One of the most basic tenets of Hope Shines is to empower Rwanda’s youth, a project that begins with each child understanding and respecting his or her own body. Camps include a series of Healthy Body Workshops, in which we educate the kids on how their bodies work, how to take care of themselves, and about important topics like personal hygiene and HIV/AIDS. For the first Healthy Body Workshop, each child receives a special Hope Shines tote bag stuffed with soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss, underwear, and washcloths, and even sports bras and maxi pads for the girls and their mothers. We explain what each item is and how it is used, helping the kids to take pride in themselves and their health. It is easy to take items like these for granted, but in Rwanda such items of items of daily use are extremely expensive, and many girls and boys do not have access to them. The kids are so excited for something as simple as toothpaste, and it is an honor to supply them with clean teeth. Each item in the Hope Shines tote bag is the result of your generous in-kind donations, of which we are extremely grateful.
We also run an HIV/AIDS workshop, which is connected to other activities we’ve done throughout the week (like the Keith Haring art project mentioned above). Dr. Stephanie Chu, a Hope Shines volunteer, and Aline, a Rwandan nurse, lead the discussions, which cover some difficult ground and confusing areas. The kids learn a lot, though, and always ask some really good questions to learn even more.
We also stress the importance of staying in school, and how an education could help each of them achieve great things. We have talks about what they want to be when they grow up, and the answers are quite impressive—and sometimes amusing! Goals range from becoming a journalist, pilot, teacher, or pastor, or even the president of the United States! Each volunteer shares their own story about what they studied (or are currently studying) in school, and what their job is now. We also make sure that our Rwandan colleagues take part in the talk as well, which emphasizes to the kids how attainable all their goals really are. We were especially grateful to our translators (whom we locate through a group called Orphans of Rwanda) for talking to the kids about how hard they work and study in university. We want the kids to understand that they too can achieve great things if they work hard enough, and the impressive group of young Rwandan translators is the perfect people to do this.