“All my life I had dreamt of returning to Rwanda to reconnect with my home and make peace with it. So in my final year at university, I decided to focus on making this a reality,” says Louise. She spent a year intensively preparing for her trip, fundraising and getting ready mentally with therapy, before travelling to Rwanda in 2013 as part of a team of volunteers working at an orphanage.
A highlight was being invited by the Rwandan High Commission to carry the Rwandan flag on Commonwealth Day. “That was an amazing feeling; it was the first time I had represented Rwanda about something positive,” says Louise.
However, the trip proved to be very difficult emotionally.
I had built up a fantasy in my mind that a family member would appear one day, take me home, and all my feelings of chaos, sadness and displacement would disappear.
“The reality was that after all that time, Rwanda felt very foreign to me. It was difficult being surrounded by smells, sounds, and hearing a language that was so unfamiliar yet felt like home. I wasn’t just on a volunteering trip wanting to make a difference – for me Rwanda was very personal. This made it very difficult to just blend in,” says Louise.
“I had to rebuild my life after that trip. Things fell apart so I had to rethink about what kind of life I wanted, and build a lot of resilience.”
This year, which will be the 25th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsis, Louise will be running the Kigali International Peace Marathon in aid of the First Lady’s Charity, the Imbuto Foundation, which delivers programmes in health, education, youth and economic empowerment.
“Even though I’ve spent more time out of Rwanda than in it, my connection feels very strong,” she explains. “My adoption has given me a certain amount of privilege, for example, with my education, and now I would like to give this back to children in my home country.”
Louise’s experiences in her personal life have naturally impacted on her professional goals and career at the University too.
“Since setting myself the goal of running a marathon, it really has sharpened my personal and professional drive and aspirations,” she says. Achieving the seemingly impossible for me is down to clarity of direction, vision for success, having a plan, and a good support system to help me through the challenging moments.”
My life journey and experiences, including the challenges that have come along the way, have equipped me to be better at my work. They enable me to come from a place of empathy and have a multi-layered understanding of equality. Though at times working in a field you’re personally invested in can make boundaries difficult, that authentic passion can really create magic.
“I’m black, gay, a woman and have a disability. My work as an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Officer is both professional, political and personal.
“I’ve always been passionate about advocating for others’ rights and feel very lucky to be doing this as my full-time job.”
Find out more about Louise’s journey on her blog.
Take a look at Louise’s fundraising page.