SABA Episode #14 — Rwanda Beyond Mountain Gorillas

Hello everyone! This is your favourite mini-blogger, Enyanja! My dad asked me to write something to support Episode #14 of the SEE AFRICA BREATHE AFRICA podcast that talks about Rwanda beyond gorillas. (Now, this has really turned into a family business! Haha! My 14-year-old brother, Maani, is usually the person who approves the final edit of each episode, and now I’ve somehow also been pulled in!) You can listen to the Maani-certified 24 minutes above, or in your favourite podcasting app.

But I’m actually here to talk about a different family business! The show guest, Mr Matt Miller, is the wonderful headmaster of the school I’m currently going to, Virunga Valley Academy (VVA), that he started with his wife, Mrs Andrea, who is also now a teacher at the school! Anna, their youngest daughter, also just so happens to be one of my best and closest friends, but, wait, I was told not to go into Enya-centred things right in the beginning. Oops.

But, anyway, let me tell you all I know about VVA and what being its student is like! (If you prefer to watch, you can also see the recording above — of the Online Picnic the Gorilla Highlands Experts organised at VVA last year; aaattention: it ends with me, Maani and our little brother Lan!).

Virunga Valley Academy is an American international school in Musanze. After being squeezed into a residential building for some years, in 2019 the school moved to its current spacious campus on the Musanze-Rubavu (Ruhengeri-Gisenyi) road. It’s just kept growing ever since! In my first year at VVA I did my classes from a cozy area with a pool table situated on the Castle’s first floor. The Castle? Yeah, the Castle, which was drawn up by Asher Miller when he was 15, is where the library and art classroom are located. It is such a unique and delightful element of the school that I can’t help but love it! Now though, there’s a full-blown building that houses us, high schoolers, the middle schoolers, and the administration. A new chapel coming up next too!

Speaking of construction, I especially enjoy the layout of the school, how the large field in the centre makes everything feel more open and free. I can’t even count the number of times I ran across it, like the little kid I sometimes pretend not to be, just because I could. But, what makes the school particularly special, is not the buildings or the charming gorilla sculptures. It’s the people there and how everyone can come together to create such a beautiful community and environment filled with love and joy. That’s what truly makes VVA great to me and I’m always so grateful to Mr Matt, the teachers, and the staff who help create such an amazing place!

But, there is one thing I dislike about VVA … You see, unlike younger children who enjoy more traditional classroom schooling, I actually do most of my school work online. Though I do get Art, P.E., and Bible classes from excellent in-the-flesh teachers, the rest is on a website called Keystone. To be honest, I hate it! I have never been very good at managing my time properly so being in charge of myself like this has been a bit difficult. Then again I can’t deny that during the pandemic — and now that I am stuck in Uganda waiting for my papers to be processed — the online nature of the VVA experience has been a great blessing!

When I was first brought to study at VVA, I was really worried about how I would fit into everything, but I soon realised that I really had nothing to worry about. Everyone was so kind and welcoming that I found myself a spot in the VVA family without truly even realising it at the time! Thinking of those early days reminds me of how thankful I am to Mr Matt. He has always been such a kind, encouraging and light-hearted presence! In fact, a lot of my favourite VVA memories include Mr Matt and the way he would interact with all the students during morning assemblies and our weekly house parties. He has such a great sense of humour and you can always see how he truly cares about his students’ education and wellbeing.

Oh! Did I mention that the Millers are also missionaries?? While their friends around the world provide services like social justice, health care, literacy, economic development, they chose to do education! In fact, they first had to go back to school themselves to get the right papers to establish VVA. Now that’s a choice for which I’m truly grateful!

featured photo and the selfie by Matt Miller, other photos by Miha Logar


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