RSM’s Andy Leonard Meets a Friend in Rwanda
Janjira Prompinit. Hellen Aromo Omuka. Veerada Sarapat. Yanam Saewue. These are just a few of the names of underprivileged girls RSM’s Andrew (“Andy”) Leonard has supported or is currently supporting in developing countries. As one of RSM’s 2018 Pursue Your Passion winners, Andy recently had an opportunity to travel to Rwanda to meet one of those girls.
Read Andy’s story:
I think it’s fair to consider my “Pursue Your Passion” trip to Rwanda a life-changing event that spanned the full emotional spectrum. Parts of the trip were exhilarating, eye opening, depressing, satisfying, inspirational, heartbreaking, educational and joyful. Because the trip was conducted as a group organized by Compassion International, the charitable organization through which I sponsor my child, we were able to be immersed in the Rwandan culture and visit areas traditional tourists would not go.
We visited child development centers and were greeted by hundreds of children and adults performing songs and dances for us in traditional Rwandan attire. We visited an intervention program where pregnant women are taught about health, safety and job development, where they sang, danced and told us their stories, followed by social interaction with them and their babies. We were able to visit the homes of underprivileged families to get an understanding for what life is like in Rwanda for those less fortunate.
We also traveled to an education center where I was interviewed by 18- and 19-year-old students about leadership and the qualities required to be an effective leader. After the meeting, the students presented to the entire class and our group what we had discussed.
A constant undercurrent exists in Rwanda because of the genocide occurring in 2004. We visited the Genocide Memorial and museum where more than a quarter-of-a-million Rwandans are buried as a result of the genocide. After that, we visited one of several reconciliation villages that have been organized by the Rwandan government where perpetrators of the genocide live side-by-side with victims. We were treated to a display of native dancing and then heard the testimony of individuals living in the village.
Of course, the highlight of the trip was getting to meet my sponsored child, Marceline. The letters and pictures that we exchange are fantastic and result in a deep bond between us, but it is nothing compared to the opportunity to see her face-to-face. It was extremely emotional as we met for the first time and we were able to spend several hours together playing, talking and eating. Even though she was a very shy eight year old, through an interpreter I was able to discover more about her daily life.
Marceline lives in a house not much bigger than my office with her mother and five siblings. The house does not have electricity or running water, so one of her chores is to haul it daily from a nearby water source. Her diet consists primarily of potatoes. Even though we brought several gifts for her and her family, when I asked what things she needed, she didn’t mention material things but rather was concerned about her education and her family’s safety. It was a true education for me.
I cannot express how thankful I am that RSM was able to provide me with this opportunity, as the trip encouraged me to continue sponsoring these young girls. I witnessed firsthand the difference that my sponsorships are making and was assured that lives are truly being changed.