Youth Ambassador Georgia (centre), along with Youth Ambassadors Daniel (left) and Madina (right), meeting Chantal's baby brother in Rwanda.
I find it hard to summarise at the best of times – much less for something as powerful and life changing as the Rwandan Study Tour. Touching down at the tiny airport, I was filled with a nervous energy and excitement at everything I was about to experience. What I found was that Rwanda is equally beautiful and heartbreaking. The scenery is some of the most stunning I have ever encountered and the people will always have a special place in my heart; not just for their dignity and their friendship, but for their courage, and an ability to forgive that I will never entirely understand. Every country is different, every family unique, and Chantal and her family touched me in a way I could never have expected.
This girl is my inspiration. At just 12 years of age, Chantal is burdened with more than I ever have been. Circumstances have forced her to give up school in order to care for her family. Not only has she given up school, but the sense of a normal childhood in which she is able to play and laugh – and seeing her absolute joy when able to do that is an indescribable privilege. Even in her spare time, she thinks of her family. Having fashioned herself knitting needles out of some available metal, she uses this to enjoy herself – yet she knits socks for her twin siblings. Her chores include collecting firewood, cooking, feeding the cow, and looking after her twin brother and sister, who, at just 6 months old, are already threatened by malnutrition.
I have never considered myself a particularly maternal person – sure, I think small things are cute, but I’ve never been the girl who looked towards having a family or squealed over little babies. But, while visiting Chantal’s wonderful family, I was honoured to hold her little brother, and that changed things for me. His tiny hands and feet were so incredibly frail and as I felt his little chest wheezing against my own, I was overcome by a sense of need to care for him and by the true vulnerability of his future. It is the story of this family and these children that I wish to share with the Australian public, who are generous and caring people, because I know that Chantal’s story of courage will touch us all.
Since returning to Australia, the thing that has been the most obvious to me is how unaware we all are of the privilege and frivolity of how we live. One of my biggest challenges has been explaining to people what I’ve seen and sometimes having to accept that they don’t really understand, along with the sudden feeling of ungratefulness I have when I see how much food I have in the fridge. The biggest surprise for me has just been the reality of being back home and realising how hard I have to continue to work to share these people’s stories and get them out there! I think that most of all, I’ve enjoyed being back amongst the people I love and sleeping in my own bed, but also the surprising amount of support I’ve received when telling people about the trip. I miss having constant new experiences and being actively doing stuff – as well as being surrounded by a group of wonderful, like-minded friends in both the locals and the other Youth Ambassadors!
Find out how you can join Georgia for the 40 Hour Famine.