Saskia Hennecke

Saskia At Akilah

In May 2016, I landed in Rwanda for my Social Justice summer, where I didn’t know a single soul. I did not simply survive; I thrived.

I spent nine weeks living in Kigali, Rwanda, a beautiful, bustling city full of loving people, endless adventure, and amazing avocados. I was in charge of my own time, yes, but I also had to figure out how I would get to work and back, how I would feed myself, meet people, and make friends in a country where most people don't speak much English. I did all of these things and so much more. I bartered (rather successfully I might add) for everything I bought, I travelled every weekend, explored more than four corners of the country as well as much of the city, and made friends (both expat and local) that I will love and cherish forever.

At the Akilah Institute for Women, I worked in the Careers department. Actually, I pretty much ran the Careers department. As a young start-up, Akilah needs all the help it can get. Each intern is tasked and entrusted with huge responsibilities. As a vocational school, Akilah’s Careers department works tirelessly to prepare girls for jobs and internships, as well as actively placing them in private sector jobs and internships. The department’s founder and director resigned rather suddenly three days after I arrived, and most of her responsibilities fell on my shoulders. For the first few weeks, this meant interviews. We conducted about 100 mock interviews for the students to practice their skills, and we gave them feedback on their performances. It was exhausting, but I got to spend with the students, which I really appreciated. These ladies were incredibly poised and had some very impressive resumes. Akilah students are typically 19-22, but are welcomed at any age, meaning every student was older than me, but typically very close to my age.  I imagine we could have become great friends under different circumstances.

For the better part of the summer, I was working closely with the private sector (mostly hotels and tourism companies) to assess their availability and interest in hosting one or more interns. I would gage students’ interest in the opportunity and set up interviews, following up closely with each party.

Akilah is a fantastic place to work in an incredible country; I fell in love with every waking (and sleeping) moment of life in a strange land. Every instant of every day was an adventure, and there was always something new to learn or do. I no longer had expectations for how my day might go, nor the kind of people I might meet. My closest friends hailed from America, Italy, Sweden, India, South Africa and (of course) Rwanda. Every conversation was rich with a thousand perspectives I had never encountered before! If I had to label a “type” to the average 20-something aged expatriate intern in Rwanda, I would describe him or her as a delightful combination of compassion and curiosity.

I traveled all over Rwanda, dove into gorgeous lakes, and camped on volcanic mountain ranges, and at the end of the day, I realized that I have become the person I always sought to be. From the moment I stepped on the plane and into this adventure, I chose to be that fearless girl, and I am never looking back.