By: Jake Mendys
Well, the fanfare of the 2016 Gala is finally over. Chapel Hill, Boston, and the United States, for better and for worse, are now in my rearview. Moving forward, I need to focus on what is going to get me through the next year – actually I can’t just “get through” it, I will excel, thrive, annihilate the next 11 months. Margaret Mead, famed cultural anthropologist said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” And that is what we have here at Shooting Touch. A group of the best kind of people, committed to educating and empowering Rwandan youth through sports, providing healthcare, education, and a whole lot of love.
The best advice that I received throughout the entire Gala weekend was at the intimate dinner with the ST fam at Maggiano’s with former fellows Matt McGinley and Kevin Kettl – I only have one shot at this fellowship, I have to make the most of it. There’s no time to be nervous or complacent during my time here in Rwanda and I don’t think I would have been selected for it if I didn’t have the chops for the task in front of me. I am going to meet hundreds of kids who love and adore me, but I would be naïve if I thought there won’t be those who challenge my authority for a number of different reasons.
After the Gala, I used the remaining two weeks in Boston to connect with old friends from Chapel Hill (shout-out Toby Egbuna for letting me crash on his couch the entire time) and prepare myself psychologically for the trip. I am unbelievably excited – my head is turning at a mile a minute right now trying to find ways to grow Shooting Touch’s presence here and I have some potentially great (and potentially harebrained) ideas to do so, which everyone will hopefully find out as they actually happen. I loved hanging out in Norwood at ST/ISlide HQ before departing at 6am on October 1, 2016 (Boston – Toronto – Addis – Kigali). 30 long hours.
“Change the world. The phrase spoke to me throughout college, and before that, adolescence.” A quote from a fellow Tar Heel named Rye Barcott, who started a sport for development NGO similar to Shooting Touch, called Carolina for Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya. On a side note, I think the Rye’s book, It Happened on the Way to War, should be required reading for anyone who participates in international development work, especially sport for development, because it’s essentially a manual on how to do it right. But back to the topic at hand, there has always been a part of me that wanted to do something cataclysmic, to leave some sort of legacy here on Earth. To do so, that old adage of “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” applies in a major way to the next 11 months.
My journey to changing the world truly starts here, in Rwanda; (this Oxford comma is for you Cacique) doing a pushup with a boy from Nyamirama, doing a sit up with a mother from Rwinkwavu, showing a family how to properly use a mosquito net. Small steps towards improving one life here, another family’s lives there, and eventually those steps start adding up. I am imploring myself to be patient, high energy, and mentally tough during these first few weeks. I am going to be leaning on Lisanne and Chloe a lot during my time here (and them on me should the situation call for it, I hope), and I can already tell they are going to be great friends – we’ve only been hanging out for a few days and it’s like family.
Kigali has been fun so far. I will go into my initial impressions of Rwanda in the next blog in a couple weeks, after I’ve had time to really soak in the place. For now, I’m feeling 22 and tired. We got into the Eastern Province of Rwanda today and I’m writing this at about 10:45PM our time, so I’m about to crash. To everyone at HQ – this year is going to be big. To everyone in Chapel Hill and scattered everywhere else in Chapel Hill, I love all of you and hope to hear from you. I got a new Rwandan phone number – +250 781 850 182 (WhatsApp, iMessage, Viber, Skype all work and service is decent when I’m not in the village), I’ll be posting a ton of photos on Facebook (add me) and Instagram (@Jake_Mendys40 – shameless plug). I can’t wait to hear from you all.