I know that I’m meant to be catching up on past blogs but I have to blog about today instead. See today we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial again to finish the museum. It was hard. One of the last stops is a room called the Children’s Room (or stolen lives), and its dedicated to the children who died in the genocide.
On the wall was the last picture taken of the child, as well as their name. The plaque below told their story in brief responses such as “favorite food: chips” and ended with the way they died. All of the means of death were horrific. Many of them involved machetes. I found myself breaking down because I didn’t understand. How could anyone do that to an innocent child? I didn’t get it. I felt overwhelmed and I felt myself grasping for anything I could. I needed something positive to counteract the heaviness. The tour ended with a short film that was inspirising and positive. I was appreciative for that.
But I didn’t feel like I truly had something to grasp on until I talked to my host mama, Jen, that afternoon. I was floored by a simple sentence she said. We were talking about a children’s book that I had purchased called the “ABCs of Rwanda.” It’s written by a Rwandan author, a wonderful woman who actually read the story to some of the kindergarten and first graders at KICS. She said this was really spectacular because there is unfortunately a lack of things like children’s authors in Rwanda. It’s why their ministry with music is so important. But I found myself asking why. Her response isn’t exactly positive but it gave me what I needed to grasp onto.
She said: “What happens is after a genocide like that the country is left with a generation that doesn’t know how to dream.”
And I found myself thinking immediately. It’s the truth. Unfortunately, in the rebuilding and healing process there are things lost. One of those things is art and ability to express yourself and the ability to dream big. That really stuck with me because in the United States we’re obsessed with dreams. We have an “American dream”, we have Disney shoving wish granting magic down our throats (and don’t get me wrong, I love Disney but you have to admit it’s a bit obsessed with dreams), we have school programs designed to tell us that we can be anything and everything we want to be in life if we just try hard enough.
That’s not necessarily a reality here. It’s not that children aren’t loved and inspired, they are, but a lot of the rebuilding process initially is about surviving. It’s about making the best of the here and now, and not necessarily focused on inspiring young artists, singers, writers, etc. It is of course reasonable, considering that Rwanda has taken massive and inspirational steps toward reconciliation and unity, but it did get me thinking.
We take for granted the ability to dream in the US. I never want to take that for granted again. Instead, I think I found one of my reasons to teach internationally. I want to speak life to children and encourage them to express themselves, to lift their voices, to dream, boldly. I won’t tell them lies. I won’t tell them all it takes is enough trying. That’s not reality. But I will tell them that they are beautifully and uniquely made, they have value, and they should feel able to dream big dreams because they are capable of accomplishing big things.
I think that’s crucial. I think dreams are something that show us we have value. When we let ourselves dream boldly we are telling ourselves that we are worth working hard for. We’re telling ourselves that we are capable, that we deserve big things. And all of our dreams are different, our definitions of bold and big are different, but when we take away all the differences we share that similarity. Dreams aren’t for keeping our heads in the clouds. Dreams are indications of self value. They encourage us. They inspire us. They give us something to strive for. Sometimes that’s all we need. And every child, in every country, in every culture, in every situation deserves to dream boldly. They deserve to feel valued, to feel capable of pursuing big things.
As a teacher, I get to play a special role in fostering those dreams. I get to put ideas before them. I can read stories by Rwandan authors, I can speak encouragingly about their artwork, I can listen when they speak. It’s a privilege that I don’t take lightly. As a teacher, I get to give them foundations to attain their dreams. I get to teach them math facts, and the ability to read. More than that, I get to give them foundations for life skills. I get to teach them how to disagree, how to shake hands and respect one another. It doesn’t mean I expect every child to be the next president or to be the doctor to find the cure for all cancers. However, I can tell them that they are capable of becoming doctors, and politicians, and preachers, and teachers, and scientists, and dancers, and artists, and farmers, and anything that fits into their world, their culture, and their gifts.
That’s special. And I thank Jen for sharing those words with me, because it’s opened my eyes to see how powerful it is to teach people that it’s alright to dream. It’s alright to fail, too. It’s alright to change your dreams, to boldly pursue them, or to let them slip through your fingers like sand. It’s part of this messy thing we call life.
But it also reminded me of how the day started, with the children’s room. With little lives that didn’t get to dream. It reminded me that we have a responsibility to make sure that never happens again, a responsibility that is failing around the world. And while I don’t think I can stop wars from happening, or violence from occurring, I do think that I can use my passion for teaching to help. I can educate students. I can teach them to dream.
And maybe that’s not enough for some people. Maybe there is more that I’ll find myself doing. But today, I think maybe it is enough. When we teach our little ones to dream, we teach them to value themselves. We teach them to boldly pursue life. We teach them to use their gifts. And when they begin to do those things, we see lives changed. We see little ones grow up to be big ones who mold our world into something new. I think that’s pretty great.
If you’re reading this, I hope that somewhere along the way you were told that life is precious. I hope you were told that you can dream big, because you are loved, you are valuable, and you deserve to share your gifts with the world. I pray that you were told that your gifts are special no matter who’s definition of “big” they fit in. I hope that if you weren’t told these things, that you’ll read them again and find it’s never too late to start dreaming, and to start acting on our dreams.
The world will lie to you. It’ll tell you that what I’m writing is cheesy and naive. Maybe it is. But then again, I’ve heard a lot of success stories that begin with, “a teacher/friend/parent once told me that I was capable, they encouraged my dreams.”
It’s also fair to say that humans have an uncanny ability to respond to the opposite too. To say that teachers, parents, and friends beat them down and said their dreams were silly and would never happen. But then they overcame that and did it anyway.
So maybe it is naive and hopelessly optimistic, but that’s okay. I’d rather speak life to children and watch them boldly pursue life than crush their dreams. Especially when life is such a gift, and our world is dark enough without me contributing to it.
So..yeah. I hope that you keep dreaming, because life is cruel, and unfair, and too short. But it’s also beautiful, and filled with the contributions of people who learned to dream, boldly.
All my love,