Is This a Test?

The end of the year is a good time for reflection and New Year’s resolutions, a time of giving and receiving.  During my stay here in East Africa, I have often thought of the challenges I was facing, mainly having to do with the lack of modern convenience or unfamiliar concerns (e.g. bats, snakes and spiders).  I have wondered what grade would I give myself- how did I manage the challenges?  As I come to the end of my six months here is Rwanda I decided it was time to grade myself, how did I do?   Did I pass or fail the tests put in front of me? So here is my self-evaluation:

  • A+ GOAL- Overcome the HILL. It was a certainly a challenge my first day, and for many days, to walk up the hill to work without multiple stops to catch my breath.  I was determined that it would change, I now walk the hill with ease and pleasure, no stops required.
  • D- GOAL- Master a new language. Learn and use a new Kinyarwandan word each day, which would mean by now I should have about 180 words in my vocabulary.  It is no fault of my wonderful teacher and work colleague Naome, I just don’t have an aptitude for languages, disappointing as it is; I have acquired ONLY about 15 words, commonly used by most tourists.
  • C GOAL- Learn to use new apps/technology. Thank goodness for Katie, a Global Health Fellow and a great friend, I was sort of “functional” here (plus a shout out to Ash at GSK, who helps me in the same way at GSK).  I continue to struggle with learning new applications and could not have managed without her.  She willingly assists and never complains that I “should learn to do it”, like my kids do, when I ask for help.  I gave myself a C since I did learn a few new things—What’s App & Spotify (I know so easy), Facebook, Jumia, Yammer, how to Blog…….
  • B+ GOAL- Care for my most basic needs. Mastered the use of the water heaters and pumps, filled the water tank when it was dry (not an easy task since you have to climb up the side to open the valves-when the water comes, sometimes late at night or in a rainstorm), bucket showers and toilet flush, and I can hand wash all of my clothes (quick tip: too much soap + not well rinsed=itchy skin).
  • B GOAL- Learn to meditate. I failed this one, didn’t try it even once. Still I gave myself a B since without a TV, or other distractions, my alone time was spent journaling, walking the hills around the village admiring all of the beauty, in self-reflection and prayer.
  • C GOAL- Get physically fit. Yes, I can walk the “work hill” now and I religiously attend Katie’s calisthenics each afternoon but I confess it is hard to skip “class” since it is held in our office and there are only three of us…. being in good shape is still a 2018 goal!
  • B GOAL- Achieve PULSE Work Objectives. I met my work objectives for Partners in Health, hopefully the neonatal curriculum I leave behind will be implemented and save the tiniest of lives.
  • A GOAL- Be Grateful. I remembered to be grateful for my GSK colleagues, PULSE staff and managers, just about every single day, for supporting me and covering my work while I participated in this outstanding volunteer opportunity.  You know who you are and mere words cannot express my gratitude but I sincerely THANK YOU!!
  • C GOAL- Practice patience. Still needs improvement but I did learn to be a bit more patient; patient with myself, others and the lack of reliable utilities!
  • F GOAL- Complete my GSK ADP coaching application. I failed miserably, have not even started it, I guess I spent too much time in “meditation” on the weekends.
  • A+ GOAL- Make new friends. Achieved, was way too easy should have been graded on a curve.
  • B GOAL- Learned about Rwanda, its nature (my personal favorite), culture and history. Participated in Umuganda (the monthly mandatory public service day), attended a traditional wedding ceremony, visited museums and memorials, trekked to see waterfalls, chimpanzees and gorillas, went on safari in Akagera, visited the hot springs of Lake Kivu and the country’s borders with the DRC and Uganda.
  • B+ Goal- To Say Thank You Often. I hope he would agree with my grade assessment.  HE being my loving spouse, who never wavered in his support of my dream to go out on a PULSE assignment and made the HUGE effort to come and visit me and personally support PIH’s mission, not just once but twice (even though I know East Africa was not on his “bucket list”)!
  • Grade Unknown, GOAL- Be kind and generous to all I meet. I know I thought about this goal most days, it is/was the most important goal for me.  I worked hard at it, to have an awareness of self, how will I be remembered when I leave Rwanda and PIH?  Did I greet each person I passed with a smile, did I take the time to speak to the children who liked to practice their limited English phrases every time they saw me, did I make sure those who cared for me were cared for in return?  This goal is not for me to grade, I don’t know if I achieved it, only those I met on the dusty road, lived, or worked with can determine how I did.

In summary I think it all averages out to a B-.  I have tried very hard to represent America and GSK well here in Rwanda.  I was always conscious that I am a guest in this beautiful country.  A country, which has many challenges yet to overcome but one that is a rising star in Africa.  Rwanda is teaching other countries what they have learned from their past about the importance of community and forgiveness.  I would encourage each of you to visit this “land of a thousand hills”, it is extraordinary and welcoming.

So I end my Blogs from a small village in Rwanda with these final thoughts-What grade would you give yourself for this past year?  –are you generous of heart, with you gifts, your time and talents?   Were the words you addressed your children, spouse, or parents with this past year kind and full of the love and the compassion you feel for them? Was your smile reserved only for your family and friends or was it shared with everyone you met each day?  I don’t know about you but I prefer to get the “A” in the class so I will keep working at this one…… while I hate to say goodbye to those I leave behind, I look forward to seeing many of you soon and greeting you with a warm smile.

Wishing you and your families all the best in 2018!



  1. Hi Sue. What a wonderful experience. I can’t wait to hearing more about your trip. Enjoy your time and have a very Merry Christmas! Love Luanne

  2. Loved this one! You are hard on your self in my opinion-I know you and have experienced your smile myself and certainly know your an A student 👩‍🎓-
    The experience sounds like a life changing one so yes I will add to my bucket list! I thought about what you said about family. I could definetly say more kind words to my family as I am so fortunate at 50 to
    Have both parents alive and in relatively good health. Love and smiles,

  3. Another fab’ blog entry dear friend! And, you are your harshest critic – if you go by the 3 qualities that Warren Buffet looks for in a person – integrity, generosity, kindness (in a
    great article that I gave my 13 year-old Ana to read to deal with the throws of middle school) – you receive an A++. Look forward to catching up – safe travels home and Merriest of Christmases!!!

  4. Sue, I have enjoyed reading you do much! I think you should rate yourself on that as I think you have mastered that skill as well. Each blog you wrote was awesome and better and better each time. I learned so much about Ruanda but mostly about how fortunate we are and how much I have here. Thank you for sharing the great adevenrure of this dream you had forever. Hope to see you soon! Thank you!

  5. Dear Sue,
    I would give you an A+. What you have done is exceptional and it is a clear example of the love of God through you. I am very happy to learn that you are in process to go back home. I am very proud of you!! Looking forward to chat on your return! Merry Christmas Susana Margarita!!

  6. What a fascinating look back on your amazing journey, Sue! Hope you will enjoy reflecting on these self assessments in due time and it would be interesting to see if you would give yourself the same grades in a few years. 🙂 Enjoy your remaining days on assignment and a great holiday season! It was a privilege to follow your story since the start. -Vivian

  7. Susan – thank you for sharing! I never thought about it like this. There are many goals I had personally I know I haven’t completed and some I just couldn’t do – just because. But I do think overall we all need to be scored an A because of the grand effort. I loved following you on your journey – I have about 6-8 weeks left. I’m resetting some goals and hope like you to leave with a smile! Best to you and your Family and your transition back into the routine.

  8. Very thought provoking blog, Sue. I need to think about my grade – probably not too good in some environments…but a reminder of some goals all of us should think about. I have no doubt you have touched the hearts and lives of many, as they have touched yours. Everyone is a winner. Have a safe trip home….we sure have missed you. Thank your friends an colleagues for allowing you to share their experiences, their pictures and a glimpse into life in Rwanda with us. What amazing people!

  9. Gorgeous blog as always Sue. You are the epitome of what GSK expects as a Pulse volunteer. Can’t believe your time in Rwanda is coming to a close already. Happy Holidays and look forward to having you back in the new year.

  10. Time flies. Enjoy the rest of your time there. I am not much for grades, but you forgot to give your self an infinite A + (I am a bit worse than you on technology, can’t find the infinity symbol) on your integrity, courage and ability to connect, inspire and help us be better people. Remember that raindrop on your first blog, every time you blog and share your reflections it opens up a steady flood for me that inspires me to be a better person. Look forward to seeing you soon. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and wishes for an uneventful and safe trip back.

  11. Wow Sue. What a truly beautiful & touching post — THANK YOU for sharing. And thank you for all you gave of yourself and to others throughout your time in Rwanda. Through your blog, you remind me/us that so many of the most important life lessons we really did learn in kindergarten, as the saying goes! And I must say that I think you’re a tough grader — and if you asked those who you’ve been living & working with these past 6 months, my point would be proven 🙂 Wishing you and yours a wonderful, relaxing & GRATEFUL holiday season and a fantastic start to the New Year! We’ll be welcoming you home with big wide open arms soon!!! Keep being the change back in the US & GSK…

  12. Loved reading your blogs Sue. Agree with Bonnie, you have the vital 3, and humility as well. I love east Africa as a 2-time tourist and can’t wait to hear more about your experiences. You go girl! Barbara

  13. What a great blog! I love the self-reflection you’ve done. While I think you were probably a tough grader, I love your honesty and how you have pushed and challenged yourself. Rwanda was so lucky to have you. While you took something away and learned from your time in Rwanda, I’m sure you’ve left Rwanda a better place than how you found it. In terms of ADP certification, I am sure you are not an ‘F’. A quick conversation with an ADP coach should give you reassurance that you are much further than you think you are! Happy New Year, Sue!!

  14. Amazing!!! talk about putting up the mirror and having an honest conversation with oneself. Truly inspirational, thank you. I just got back from a quick pit-stop in Rwanda (sorry just missed you) and still ‘hungover’ from the impact that country (and the genocide memorial) had on me. Like you said, gratefulness, kindness & community ‘vision’ reach new limits every day. Here’s to a great start to 2018 with many more great things to be done.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s