myself accept and enjoy the flowing days.
Immediately after the WAGGGS Preparatory Course, I tuned my mood again to suit yet another adventure from FK Youth Camp. I met more young people from all walks of life and made plenty more new friends from countries like Norway. I learnt how to embrace inter cultural differences and how to adapt to new environments easily. The FK Youth Camp Cultural Night was yet another glorious event packed with music and dance from all over the world. I had to admit there was more to the world than I had seen; the world had more to offer.
After this camp I drowned in my own thoughts about Rwanda, the diet, the people, the language, I was extremely nervous. The warm welcome at the airport as I landed in Rwanda at nearly 1 am on the 27th of January assured me that I was in a place I could call home. Although I was extremely exhausted I remember the hugs and kisses from my coordinator Barbet and former Participants. I felt this sense of belonging I wasn’t expecting. I loved Rwanda at first sight. I was torn between wanting to explore Rwanda that very moment and going home to take a good day’s rest. All the same I proceeded home with Alice explaining the geographical set up of Rwanda, comparing it to her host Association, Girl Guides Association of Zimbabwe. We shared the same excitement as I passed various greetings from her home back in Zimbabwe, some of which out of tire I had forgotten.
We arrived home and I totally fell in love with the new house in special mention of my room, I loved each and every corner of it. Although I was super exhausted I felt I was ready to work with Association Des Guides Du Rwanda because everything about Rwanda and the people was promising. After taking a good tour around the house and a delicious hot meal prepared by Alice, I took a long good day’s rest.
The following day someone I had been anxious to meet showed up, our peer, Letitia Panda. She helped us (my teammates and I) get accustomed to the way of living in Rwanda and showed us different places like our Office, town and many others. Then someone else came into picture, Uwera Benimana Gilberthe. She like Panda was very excited to meet us for the second time as we did not talk much at the airport. She showed us different parts of Rwanda and helped us make many friends. That very week AGR hosted a welcome party for us and there present was the National Executive Board and some staff members who warmly welcomed us. It was a blast!
First day in office, I was like a reed in the midst of a river with a strong current. I was so nervous. However Barbet made it easy as she explained all we had to know and it became very easy to adapt. I accustomed myself very well to the culture, diet and I loved very much the Mushanana as well as the Rwandan traditional dance. Never had I met in the world hospitable people like Rwandese, no matter how many times you visit their homes they welcome you like it’s their first time to receive you and they never forget to treat you to a drink or even better, a delicious meal.
As days progressed I got used to the new life, diet and people. I even managed to speak the local language, Kinyarwanda with some fluency and it became funny how some people thought I was Rwandan. I fell in love with the music and I stopped at nothing to get the translation. Special mention of Ko nashize, Te amo both by Butera Knowless, Rwandan traditional songs as well as other East African tracks like Owooma, MunaKampala just to mention a few.
My teammates and I started our work, running campaigns, recruiting more girl guides, attending and participating in camps and working with various AGR projects. This was something I never thought possible until I actually started doing it. That’s when I realized how much impact the Yess Girls Movement is making to develop girls develop their fullest potential. We worked pretty hard and although our work was close to perfect, our communication skills were so terrible such that not so many people were aware of what we were doing. Fortunately, our coordinator stopped at nothing to make sure we improved and she never gave up on us. I managed to derive the lesson that no matter how happy you are, there isn’t much greater happiness than helping someone develop to become better in life, and I am taking this with me wherever I go.
It would be mere derision to forget the lessons I learnt from AGR. Among these are time management, the finest business etiquette, hospitality and the greatest of all communication skills. I have and still am developing but I can sense that I am not the same since the commencement of the program. Heaven knows who Tanaka Michelle Sandati, a 19 year old (participant from Zimbabwe to Rwanda) will be after this exchange but it’s definitely something grand.