This summer I spent 6 weeks in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, creating a sexual health curriculum and teaching it at local high schools. Earlier this year I had joined Edinburgh Global Partnerships (EGP) which is a student-run charity that organizes projects together with other charities across the world. The project I was allocated to was a sexual health project in Rwanda with a local charity Healthy People Rwanda (HPR). I was interested in this project as I study Reproductive Biology, and getting the chance to share some of my knowledge and to see how this topic is approached in another culture seemed just too good to be true!
I like to be prepared for every possible situation, so before my trip I spent months getting ready. I might have gone a little overboard though as I had for example written down the contact details for not one, not two, but 6 different European embassies and built myself a first aid kit containing more stuff than most pharmacies. Better safe than sorry! Once I had dealt with the practicalities such as visas and vaccinations and packed my bag with everything and anything, the only things left for me to worry about were the cultural aspects. How should I dress? How will the locals feel about me as a young woman teaching about sex? I was worried about accidentally offending locals and I think that the risk of it happening was especially high as my project consisted of talking about such a taboo subject. I did get in some difficult and awkward situations, but nothing that could not be sorted with a smile and an apology.
I went to Rwanda with six other students from our university that I had met only a few times before, and for 6 weeks we shared a house, worked together, travelled and did our best to survive and have fun in an totally new environment (Forget Big Brother, now wouldn’t that make a great reality show?). I had been worried about how we would get along as the team spirit could make or break our trip, but we all had an amazing time and became a great little team. I also became friends with the local volunteers that we worked with, and the conversations I had with them on our way to the schools were probably the best part of my summer. The Rwandan volunteers were all medical students or doctors, so I learned a lot about how medicine is practiced in Rwanda (the whole country has only one MRI machine!) and even visited a few hospitals and got to attend a UN conference. Our best talks were however about very normal subjects: family, love and football.
As cliché as it is, the experience did change me. Living in a thirld world country was eye-opening, the UN conference and talking with the doctors made me even more motivated to study reproduction, and teaching over 200 students at a time definitely cured me from any fear of public speaking.