The Eritrean-Swedish Globetrotter with a Heart for Africa:
Ruthie’s travel journey started early, beginning when her family immigrated to Sweden from Eritrea, by way of Italy due to the war back home. Growing up with hardworking parents who also valued travel, Ruthie credits her global exposure to her parents who traveled within their means and still managed to take her on road trips as a child all throughout Europe. By the age of 10, she visited Norway, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France and the UK! She saw the world through these family vacations and in turn, traveling became a way of life for her as an adult.
LEARN MORE ABOUT RUTHIE’S TRAVELS & WHY SHE TRAVELS TO SERVE:
Service Location: Rwanda, Rwinkwavu
Date of Travel: Jan 29th – February 9th, 2018
Organization: Partners In Health – Women and Girls Initiative
Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about and what motivates you?
I’m a 34 year old Swedish-Eritrean and also a Londoner. I guess I’d describe myself as a lover of life, a forever optimist, and a global citizen that’s very passionate about travel, human connection and self development. Professionally my background is Digital media & Coaching.
Where do you live, work, and play?
I live in Stockholm, Sweden which is currently my base. I work on the internet and play in the gym.
Why did you decide to travel abroad and volunteer your time?
I spend a lot of time volunteering in my local community and for a long time have felt like I wanted to increase my commitment to service by volunteering where there is a greater need and where I could have a greater impact. This was my first time doing this type of travel but certainly not my last.
What was your selection process in choosing an organization to serve with and what about its mission moved you to sign up?
I chose Partners In Health (PIH) because I was already familiar with the organization and had been a donor and supporter for a while. In a practical sense, I utilized my network to talk with a senior staff member at PIH who interviewed me and matched me with the Women and Girls Initiative specifically based on my media background. The available placement was in Rwanda and I accepted immediately.
I like that their work is about strengthening local communities and supporting them towards self-sufficiency. Essentially, their model addresses ways to support the health system of a chosen country then reinforces the system and builds locally to the point where they work themselves out of the job. Once the system is stable, Partners In Health departs and the remaining structure continues to thrive through the local community and government. This philosophy is very compelling to me and refreshing compared to how aid organizations typically work in Africa and in other developing continents and countries.
What was your overall service experience, i.e. was it challenging, amazing, or everything in between?
It was simply amazing, I was in the countryside of Rwanda in a small town called Rwinkwavu. I really enjoyed being out in nature and the rural environment. The Women and Girls Initiative (under the helm of PIH) is a project that supports vulnerable girls and young women in the local area though education, vocational training, counseling and many other ways. I got to meet the brilliant girls in the program through my school visits and home visits which was truly inspiring to see and hear firsthand how the program has changed the prospect of their lives.
I also met a young girl who did not receive this critical support in time and her situation became very difficult. The girl was HIV positive with two small babies who were also HIV positive, she had little to no means to support herself and her kids, and there was a complete loss of hope for her future. This showed me the other side of their very real reality when these girls don’t receive economic funding to go to school or gain a skill. While this was hard to see, it was also very impactful and reinforced my commitment to the project.
Would you recommend Partners In Health to others? What’s one thing they do well?
Absolutely, they are highly organized, well functioning, and more importantly very impactful in the local communities in which they serve. It was very easy for me to blend in at the local office and my time was very well planned and organized. I also got to see so many different parts of the project and meet so many people in a very short time.
What fears or concerns did you have to overcome in order to do this trip?
My finances were a concern since I self funded the trip but I overcame that quickly and in hindsight it was absolutely worth it and I would do it again in a heartbeat! What I got out of this experience was far greater than what I had to (financially) contribute to get there. The organization was also very accommodating on the ground which helped alleviate some of the stress. Additionally, I called loved ones when I had doubts prior to the trip and they just reminded me of why I was doing it in the first place which was helpful. They reminded me that I shouldn’t worry too much about funding but rather focus on the long-term gains and self development that would come out of this.
What did you learn about yourself on this trip specifically?
That my next trip could be a solo trip, I truly enjoyed traveling on my own. I also learned that this is something that I will continue to do regularly, travel to serve. And lastly, I became more grateful for the opportunities and abundance that I have in my life that I sometimes take for granted, e.g. that I had the opportunity to pursue and finance my higher education of choice.
How can we contact the organization and participate in a service trip?!!
Visit pih.org for general inquiries or womenandgirlsinitiative.org for the specific project I worked on.
Do you recommend others to travel to serve? Why or why not?
Without a doubt! Giving is a core principle of mine but you get to a point in life where just giving money doesn’t cut it anymore, well, at least it doesn’t for me. I felt this growing need to contribute to society in a meaningful way with more than just my money, to have a greater stake against the human challenges that exist in this world. I also think the human connection is important, we’re very shielded behind our screens today. It’s invaluable to go and see for yourself the realities of others and understand our individual role in closing that gap, even if only a little. Giving money is great but giving our time, sharing our knowledge, being part of building in a sustainable way is priceless.
What quote inspires you to be adventurous?
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it”
Where is your favorite place that you’ve visited and why?
This is a very difficult question, the world is full of amazing places, some of which I’ve had the opportunity to visit. However, I would have to say Machu Picchu, the ancient Incan citadel in the Andes Mountains, Peru. Machu Picchu is the most familiar icon of Incan civilization, built in 1450, abandoned by the Incas during the Spanish Conquest about a century later. The Spanish never found it, in fact, it only became known to the outside world around 1911 when an American historian brought it to international attention. Machu Picchu is considered one of the 7 wonders of the world, rightfully so, it’s absolutely beautiful! We did a 3 day hike to arrive there and it was a great experience overall.
What advice can you offer to someone traveling (abroad) for the first time?
I would say take the leap, you’ll have a great time. Perhaps start light, go somewhere where you can communicate more easily or where you know something about the culture. Also, try to arrange as much as possible beforehand through a tour guide or your hotel so its more seamless. Once you get used to traveling internationally you can skip those things and navigate your way through new places more organically.
What are your top 3 reasons why everyone should travel?
- Traveling increases exposure and knowledge about what the world really looks like; mainstream media often fuels prejudice while traveling allows you to bust myths and see for yourself.
- You gain a lot of new knowledge through traveling about the world, history, languages, etc.
- You get to eat delicious food in all the new places you discover which is very important if you’re a foodie like me 🙂
Where is the next place on your travel list?
Portugal, with my lovely cousins! We’re planning for September 2018, can’t wait.