I went to Rwanda stressed. I was planning a wedding, buying a house and moving jobs. At times, I thought the trip was an inconvenience. Other times I thought maybe it was the distraction I needed. Never did I think it could change my life. But the more I think about it, the more I realise just how much it did.
We arrived and not only were we in another continent, it might as well have been another world. Noise, smells, colour. Everywhere we looked there was action. Rwanda, Africa. We had arrived. Â
The first stop was the Genocide Memorial.
You never know how you will feel when you enter a place like this. So much tragedy can sometimes feel so overwhelming that it doesnâ€™t sink in. But this centre, standing tall on the hillside of Kigali, had an atmosphere that demanded your attention. It was like you could sense some of the pain left over from 30 years before. The testimonies on the films, the accounts written on the walls of the exhibition, the graves where the bodies of some victims have been laid to rest.
How could this happen?
We got taken to church. Big time. This Sunday morning was far louder â€“ and longer â€“ than my usual! Choirs, drama, dance and JOY. From the welcome of the village who danced to the beat of the drums, to the goodbye of the children running alongside our bus, waving us off, we had been blessed â€“ in style! I wonder if this is what heaven will be like.
A life-changing day. When all the other groups had been sent off to visit the homes of children in the community, I sat waiting, wondering if today would be the day I would meet the little boy I sponsored with Compassion. His family hadnâ€™t realised today was when they were supposed to meet us, we were told, and so no one was sure whether it would now be possible.
Then, clinging to the leg of his mother, I see 3-year-old Shema Prince, and my heart felt like singing. From the moment he gave me a hug, as instructed, I felt a connection to this little boy that I know will continue for many years to come. I feel so honoured to be a part of his life, and his family made it clear just how grateful they were too.
Running in high temperatures at a high altitude is hard! Todayâ€™s training run was seven kilometres across the hills of Rwanda â€“ part of the route we will run during the Muskathlon on Thursday. Ouch! Later, we helped at a sports day that had been organised for our sponsored children and others helped by Compassion. It felt as though for some, this was a very rare opportunity to act like the children they are, rather than the grown-ups they may sometimes feel they need to be.
Rest day. All we were told is that we were headed for Lake Kivu, but the surprise was certainly worth the wait. After piling into little boats and sailing out of the bay, we spotted an island with a red flag on top. On arrival, we climbed up the hill to find members of our group singing worship songs in the blazing sunshine. We all joined in, singing out across the amazing beauty of the lake, thanking God for all He has done. It was very special.
We then got back into our boats, this time on the search for some lunch. We were not disappointed. Landing on another island, we found waiters and chefs â€“ complete with those tall hats! â€“ lined up with cold drinks and hot food. It was like something out of a film!
Race day. It began early with my roommate â€“ who was doing the trek â€“ leaving around 1.30am! I had a â€˜lie inâ€™ until 4.30am, when we were up for breakfast and last minute preparations for the run or cycle ahead of us.
I felt strangely nervous, but took my place on the start line at 7am, surrounded by strangers who had over the course of the week become friends.
The route was hard. Up dirt tracks, down dusty roads, through villages and countryside. But we made it. Every single one of us. The medal I received felt good hanging around my neck â€“ I had earnt that.
The rest of the day was a celebration â€“ for the challenge weâ€™d completed, the huge amount of money weâ€™d raised, and most importantly, of our newfound love for this country and its people.
I will never forget my time in Rwanda. I always knew it was good to sponsor a child, but sometimes I was guilty of thinking about the other things I could spend that Â£25 on. Since meeting Shema Prince, I realised that Â£25 is the best money I spend all month. None of us alone can stop poverty, but we can each just help one person, and I will never again underestimate just how much good that does.
Amaris joined a team of 22 race-goers from across the UK to take part in a Muskathlon, an overseas adventure challenge hosted by 4th Musketeer and Compassion UK. Muskathletes chose from a half, full or ultra-marathon, 120km cycle or 60km walk through the communitiesÂ they're fundraising for.
Could you follow in Amarisâ€™ footsteps and take on the exciting challenge in Kenya in June 2018? Find out more >
ReadÂ more of Amaris' adventure by following her on Twitter @AmarisCole