Inga Storen studied Biology and Chemistry in High School, gained admission to Medical School in the US, but today is an English instructor at the Belgian School in Kigali (Ecole Belge de Kigali). The Norwegian volunteer spoke to Moses Opobo about her decision to swap the lucrative medical profession for voluntary work, and why she calls Rwanda home.
When did you come to Rwanda?
It was in 2009. I had been admitted to medical school, but my admission would take effect after a year. I had all this free time on my hands, so I decided to enroll with the Harvard University’s volunteer programme, World Teach, which sends volunteer teachers to developing countries.
Why Rwanda in particular?
I wanted to live in Africa for a long time, and maybe learn a native language. I went to South Africa in 2008, and stayed the for four months. In that country, most land is owned and fenced off. The wildlife there can’t move. I was studying Biology at the time, and went on a programme of catching animals and freeing them into the wild.
We caught giraffes, elands, lions and ostriches. South Africa was very racist and I did not like it. The whites and blacks lived a separate life and everybody seemed fine with it. We stayed in tents separate from those of the natives and were advised against eating with them.
On arrival, what struck you about this country?
I was very surprised to find a vibrant night life here! It’s easy to make friends in Kigali. People are so open. Every weekend, I would meet other volunteers and we compare notes. I decided there and then that I was not going back into medicine. I would remain a teacher and stay here.
We had a two-week training in Kinyarwanda, the education system, a bit of the country’s history and the life and culture here. After that we were dispatched to teach in different parts of the country. I was posted to Kagarama SS in Kicukiro, where I taught Biology and Computer Science. I discovered that students are the same all over the world.
After a year, I left Kagarama and came to Ecole Belge de Kigali. It’s a private school jointly funded by the Francophone Community of Belgium and the government of Rwanda. We follow the Belgian curriculum 100 per cnt. Instruction is in English, French, Spanish and Latin.
Why voluntary work over a lucrative medical career?
(Laughs) well…I guess it just suddenly became very important to me to feel happy in my own way. It feels kind of good to have one’s own purpose in life. You realize it’s more important to be happy than live in the best city and wear the best clothes in the world.
I teach English, although I studied Biology, but then I know it’s what I want. I have debates with my students, we argue, we laugh and crack jokes.
My students are mostly between 12-18, and I believe that’s the most interesting phase of life. In a country such as this, where the Vision 2020 places so much emphasis on education, it’s always flattering to know that one is a part of it.
Can you speak any Kinyarwanda?
I can follow a conversation vaguely. Before I came, I didn’t speak French, so I’m learning that too. I feel it’s disrespectful to stay in Rwanda without knowing the local language. I don’t want to remain a tourist forever, but to become a citizen of Rwanda.
I hugely love the Intore dance. It’s so graceful and elegant. For the food, give me rice and peanuts anytime. Actually, my first year in Rwanda, it was rice and beans throughout. Even getting avocado was a luxury for me. At first it was all fun, but after a while, I was craving steak.
Ultimately, my dream is to set up a large cocoa plantation in the hills of Rwanda, and maybe a candy shop in Kigali.