Heather Padilla

Heather Padilla

"People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway. What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway. In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway." (~Mother Teresa) I'm an avid traveler with many "homes" but Spring, TX is where my family is and where the majority of my life has been. Currently I work to "educate, motivate, and inspire" students from around the country and world as a Faculty Advisor with Envision EMI, conducting leadership conferences that help to bring out each students' true leadership potential.

Mini-vans, Mzungus, and Major Charades

 Posted by Heather Padilla at 6:37 am  Rwanda  Comments Off on Mini-vans, Mzungus, and Major Charades
May 152011

Each morning I wake up at about 6:30am like clockwork. I’ve discovered that even if I’m tired, my body has somehow gotten used to that time and it’s no use to just lie there in bed with my eyes closed but mind awake. It gets light really early (and dark really early too for that matter…about 6pm!…maybe b/c we’re below the equator…barely, might I add) and I can always hear the cook in the kitchen preparing breakfast. I usually head off to school around 8am making sure to “look smart.” This is a phrase commonly used by the gatekeeper of the guesthouse that I chuckle over each morning. The first day he exclaimed, “Ahh, you are smart today!” with a thumbs up sign I thought he was referring to the fact that I had figured out how to lift the padlock off the gate myself and open the door (as I had seen another guest do). I just smiled and said, “Well, thank you.” He continued to say it everyday though until I thought, “Thanks, but it’s really not rocket science to figure out how to get outside ;)” I finally realized after being told by some teachers at school a few days later, “Ahh, you’re dressed very smart today!” that he was referring to my clothes and not my intellect. I actually decided to test the theory one day by walking out in a t-shirt and jeans…yep, no ‘smart’ compliment. He’s not the only one at the guesthouse who watches out for my appearance though. My first day of school as I was leaving the breakfast room one of the housekeepers tugged on my dress and led me by the hand to a room and pointed at an iron. In my defense, the material was the type that was supposed to look wrinkled anyway but I obliged her request to iron it. I find it ironic that my students can come to class barefoot with uniforms covered in red dirt but I have to dress as if I’m going to a business meeting. (Just as a sidenote- it is not required at all to dress professionally with a button-up shirt everyday, in fact my coordinator recommended jeans. I’ve got to be honest, I do enjoy getting the “smart” comment though 😉 ).

It takes me about an hour to get to school each day give or take 30 minutes. The ride to school involves changing taxis three times. Each “taxi” (actually a mini-van) waits around until it can get passengers before it takes off towards the designated location. Once it is fully crammed past capacity with people practically sitting on each others’ laps it is time to go. The mini-vans are how everyone gets around in the city and, I must admit, are pretty reliable. That said, I can never get out of them soon enough. I prefer the fresh air of the motor-taxis (which bring back fond memories of my time living in Thailand) but they are quite a bit more expensive. Another note about the mini-vans: the ones I take are plain white with a yellow stripe across the side. However, I have seen some (no idea where they go) that are brightly colored and covered with all sorts of graphics. There’s the Ten Commandments van, for instance, that has pictures all over the sides of Charlton Heston’s movie portrayal of Moses. There’s also the Chuck Norris van. I’m sure there are many more.

This past week I have picked up on the term, “Mzungu” which means foreigner. The ones I hear it from the most are little children who will point, smile, and wave (if they’re at a distance) or latch on (if they are close by). Everyday I must walk down a long dirt road to school after getting off of my third taxi. The road is lined with farmland and houses made of mud and bricks with elderly women and children sitting on the steps watching passer-bys. There are four little kids (probably about two or three years old) at the beginning of the road that have caught on to my schedule. They wait for me each morning and excitedly shout, “Mzungu!! Mzungu!!!” and chase after me and hold my hands as I walk to school. I was actually surprised how far they followed me at first but evidently all the people we pass know that I am the foreign teacher and seem to trust me because they just smile as we go by. As we approach the school grounds, the kids release their grip and run off laughing.

As far as school goes, I’ll I can say is I’m ready to challenge anyone to Pictionary or Charades as soon as I get back home. There are no worksheets or workbooks…just my acting and chalkboard drawing ability. I’m sure it’s quite entertaining to watch me dramatically act out various jobs or places in the community (the lessons this past week). I think my favorites are butchery and police station. Butchery involves dancing around like a chicken and mooing like a cow on all fours…then cutting them up on a table and (just to make sure they comprehend the end result) rubbing my stomach and saying, “Mmmm! Yum!” as I eat off an imaginary plate with my other hand. Police station was harder than I thought to explain. “Police keep us safe.” (blank stares) “If someone is BAD… “(surely they must know this word I thought – opposite of good, basic vocabulary…) then I have an imaginary fist fight, etc. “then POLICE come…” (act out being arrested – looking REALLY sad) “and take them to the POLICE STATION” then I draw a picture. When they all finally act like they understand what I’m saying, we move on to the next job. I’m not completely sure how high the rate of retention is though. We had a quiz and more than I would care to admit put that a doctor works at a butchery. Really? I suppose that’s not entirely false if you’re considering a surgery room… 😉

There are a few teachers that will walk in my room and help me out sometimes. Sadly, two of my favorites are leaving this week because they were just here to student teach for a few weeks and now are going back to finish their studies. On Friday, one of them showed me a paper booklet he had that was a prospective students’ guide to some university in Virginia (most likely left by some other volunteer). He flipped through the pages of smiling students participating in all sorts of activities on the perfectly manicured campus. “It is beautiful, yes?” he smiled. “Yes, it is, “ I agreed, “I actually work near here…” and pointed to Washington DC on the map of the east coast on the back cover. “Heather, can I ask you a question? When are you getting married?” “Umm…I don’t know…” I answered awkwardly. He probably noticed the surprised expression on my face and quickly said, “because I hope I can come to your wedding. I want to come to America. Will you tell me when you get married? Please do not forget me.” “Sure,” I laughed, “I will remember you.” The other teacher also pleaded that I not forget him. He brought a few photos to school of himself to show me and said I could have one. “But only one please. These are the only ones I have.” I was touched by the fact that he would let me have one his only photos and could tell that he didn’t entirely want to part with them when I saw his face as I picked up one saying, “This one’s nice.” Instead, I told him that I could take a photo of the photo and that way we could both have it. He later sent me a text message expressing his gratitude for our time together and said that I was the first “white person” he had ever talked with and promised he would never forget me.

I HOPE that I am leaving the same lasting impact on my students who still can’t really pronounce my name, haha.  As I mentioned before “Padilla” became “PED-rah” so I decided to have them attempt my first name…the result? “Ca-do.” Yes, Ca-do. How this sounds like Heather, I have no idea… Believe me, we have done tons of enunciating every syllable and sounding things out to no avail.


Cado Pedrah, signing out until next time 😉

Recap of Week One

 Posted by Heather Padilla at 4:54 am  Rwanda  Comments Off on Recap of Week One
May 072011

The first week in a new place is always eventful and a bit energy-sapping as you are thrust into a new way of life in unfamiliar terrain and this has been no exception. I feel like so much has happened between now and just last Saturday when I first stepped off the plane into Kigali and was greeted by Jean-Bosco, the cheerful driver for Faith Victory Association (FVA). I remember him trying to practice his English on the way to the guesthouse (“Welcome! You are welcome!” “How is your family?” “How many brothers and sisters do you have?” etc.). I also remember feeling disoriented after two days of travel and not really in the mood for small talk but attempting to smile and be polite. That said, I have so much more energy now and looking back it’s been a good week full of tons of observations.

Funny observations:

-It’s not uncommon to see many people in the rural districts walking around with about two upside chickens in each hand. I had assumed they were dead and were being brought home to be cooked…but evidently, I was mistaken. They are very much alive. While parked on the side of the road, my coordinator motioned for one of the chicken ladies to come over. Before I knew it, she was handing the chicken in through the window…and then its eyes opened and it started flapping around!

-While visiting the small farm that FVA owns, I asked the name of a tall plant that is sometimes used as a fence because it grows to resemble a natural wall. At that moment, Achille, the other volunteer, picked a piece of the branch off and was looking at the white sap inside when our coordinator shouted, “Be careful not to get it in your eyes! If you do, you must find a woman who is breastfeeding and use the milk.” (What?)

-I was told that my first name is hard to pronounce so it might be easier to go by Padilla instead. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it at first but then decided that it sounded pretty sporty (going by last names and all) and might be kinda fun. Apparently Padilla is just as hard to say. All the students and teachers called me “PED-rah” after the first day so I made an executive decision to go back to Heather. It doesn’t really make a huge difference though because the students call me “Teacher” anyway. Well, that or “Natalie”…the name of their last teacher. 😉

-It was decided that I would teach P3 (third grade) English. I’m not sure if I’ll be moving around to other grades as the weeks go by or not but for now I enjoy the age group. The students are really funny. The first day they seemed really shy and quiet (well, apart from the breaks where they would just surround me and stare until one brave soul decided to talk to me, consequently opening the door for the rest of them to shake hands or hug me as they giggled). They have progressively become more talkative though (mostly when their Rwandese teachers are out of the room). There are five questions that they ALL ask me: 1) “How are you?” 2) “What is your name? 3) “Where do you live?” 4) “How old are you?” and my favorite 5) “What is your mother/father’s name?” Some of them are becoming more familiar with me and have decided to try and school me in English. As I walk around the room monitoring the class as they copy notes from the board (which takes forever, by the way, but is essential since they don’t have worksheets or workbooks) I will hear [Student]:“Teacher, teacher! What is this?” (holds up a pen) [Me]: “It’s a pen.” [Student w/ HUGE smile and congratulating eyes]: “YES!! Very good!” They then continue to ask me everything they can think of (paper, eyes, ears, nose, hands, etc.) and seem very surprised each time when I know the answers.  Speaking of answers, these students LOVE to try and participate when they know the answer. We studied how to tell time this week and I was a bit blown away the first time I drew a clock on the board and asked them what time it was. The class of 50 or so students was filled with raised hands…well, kinda.  They have this really interesting way of answering questions which involves not only holding their arm up but also shaking their hand back and forth at the wrist quickly while simultaneously snapping. The whole first day they did it I honestly thought the sound was coming from their wrists popping. I asked them, “How do you do that??” while mimicking the action and putting on a really confused face to which they laughed and showed that they were in fact snapping.

-I would really like to get to know each student but I have a hard time telling them apart since they all have shaved heads and most have uniforms (some can’t afford them). The first day I went around asking them their names as they were writing in their paperpads but couldn’t really comprehend anything they were answering because the names were very long and not anything I had heard before. There was one exception, however. I got to a boy in the back of the room and was preparing to smile and nod to a response like “Nwadarundyramandaru” but instead he nonchalantly responded with, “John.” John’s class has continuously been my favorite so far. He gave me a fist-bump on his way out, thus signaling the rest of the class that it was okay. They all give me a high five, fist-bump, or sometimes their own special handshake that they make up when they leave each day. 😉

More about the school:

Students come in shifts (7-11:40 and 12:40 to 5) with two classes of 50 each per grade per shift (about 1000-1200 students total when adding P1-P6 of both shifts). I teach two P3 classes in the morning and two in the afternoon. During the hour “lunch break” one of the P5 English teachers who has kind of designated himself as the friend/helper of volunteers, sits two wooden chairs down under the shade of a tree outside the classes for us to have “talk time.” A couple other interns (student teachers) stand around and talk also to try and improve their English. The first day I thought we were going to chat for a bit and then move into the lunch room…but we continued to talk for the whole hour until the second shift classes started.  Evidently many of the teachers and students don’t eat lunch. There is a “canteen” room but it’s basically a tiny cement room with a small table where I was told by my coordinator that the students with HIV are fed. She told me that I could go there if I need to eat. I figured if the students and teachers can go without lunch though, I can. Many of the students don’t even have breakfast.

The district is one of the poorest in the region and I learned yesterday that some of the children that attend the school I teach at are sponsored by different organizations. I was surprised when the English teacher who talks to me during the break said that he helps with Compassion on Saturdays. He started to explain that they give food and provide other help to the students that are sponsored when I asked, “Wait…Compassion International?” to which he replied, “Yes, they are international.” Compassion International is an organization that I have been involved with in the past (as a sponsor actually as well as with projects like Operation Christmas Child) and have a lot of respect for. I googled their involvement in Rwanda and found the following link (interview and picture of the director of my school):


Some things I have been really thankful for:

-Bourbon Coffee Shop (a clean, western coffee shop haven in town with free wi-fi). The drinks are ridiculously overpriced (the equivalent of $7 for a frappacino-like drink) but is worth it every once in a while.

-I am abundantly grateful for my laptop (especially after having it come back to life after it froze up for a day or so)…I have discovered that I can often pick up a wi-fi signal in my room that allows me to connect to MTN (the cell phone and, apparently internet, provider in Rwanda that seems to have quite a monopoly). Being able to connect with friends and family through technology is a blessing of the 21st century. I’m also so thankful I decided to cram a small cd-holder of a few dvds into my suitcase before I left. The sense of normalcy that comes from relaxing to some of my sappy favorites (e.g. You’ve Got Mail, The Holiday, 27 Dresses, Dan in Real Life…) after a long day is beyond words 😉

Muraho from Rwanda!

 Posted by Heather Padilla at 3:36 am  Rwanda  Comments Off on Muraho from Rwanda!
May 032011

After a bit of a rough start (i.e. luggage full of everything for the month being sent to another city, potential blow-out of laptop, adjusting to the city/life in general), things have finally started to settle down and I’ve found myself able to take a deep breath and relax a bit.

Yesterday I met the volunteer coordinator and another volunteer who will be working in the orphanage program. We had orientation at the Favor Guesthouse (my new “home away from home”) and then went out into the city center for lunch. We boarded the crowded city bus into town and it made me laugh to hear “Hotel California” blaring as I stepped inside. Somehow that song has made it to every hotel, restaurant, and public transportation vehicle of non-Western countries.  Once in the city we made our way through the crowds into a bustling restaurant where people went through the self-serve line piling their plates high with rice, bread, spaghetti, maize, fried potatoes, and a bit of meat and vegetables. I’ve only been here a few days but so far I’ve been surprised to see the starch-heaviness of the meals. While on the subject of food (which always seems to be one of the key points of interest that I’m asked about when I return from trips), the meals at the guesthouse have been very good. The first day I arrived, one of the staff would come and knock on my door with, “Breakfast!” “Lunch!” or “Dinner!” and then I knew it was my cue to go into the dining room for mealtime. There’s been a good mix from omelettes and crepes with blackberry and banana sauce for breakfast to rice, greens (of some sort), and pot roast for dinner. As far as exports, I was a bit surprised to see shelves stocked full of Nutella, peanut butter, and European biscuits (cookies for all the Americans out there 😉 ).

Other updates:

-visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial yesterday/17th anniversary of the event (I plan to have a whole entry in the future dedicated to this topic because it was a huge part of the country’s history – and unfortunately the only thing that most people associate with it)/ The country has made great efforts to be a peaceful nation since then. It’s sad/strange to think that anyone on the street of about 20yrs of age or older has personal memories of the violence that occurred over that 100 day period in 1994

-“African Time” – even though I had mentally prepared for it, it’s been a bit of a challenge going from a rigorous, packed “5 minutes early is on time” schedule to a “no rush – we’ll get there when we get there” mindset

-visited a farm today in the countryside on our way to see the school and orphanage/looking out at the green hills dotted with orange rooftops from a distance one might almost be reminded of Tuscany (upon closer inspection though the shacks become evident). “Africa would be a wonderful place if it weren’t for the poverty.” ~observation from coordinator

-got a chance to see the school where I’ll start teaching tomorrow/there are two shifts (students come from 7-11:40 and 12:40-5)/I’ll be teaching English and rotating around to all levels of primary school (1st-6th)/the school is EXTREMELY poor (no running water or electricity) and the students walk there from all over and crowd into rooms of sometimes 50 or 60 students at a time/some of the students don’t even have shoes…however, evidently they are still really good at soccer…the director’s assistant was very proud of how hard the students try and showed us all the medals they had received from games

…more to come later about my school…

-also visited the orphanage today/the woman in charge took over after her husband died in 2005 – she has 10 children of her own and is also taking care of the 52 children of the orphanage with no sustainable support/Despite the hard conditions, the children were so friendly and welcoming. Although it was supposed to be their nap time when we arrived, we were greeted by a herd of kids ranging probably from 2 to 8yrs old. They all gave us a hug and then latched on to our hands as we took a tour of the facility. Their stories were heartbreaking. One boy, probably about 6yrs old, smiled and sat beside the coordinator as she told us that he had been found in the mouth of a dog when he was an infant. Although they didn’t have much, they ran around with each other and laughed and shouted just like any child would. The funniest thing was the sight of two little boys (probably about 3 yrs old) seated facing each other with a handful each of little “playing cards” they had constructed out of torn pieces of a box. I’m not sure what they were playing but they were SO focused on their game 😉

I could go on but I’ll save some for later entries. I will say though that I am confident this is going to be a rewarding experience. Thanks for listening!

Goodbye for a little while, America…see you soon

 Posted by Heather Padilla at 1:21 pm  Rwanda  Comments Off on Goodbye for a little while, America…see you soon
Apr 262011

It’s official. Today I embark on a month-long journey to Africa. The goal of this endeavor? – to gain firsthand experience in the workings of volunteer services on the continent and to hopefully have a positive impact on people’s lives. No doubt they will probably have just as much, if not more, of an impact on my life.

I’m not big on keeping daily journal accounts but will do my best to write with updates as much as I can. Until then…

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