Hope Travels: AOI Nancy Bartosz Spreads Awareness In Rwanda And Ethiopia

Creating dialogues of forgiveness, happiness, and continual improvement through art and service.

An enlightening and emotional lunch with a few of the Rwandan Rescuers. Photo: Nancy Bartosz

An enlightening and emotional lunch with a few of the Rwandan Rescuers. Photo: Nancy Bartosz

As the founder of the Agents of Impact initiative Hope Travels, Nancy Bartosz is leading the charge for global exploration of mental health and its associated stigmas. After beginning her journey with visits to Ghana and Senegal, she then traveled to communities throughout Rwanda and Ethiopia.

Mental health can be impacted by both internal and external experiences. The tragedy of the Rwandan genocide affected people everywhere. Trauma counselors have stated that up to 80% of Rwandans alive during the genocide suffer from symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The trauma of witnessing, surviving, and even taking part in the genocide leaves lasting psychological damage. Overcoming that trauma is an ongoing process across the country. As the healing process continues, President Kagame has put an emphasis on dialogue and community service. That emphasis has been readily embraced by citizens as support groups and charities have sprung up across the country.

“Each day I am here, I am taught about the events of this time— but also about post-Genocide mental health, trauma care, reconciliation, resilience, and forgiveness, led by people who persist in creating hope from the darkest circumstances.” Nancy said of her time in Rwanda.

Spreading the message of hope in downtown Kigali. Photo: Nancy Bartosz

Spreading the message of hope in downtown Kigali. Photo: Nancy Bartosz

Nancy had the opportunity to speak with some Rwandans who were among the rescuers, ordinary people who in the face of injustice and tragedy stepped up to become extraordinary. During Nancy’s conversations each of them spoke with a casual frankness about their heroism. Some of their stories were covered last year by Humans Of New York, but many of the rescuers choose to remain anonymous despite the praise and fame it would bring.

The predominant attitude in Rwanda is now one of forgiveness and unity as Rwandans continue to move forward without forgetting the past. One of the best ways to maintain that positive outlook is by maintaining open and honest dialogues within the community. The organization Truth Prevails seeks to do just that and offer forgiveness and reconciliation. One of the leaders spent ten years in prison for crimes he committed during the genocide and described the immense shame he felt during those years. He expressed his surprise and relief at the depth of forgiveness shown to him by survivors. Nancy met with the Truth Prevails and its leaders during Umuganda, the nation’s monthly day of community service. Truth Prevails was using that time to build six new houses for genocide survivors.

A mural painted during the SkateAid event in Kigali. Photo: Nancy Bartosz

A mural painted during the SkateAid event in Kigali. Photo: Nancy Bartosz

Healing the wounds of the past is an ongoing project in Rwanda, but there is also a focus on improving the present and future completely separated from the tragedy. The group Good Change Rwanda works to improve the lives of members of their community by providing them with access to healthcare. In their region of Rwanda it costs 4 dollars for a year of medical coverage but that is beyond what many can afford. Good Change raises money to donate free medical coverage to the impoverished in the district.

The SOS Children’s Village in Kigali and the organization SkateAid work together to raise a new generation of positively-minded Rwandans. They emphasize self-expression and self-care while also teaching a balance between the value of the individual and the larger community. During Nancy’s visit the village’s skate park hosted a SkateAid event and skating competition.  The mantras It’s Ok Not To Be Ok and We Are In This Together fit perfectly with the attitude of the Children’s Village and the mindset of Rwanda as a whole. Celebrating positivity and spreading Hope For The Day’s message to the next generation was the ideal conclusion to Nancy’s visit to Rwanda.

Enjoying coffee and conversation in Addis Ababa. Photo: Nancy Bartosz

Enjoying coffee and conversation in Addis Ababa. Photo: Nancy Bartosz

The intensity and emotion of Rwanda was a rewarding but draining experience. Ethiopia proved a welcoming and reinvigorating stop along Nancy’s tour. While in Addis Ababa , Ethiopia’s capital, Nancy experienced what was commonplace everywhere she went: boundless hospitality. While she was exploring the city, a sudden downpour forced her to seek shelter under a metal overhang when a friendly neighbor invited her inside.

Inside, Nancy and the kindly stranger enjoyed a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony, snacks and lively conversation. Ethiopia has a strong sense of community and hospitality which means help, a friendly ear, or just a delicious coffee is always close at hand. The importance of a friendly conversation and atmosphere accompanied by coffee is just as important to Hope For The Day. Hope For The Day coordinated with Partner In Prevention Dark Matter Coffee to create the Chicago coffee shop Sip Of Hope that not only sends proceeds to proactive suicide prevention, but is also a resource for people to talk, find more resources, and get educated on better mental health practices.

Spreading joy through the simple art of origami. Photo: Nancy Bartosz

Spreading joy through the simple art of origami. Photo: Nancy Bartosz

Nancy also spoke with restaurant owner Queen who recommended visiting the St. George’s Cathedral. Queen joined Nancy in the visit to explore the cathedral that focused on supporting the community’s elderly. The visit impressed upon Nancy a common attitude among Ethiopians of thankfulness and contentedness. They do not focus on what they lack or desire. Instead everyone is grateful for everything they have and the people with whom they get to share it.

Nancy’s time in Ethiopia was not focused on large, time-consuming or expensive projects. Instead there was a focus on simply starting conversations to learn how mental health and its stigmas function within the community. That willingness to learn and communicate is a critical component of  Hope For The Day and the Agent of Impact program’s mission to proactively prevent suicide. Simply starting the dialogue is key, and that willingness to talk about self-care and wellness is something everyone can work on.

Spreading art and positivity is a simple and effective way to continue to raise the visibility of mental health anywhere. In Ethiopia, Nancy brought origami paper and taught children how to make paper hearts. The hearts are small and easy to make, but they are colorful packages of joy.

Next week will cover Nancy’s collaborations of creativity with a street art festival in Uganda and a poetry group in Zambia. Learn how you can make an impact in your own community spaces and see more about Nancy’s Hope Travels adventures on Facebook. Read Last week’s entry about Ghana and Senegal here.

Jackson Kilpatrick