Celebrating One Year with Kate Kelley

Kate Kelley

A great leader is one that can lead by example while selflessly empowering others. I see this in Kate Kelley, a women whose favorite quote (go figure) is “be the change you wish to see in the world.” And let me tell you, she is going for it!

Moving into her second year as the onsite Program Coordinator in Rwanda for Kids Play International (KPI), I caught up with Kate for an insightful and thought-provoking Q&A. She leads an extraordinary life in a place that few foreigners have visited (let alone lived in for an entire year). Gatagara is the location of KPI’s Let’s Play Fair program and where we spend the majority of  time on our KPI Volunteer Trips. Kate is not only immersed in the program, she is part of a community.

We’ll be sharing Kate’s story in a two-part series because she’s that awesome.

Jaime Komer (JK): You live in a rural village in Rwanda, called Gatagara. There are probably not too many folk in the U.S. who can say they’ve had a similar experience. Can you share what this is like? What is a typical day-in-the-life of Kate Kelley? 

Kate Kelley (KK): The typical day-in-the-life is incredibly different than it used to be in New York City. It is much, much slower.

  • 7:30 / 8:00am:  I wake up (wishing I was the type that got up at 5:00am and exercised). After I get over the fact I’m not, I make some tea and sit on my porch overlooking our new pig farm and the hundreds of hills in front of me. While sitting there I usually say a little prayer that the Internet works today J If I’m motivated I make breakfast before I start my day, if not, tea and a protein shake does it.  I usually move my 4×4 plastic table to the space in-between the double doors and start working.
  • 11:30am / 12:00pm:  I scrounge around for something for lunch, usually tea and an egg, or last night’s pasta and head back to my “desk”.
  • 2:45:  I leave for the field. I walk 12-15 mins over two hills to get to my “official office” and where the Let’s Play Fair program takes place. I have a few little friends who join me along the way and Lydia, a 55-65 year old woman who lives by the field, always greets me with a huge hug (or three).
  • 3:00pm:  I arrive at the field and greet all of the kids and coaches who are present. On my way to our sports room I’m usually swarmed by our KPI fan club (a group of six 2-8 year old boys & girls).
  • 3:30 – 5:00pm:  We start the program promptly. The coaches usually hang around the sports room for 10-20mins after program and then I head home.
  • 6:00pm: I usually have another cup of tea on the porch before it gets dark and head inside. I cook dinner, do an hour of KPI work or so, an hour or two of my other projects and then try to watch a couple Ted Talks and Rick Warren (internet permitting).
  • 11:00pm:  I’m in bed and then repeat! 

JK: The Let’s Play Fair program empowers over 100 boys and girls, as well as the many local coaches that guide them. How have the kids grown / changed since you first met them (besides vertically)? 

KK: 1) We have become a community and the kids’ confidence is soaring. KPI works with three partner schools in our community, combined there are over 6,000 students. Our kids came from those three schools and did not know each other before starting.  To watch the friendships blossoming between boys & girls as well as same gender participants from different schools is very encouraging – in fact, it’s almost a problem! Talking, laughing, hugging, etc. are constant occurrences. Even our shy kids have made friends and we have grown into one big community that supports each other.

 2) Additionally, watching them grow individually has been a privilege. Kids who could not speak in front of a group are leading our stretching and team time. Our focus on both new and traditional sports has also given all the kids a chance to shine. For example, one of our older girls Sylvie really struggles with soccer and volleyball. This week we introduced baseball and the girl can catch anything – bare handed! The encouragement she is receiving from her teammates and coaches in baseball is validating her and showing her she is talented and capable.

JK: How about the coaches?

KK: For the coaches, I would say the most obvious growth is in our willingness to try new things and the respect we have developed for our kids. Culturally, there is nothing worse than failure. The fear of failure almost paralyzes adults and kids alike. The coaches’ willingness and ability to fail and try new things has really developed them into better coaches and teachers. Additionally, in Rwanda, like in many cultures, the adults do not necessarily respect the youth. Instead the adults demand respect without giving it. At KPI we have introduced that to receive respect you must first give respect. Our coaches have truly adopted that mentality and the relationships between the coaches and kids have flourished as a result.  

JK: What is your most influential or eye-opening experience thus far?

KK: Influential experiences take place on a daily basis here. To me the best part of traveling or living in a foreign country – developing or developed – is the recognition that we are all the same. We all want and deserve to be respected and treated with dignity.  The people in our community may have “nothing” by US standards yet I would argue they have more than we do. 

The kids are creative. They use the resources around them to build scooters, or make soccer balls, helicopters, windmills, and baseball hats. We have three year olds trying to sing the ABC’s and counting to 10, we have a 12 yr old artist drawing a life-like portrait of Obama and we have 15 yr olds composing songs and poems about the youth’s role in rebuilding Rwanda. There is so much life here. The poverty, malnutrition, poor education, and side effects of genocide are all around us but in the Western World sometimes that’s all we see. That is not Rwanda. Rwanda is a country of hidden jewels in remote villages just waiting to be discovered. 

Kate usually likes to hang out behind the camera, but we finally got her!

Kate usually likes to hang out behind the camera, but we finally found her while she was getting her hair done!

JK: While living abroad, what do you miss most?

KK: My family, friends, and sushi.

JK: Anything you realized you can actually live without?