The tree on our shirt…

This is a story from my trip to Rwanda over winter break, and it’s about our t-shirt.

You know, the one with the tree?

I arrived safely in Kigali, Rwanda on December 19th. My suitcase did not. We weren’t reunited until about six days later. In the mean time, I had my backpack with a toothbrush and change of clothes. I’m not complaining because I was so happy to have made it there, I could not care about anything else.

One of my two outfits was our Cortina shirt. I had been wearing it for about three days without much attention when I was keeping a girl company while she washed dishes and two of the Rwanda FACE AIDS team members were outside too. One of them, Bosco, asked about my shirt. I told him about our community, and he asked what the tree meant. I had no idea. Bosco told me about how he uses the idea of a tree to educate people about HIV/AIDS. He said:

“I consider roots as causes of HIV/AIDS which cause people to be infected, trunk as HIV which is destroying immunity/killing cd4 of someone, and consider part of beginning of branches as AIDS when someone is suffering many different diseases cause of lack of immunity/CD4 then branches, twigs and leaves consider as consequences which can be harvest of our tree… After demonstration of this tree I have to ask questions like these; around our tree are houses when you uproot it direct can destroy the houses around, as FACE AIDS youth global movement how can we eliminate/uproot this tree without destroying the houses around? How can you identifying the causes and of this tree in your community? If its roots and branches reached far from different areas /wherever the world what can we do as FACE AIDS Youth Global Movement? What is seed of this tree (major cause which is also a consequence)?”

After that we all talked about “Obama-style” shirts and I don’t remember what else, but we have been friends ever since. I wanted to share this story with you because it was amazing to bond with someone who lives 8,141 miles away from here by talking about the tree on our shirts. After that I wasn’t as worried about acting a certain way or saying the wrong thing in another culture; it was my new and only mission to learn as much as I could. To tie this all together, last weekend I asked Annie what the tree on our shirt stands for. She said it doesn’t necessarily have a specific meaning for us, but trees are commonly used as a symbol of life and the roots are symbolic of digging deeper and looking for deeper meaning in what we do. How great is that!?

While I’m here…

Have you heard about Partners In Health? Paul Farmer? The answer I’ve been getting more often than I expected is, “No.” That’s okay because I’m going to tell everyone I know about the movement for global health and how this organization is changing lives by caring for the whole person. When illness prevented one woman from work, she was not able to send her daughter to school, and she told us she used to cry every night. Then, Partners In Health helped her not only receive treatment, but allowed her to rent a home while she saved for her own. They also paid for her daughter’s school fees. She told us she used to cry every night, but now she has hope. Almost eighteen years ago, the country was destroyed by genocide, but today it has so much hope.

Nkunda u Rwanda.

-Jordan Kellerstrass


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