Only Love & Togetherness: A Learning Trip Invitation to Rwanda

Dear friend, 

I am writing you today with a special invitation. At this time last year, you joined with fifteen-year-old Natalie to become part of a spontaneous hope-filled team of people. Together you raised funds for a special community-wide celebration in Rwanda, honoring the 20th anniversary of the Togetherness Youth Cooperative.

The goal was to raise $3,000 to cover the costs of producing a celebration worthy of marking this important 20-year benchmark; the result was raising an astounding $20,000 which was put to use for lasting community impact. I’m overjoyed that you and I were part of what many people considered a miracle.

Because you helped build this meaningful bridge to the future for the Cooperative, African Road co-founder and Executive Director, Kelly Bean and I want to extend a unique invitation. We are working together to assemble a very special team to continue the journey we started together last year—and it’s a team you might like to consider being a part of. We are calling this special team, the Only Love & Togetherness Learning Trip team

On July 7, 2020, a fourteen-member team, including my daughters and me, will embark on a journey of the heart and of partnership. The intent of this trip is to immerse ourselves in the culture of East Africa and to learn firsthand about the work the Togetherness Youth Cooperative. Togetherness was founded by Steven Turikunkiko for children orphaned in the Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi and now serves the children and families of an entire rural area. We will introduce you to our friends who will soon become your friends too. Together we will learn how friendship paired with healthy development, can bring hope and transformation. 

Before we get to the details of the trip, I’d like to share how the Only Love & Togetherness Learning Trip came to be.


“I WILL GO WITH YOU”

In July of 2018, Natalie and I were seated on our flight home from Kigali and had barely lifted off the ground when my typically emotional reserved daughter grabbed hold of my arm. In her grip, I felt desperation. 

“I don’t want to leave,” Natalie exclaimed through tears. “This is where I am supposed to be—you must promise me we will come back.” 

I found this declaration fascinating; I’d assumed that after being away from her friends and the comforts of home for two weeks, Natalie would be eager to return home. What could explain this intense desire to remain in Africa? I considered that question constantly as we continued our travels home. 

Once home, I listened as Natalie told her family, friends, teachers, and coaches memorable stories from her trip. I noticed one concept kept coming up – connection. Natalie had connected to people in Rwanda, particularly the children of Togetherness, so deeply it was clear that she’d experienced true belonging and discovered a new sense of purpose for her life.

Funny thing is, I found myself describing nearly the exact same experiences – but with the adults I’d come to know and love during our time in Rwanda, like Pastor Steven, Alice, and Annete. Togetherness Cooperative and Pastor Steven Turikunkiko live by this powerful motto, “We are blessed to be a blessing.” Everything that comes their way is used to bless those around them and to reach out to others. That kind of connection is life changing.

One of my friends from home reached out to me after seeing an online photo from my trip. She admitted that the image had moved her to tears because she was hungry for true, deep connection with fellow human beings from whom we can learn much.

Rachel with Alice Kajoina, the jewelry artist.

“Was it really like that?” my friend asked during a phone call. “I feel like I am supposed to go somewhere and connect to people as you did, but I don’t know if I can do it.”

As days and weeks went on and new people continued to reach out about the experiences Natalie and I had in Africa, the same question kept coming up: Would you ever go back? Could I come too? 

I couldn’t help but recall the life-changing words a dear friend said to me when I was considering leaving my comfort zone to take Natalie on our Learning Trip in 2018. 

I will go with you,” she said without hesitation.

I recall being made speechless by this gesture. This friend knew very little about the trip, only that I felt certain Natalie and I were supposed to go, but that I was scared to go abroad. In the end, she was not able to go along, yet those five words fueled me to push aside fear and listen to my heart.  

“I will go with you,” were the very words that inspired me to approach the co-founder of African Road, Kelly Bean, following our your incredible response to Natalie’s appeal to you exactly one year ago, to propose an Only Love and Togetherness Learning Trip.

I envisioned a travel experience that would provide a unique opportunity for a small group of my online community members and their family members, to form connections with the Togetherness community. Together we would gain an understanding of the Togetherness story that could then be carried back to share with each of own local communities. I imagined what might become possible when together as a team, in partnership with African Road, we each invite our communities to learn about and join the big dreams of our new friends at Togetherness.

I shared this vision and, Kelly said YES. For the past six months, she and her team have been planning a customized trip for the special ONLY LOVE & TOGETHERNESS team. This experience is built on the foundation of 10 years of African Road partnership and relationship with Togetherness and the joy of the ties of friendship and connection that began when Natalie and I made our first trip to Rwanda and have grown over the last year and a half.


WANT TO KNOW MORE?

We invite you to consider applying to become part of the 2020 Only Love and Togetherness Learning Trip team. If you want to see where the ONLY LOVE & TOGETHERNESS Learning Trip will be going in July click here for the full trip description and itinerary designed by African Road.

Click here (and scroll to the bottom of the page) to check out FAQ’s and click here to review the full Trip Packet.


READY TO APPLY?

 … I will go with you!

If you’re already feeling a desire to go with us on this life-changing Learning Trip, click here to apply. While I will be along on this trip, the team members will be selected by African Road and will be notified in mid-January. 

We understand that not all who would like to experience this beautiful connection will be able to do so in person, but, be assured, my daughters and I will be documenting stories and connections to share with you in time. We will also be creating unique ways to introduce our Rwandan friends to those who wish to virtually walk beside them while they reach for their dreams. 

Thank you for considering how you might join us as we embark on this ONLY LOVE & TOGETHERNESS journey. 

With love and hope, 

Rachel Macy Stafford 
New York Times bestselling author, speaker, and certified special education teacher 


*Message from African Road for application process:

While mature teens, accompanied by a parent or guardian are welcome on this special Only Love & Togetherness Learning Trip, please keep in mind that difficult issues related to genocide and sexual violence are part of Rwanda’s story and are something we will be exposed to. Due to this, the minimum age for travelers is 15, (in a few singular cases, exceptions to this age may be considered.) All applicants under the age of 18 will need additional personal and professional references. Each applicant of any age must complete their own application (no applications on behalf of a family member) and will be considered on an individual basis.

Please note that due to the care the African Road team will take in reviewing all applications, a non-refundable application fee of $50 per person must be received before your application can be considered. This will cover review and background check.

If you aren’t sure if you’re able or ready for a Learning Trip, but you are intrigued by the possibility of traveling with us to Rwanda, follow this page for periodic updates. If you have specific questions, be sure to read the FAQ and trip description first and then email your questions to [email protected]

Welcome to an African Road, -Togetherness Story of friendship and transformation.

Rachel & Natalie with Penina Shema, President of the Togetherness Youth Cooperative, Kelly Bean, co-founder of African Road, and two remarkable Togetherness community members