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Notes from Rwanda

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Local woman back in Big Sky after two years with Peace Corps

By Matt Hudson

Life passed in the rural village of Mamba, Rwanda at a different pace than what Big Sky native Heather Bing was used to. Sometimes her whole day in Africa was planned around basic chores.

“Even though life was slower, everything took so much longer,” said Bing, 24. “I could be like, ‘OK, today I am going to cook and do laundry,’ and that was a day’s worth of work.”

But that didn’t mean Bing was idle. For two years, she worked with the Peace Corps at a public secondary school. Starting in late 2010, she logged 1,400 hours teaching English as the Rwandese school system transitioned to the language. The tests and materials were in English, though many of her students and some of the teachers did not speak it.

She learned the local language, Kinyarwanda, fairly well and tried to engage the students, some of whom walked three hours to and from the classroom every day. Bing wanted them to know that her goal was to help them succeed in class.

“I was really trying to get more student-centered learning and get them to come to their own conclusions. I always tried to bring in props, and I think I just taught a little bit different – more activity-based,” she said.

In addition to teaching at the school, Bing helped write curriculums and taught English to community members including judicial staff, health workers and an association of traditional basket weavers.

One of the most rewarding activities for Bing was helping coordinate and direct the Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) camp. The weeklong camp brought in female students from regional schools, where they learned about HIV/AIDS awareness and ways to empower themselves in their communities.

Bing said working with the girls was a special time. She wanted to inspire them to think big about the future and make their own choices.

“That was the most awesome part of my work there, for sure,” she said. “They’ve never been given a time that was solely for them.”

Bing filed for grants to help fund the GLOW camp and directed it for two summers. The grant increased in the second year and expanded to include more campers and ran for two extra days.

She enjoyed bringing smiles to a country that was quietly mourning the effects of a devastating genocide nearly two decades earlier. In 1994, more than 500,000 Rwandans were killed as part of a state-sponsored ethnic cleansing. The month of April is set aside for Rwandans to grieve as a nation.

During her time in Rwanda, Bing saw a country looking toward a better future.

“They are trying to move forward,” Bing said. “They are living peacefully together as a Rwandese people, but I feel like their hearts are still hurting.”

Bing said goodbye to her friends and colleagues and left Rwanda in November 2012, returning to her hometown of Big Sky. Readjusting was easier with the help of friends and family, she said, but she wishes she could explain how fulfilling her experience in Rwanda was.

She ate the local food and adopted local customs. She made lifelong friends. For two years, it was her home.

“They just really want a one-sentence answer when you’re going to want to talk for hours and hours and hours,” Bing said.

Happy to be home, Bing wants to stay around Big Sky. Though her college background is in interior design, this time with the Peace Corps instilled in her a desire to work with kids.

Bing also left Rwanda feeling humbled by what she has.

“I’ve had so many wonderful opportunities, that it was really great to finally have a chance to give back.”

Megan Paulson is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Outlaw Partners.

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