Friday, May 24, 2013

The last hurrah

Boy, this is one emotional trip. (Or maybe I'm just becoming more of an emotional person!) But I really am not kidding when I tell you that today was super emotional, and while writing this post, I might get teary eyed.

We went to bed last night at 3am, and our alarms were set for 7:30. We crawled out of bed at 7:45 and quickly showered and got ready for our final day of class at SFB. Today was the big day, with 18 groups of 4-5 students scheduled to present their business ideas, in competition for the cash prizes. Before heading over to the class though, I needed to meet the Rector's assistant, to print out the final certificates. Chris went to start the class, and Jamie came along with me as he wanted to take a detour and get some breakfast before class. Unfortunately though, one thing after another went wrong, and the printing took almost three hours! From the first printer not being able to handle the heavy paper, to the size of the paper being wrong, to seven paper jams in the second printer, to a dull paper cutter used to adjust the paper size, to absent employees with access to certain stamps, cutters and ink, to the pole pole style of the signing officers, it was a draining process. I was a tad upset that I missed all but three of the presentations, and the hard work that the students put into their projects, but I suppose the certificates looked great in the end and it was well worth the wait.

After the final presentations, we sent everyone off for lunch, with about an hour and a half break before the ceremony, which was scheduled to start at 1pm. Before grabbing food for ourselves though, we dashed home to get ready. Earlier in the week, Regis and another one of our students, Beatrice, had approached me asked if I would wear a traditional Rwandan outfit, called a Mushanana, for the ceremony. I was very honoured to be asked, and excited to wear the beautiful outfit! Beatrice tied the fabric around me, a red and white set which they chose for me due to it's Canadian colours, and excitedly brought me outside to show the boys. She doesn't speak very much English, but has the most wonderful smile, and I was so grateful for her to think of me as a sister, dressing me in her traditional attire!
Regis made a point to ensure that I wore black shoes to match my black tank top and black hair. It was quite funny to hear him instruct me on how to match my outfit, and recommend jewellery pieces for me. We were all entertained, and I quickly obliged!

Although I was excited to be wearing the outfit, I almost immediately regretted it after we stepped out of the house. We've sort of gotten used to the staring, but today it was at a whole new level. Everyone not only stared, but pointed, whispered, and took pictures. I almost felt like an imposter, a non-native wearing their traditional clothing, and turned quite red. The same happened at lunch, but then we saw a few of our students while walking to drop off the certificates and their faces lit up. It made me feel so much better, to see how excited and happy they were to see me in their cultural clothing. The cherry on top was when I walked into the classroom as some students were filing in, and they all clapped and cheered loudly for me! It was super sweet of them; I love them all so much.
The ceremony began only 15 minutes late, and was absolutely lovely. Dr. Murty attended the presentation, representing the Rector (a position like our academic chancellor) who is unwell. Regis kicked things off with incredibly kind words, and warm blessings. Christine, one of the students who was also the MC for the ceremony, then introduced each of the three of us to say a few words. This was the part where I kind of choked up unexpectedly, as she was so kind with her introduction, and made me feel like a celebrity! I spoke about how much I have learnt from this experience, from my time in Rwanda, and from each one of them. I told the students how grateful I was for their enthusiastic participation, their eagerness to learn, and for their friendship. Goodbyes are always so hard!

After Chris, Jamie and Dr. Murty each said a few words, we presented the certificates of completion. Of the 90 registered, 50 received the standard certificate, 18 received certificates with distinction, and two received the top contributor awards. There were a lot of pictures taken, and it was great to see how excited everyone was to receive their certificate. We proceeded to present the cash prizes for the top three business ideas, and Chris made them sign his notebook to promise that the money would be used to actually start up their businesses.
We were about to close with a class picture and cutting of the cake, when two students came in with two giant frames. We were so shocked: they had gotten a photo from this morning blown up and framed (after photoshopping Jamie and I in) and also imprinted a photo of the three of us on a banana leaf frame! It was such a kind thought, and we were so humbled! The three of us were in a bit of shock, and I think we were all feeling sad to be bidding farewell to a group of people we've become so close with.
We took a giant class picture, and then distributed the cake, after which everyone sat down again. We were confused, but then one of the students stood up and made a speech on behalf of them all, thanking us once again for coming to SFB and putting in so much time and energy into making the course as beneficial to the students as possible. Regis then concluded the ceremony for real, and a number of students rushed to take pictures with each of us. Two girls actually presented me with a wrapped gift, I was so touched! (I opened the gift at home, and it's a beautiful souvenir banana leaf piece of artwork, along with a wooden necklace and earrings! This was so thoughtful of them, and I will definitely be wearing the pieces as memories of a wonderful time here!)
After all of the pictures, we went home and the boys went to their rooms to rest. I just sat on the couch for a while, reading the course evaluations/feedback forms that were handed in this morning, and internalizing the wonderful ceremony that just finished. From the written portion of the forms, it was wonderful to read how much the students are taking away from the course, and the relevance and real-world application they found in the program. I am so thankful to have had such fantastic students in the class, all eager to apply their learnings and unbelievably appreciative of our time here. I'm also glad we shared our contact information so that we can all keep in touch, and so that I can follow the great places I know they will be going in the business world here in Rwanda and abroad!

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