by Madeline Panacci
Thirty-three cents. Thirty-three cents a month provides a uniform, a teacher, a classroom; thirty-three cents maintains a dirt floor, and a dilapidated structure for 70 young children to call a classroom.
A handful of United States coins sends a child in Rwamagana, Rwanda, Africa to elementary school; thirty-three cents a month sustains a desire to learn and an aspiration to rebuild a poverty-stricken, politically and economically corrupt country.
Witnessing first-hand the ways in which four dollars a year can allow a Rwandan student an elementary education, I experienced the piercing sun in a school with no roof, a dirt floor, and three walls made solely out of wooden sticks. This simple, primitive structure was barely stable, but it was a school nonetheless.
Constructed with pride, this school was salvation to the children who attended it, regardless of the seven decrepit benches to sit on and one warped chalkboard for the teacher. Their willingness to cope with the circumstances and their curiosity to learn was an inspiration that sparked a flame to express what I saw and to share what I realized.
I traveled to Rwanda to bring the gift of knowledge and the desire to learn. Instead, I received substantially more than I gave.
What I saw during my transitory time in Rwanda was not a culture defined by its past, but one teeming with the aspiration to grow and progress as a nation.
The pride of a people determined to outgrow expectations and stereotypes from a world that had deserted them in a time of need was ultimately humbling.
Welcoming and forgiving, the Rwandans that I met had stories to tell: an internal war to explain, a loved one to remember. Living through multiple genocides and a destructive political war, Rwandans expressed their feelings of contentment: they had homes, families; they were alive, and they were at peace. That’s all they needed.
My Rwandan family encouraged me to aspire to be great. Through my photography, I hope to evoke the deep feelings of happiness, grief, and overwhelming generosity that a mzungu, or outsider, constantly experienced.
While taking pictures of the village children who could not afford thirty-three cents a month to attend school, they progressively became more rambunctious and playful.
While laughing at each other, themselves, and myself, I had an epiphany: I realized that these kids in an isolated, rural village halfway across the world are no different than the kids three houses down the street from my house in the United States.
People worldwide may be partitioned by language, custom, and location, but I have seen first hand that we are all created equal: we laugh when we are amused; we cry when we are distraught; we love, and we forgive.
My journey to a third-world country unveiled facets of myself that I had never been aware of. I had never been perceived as a minority; I had never been so conscious of being surrounded by people who had never seen skin so fair before.
Clearly divided by language and physical appearance, I submerged myself in a world that was completely foreign to my own. Pushing myself to understand and accept new ideas, I realized that a bright passion of mine is to understand and experience my dynamic world.