“KORA IBYIZA BURI MUNSI”
(Do good every day)
we have an opportunity for you!
You Are invited to:
In 35 years of owning cars I have rarely raised the hood. I’ve been to car shows and the hood is raised and men (predominately) are standing around looking at the engine. The only other time I see a raised hood with an audience, happens when there’s a problem with the engine. As a woman who is not blessed with mechanical prowess, a hood of a car that is up is either: a) boring or b) a problem.
A few days ago in Rwanda there were men standing around looking at the engine of the car we were using and there was b) a problem. Car issues are never convenient and so it was the case that I needed to get back to the hotel to get ready for our final night’s celebration with our tour group and some of our Rwanda partners. An important night for sure, and not a good one to be inconvenienced by a dead engine.
It was 5pm. It gets dark at around 6:30pm each day due to the proximity to the equator. I know we are going to be challenged to get this fixed and get me back to the hotel. But no one seemed concerned and what I was most curious about was HOW we could get it repaired and WHO would fix it.
Our country director called a friend who was a mechanic and he said he would arrive shortly on a taxi moto. “Great”, I thought, “and then what?” Where would we take the car? How could he carry tools on the moto? How does he even know what’s wrong??
Within 30 minutes a guy showed up and joined the small but interested group of men staring at the engine. He had NO tools but he didn’t seem concerned. The problem was explained in Kinyarwanda, and he began looking around the battery on this car with 190,000 km on it (which I was told is “not so many!”)
It seems the ignition wire had burned out. But this mechanic noticed a bunch of wires wrapped around the battery (Storage? Securing it to the block? Left behind??) Whatever the case, in the few experiences I’d had in engine gazing, no battery I’d ever seen carried a bunch of wires in that place.
The mechanic unwrapped the wires. He then took one and stripped the plastic off with his teeth. He checked for a spark on the battery and then somehow connected his dentally enhanced wire to something else and started the car! Really??! He assured us he could have the car running in 30 minutes.
They got a car for me to get me back to the hotel. As I sat in traffic on the way back, I marveled at this Rwanda I love. I’ve said it before: nothing will stop people who are determined to win and succeed. Not lack of tools, not darkness, not time constraints. Innovation comes from a place of passion and inspiration. That mechanic didn’t have an office. He worked by phone. He was so confident he could repair the problem. It followed that all of us who stood around believed he would find and fix the problem. No one was disappointed.
Where is that deep sense of commitment to success in me? It seems to me that we are often hamstrung by the smallest of obstacles. Innovation; passion; focus; partnership; faith in ourselves and others; these are the things that must be present to create greatness in ourselves, in our country, a moment, and in a lifetime.
If you could have seen this mechanic who had the following tools: his mind, his focus, his confidence, his teeth(!) and watched his success, you would wonder as I do why we as individuals and the Itafari Foundation don’t accomplish more.
Our two weeks in Rwanda have come to an end. Our programs are expanding, changing, improving and being revamped. All for one purpose: to create programs and services that support Rwandans to reach their biggest dreams.
ONE of our programs: Child Sponsorship
Our child sponsorship program has over 205 children sponsored. We held a party with 275 children last Saturday. Three people in our tour group sponsored six children. To be here is to know that $30 a month for these children is life changing.
The eight of us sat in the main room of one of the mothers of the children we sponsored. The room was 8 X 8. Claudine had a woven mat on the dirt where we sat with our legs folded over each other. The cool cement walls covered handmade itafari (bricks). A door without windows. Breaks near the ceiling to let in air. Dark with a small candle burning to give us light. A tin roof to keep out the rain. And she appreciated all she had. Nothing wasted, nothing taken for granted. As we left, Claudine thanked us over and over for coming to her home. She asked that God would bless us. She prayed for us! She is not discouraged. She is hopeful. I gave her a small gift of money and she is going to use it for English lessons so that she can call me!
I’ll be writing more blogs as I reflect on our trip. This eighth trip only deepens my commitment to our Rwandan partners. We’ll continue to work with them to seek solutions.
Maybe Itafari represents the wire wrapped haphazardly around the battery. The battery represents the people of Rwanda. Inspiration is the spark. And I personally believe God is the mechanic.
Please consider supporting this work of Itafari. Sponsor a child, help us build the Kigali Parents Secondary School, buy a goat, purchase a basket, donate for a micro loan. Give a general donation to support the work that it takes to run a foundation.
Hold an event where I come and speak to your friends about this amazing country, its history, its progress and most importantly, its people.
Whatever you do, be inspired to know anything is possible in your life with just a bit of faith, focus and confidence in yourself and others.
Contact me or the Itafari Foundation to learn more about our work.
I remember my second visit to Rwanda in 2006. I was here for a month alone and Itafari was less than one year old. Oh the possibilities – opportunities were boundless for what we could accomplish! By nature I am unconditionally optimistic. Then I met with a woman from the UK who was, to say the least, embittered by her experiences. I was shocked by her attitude and thought, “Why are you here? Why don’t you just go home if you’re so cynical?” She had worked in Africa, and had focused on Rwanda for some time. Clearly frustrated, clearly exhausted, her attitude and language was almost devoid of hope and joy. I remember thinking that I would never have that attitude. That intention has served me well in both Rwanda and in life.
I believe the ability to choose the struggle, the road less taken, to climb the mountain, is a choice. Every day to succeed for me means I must make that choice. Herman Buhl, mountaineer said “Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence.” Rwanda is definitely a mountain for me – and overconfidence is definitely put in its place here on a regular basis. The land of 1,000 hills – all of which I know I must face (and climb) if Itafari is to become successful in its support of the people of Rwanda.
Sara Oberdorf and I arrived in Rwanda on Thursday evening. It is ridiculous how happy I was to see this woman when we met up in Brussels! She is a friend, confidante, board member and truly inspires me and gives me her wisdom and perspective without hesitation or guile. Together we accomplish more than I ever could alone.
And yet in the quiet of the morning when jet lag has me by the tail and wide awake at 4am I contemplate what our work here means and how we accomplish our mission and goals. I’m reading “A Thousand Hills – Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It” by Stephen Kinzer. It is one of the best books I’ve read in terms of clearly defining Rwanda’s history and the motivation and clarity with which Paul Kagame leads this country. At the end of the book Kinzer explains, “If Kagame can achieve half of what he has set out to do, he will go down in African history. If he can achieve it all, leaders of every poor country on earth will look to Rwanda for lessons, and bands of angels will sing in heaven. How much of what he dreams is really possible? That was the last question I asked him.” Kagame’s reply: “Seeing everything, we can do it. We can reduce the number of people below the poverty line, reduce the level of dependence on donor funds, and truly develop our country. We can and we want to. We are convinced – very, very convinced. We want to do it, and we will.”
This gives me new perspective on the work of Itafari and our climb to support the people of Rwanda. Every great goal begins with a clearly stated purpose and undeterred focus on the ultimate objective: in our case, to support the people of Rwanda for their goals, their Vision 2020. And how better to do that than have our own Vision 2020 for Itafari? What if by the year 2020 Itafari no longer exists because it is no longer necessary to be a donor to this country? What if by the year 2020 Rwanda is developed to the point that it is a standard of what is possible in the face of poverty and overwhelming challenges?
Ah, that is a mountain worth climbing! To know that we’re here for a time and a purpose and this country is well on its way to its own greatness without need of charity as a means of support gives me renewed clarity and determination to be a part of the solution, not the problem.
That greatness is directly the responsibility of the leaders of Rwanda. To read “A Thousand Hills” reminds me that it is not the face of the man or woman you view today that tells you of their potential. It is their story, their perspective, their losses, their failures and their ability to rise again that makes greatness for themselves and a nation.
Tuesday, a small tour group is coming to join Sara and me as we show them the Rwanda we respect and support. They will meet the people without whom we could not do this work. And then we will ask them to add their own wisdom and perspective to our goals and objectives. Read about our trip here and at Sara’s blog. Murakoze cyane for your support. I’d love your feedback to our blog.
Ask yourself, what dreams do you have that direct and focus your life?
I recently had the honor of speaking at the Rwandan Celebration in Portland Oregon at the Rwandan Genocide Remembrance Day at Lewis & Clark College. The Pacific Northwest Rwanda Association sponoroed this important event. Second Counselor Andrew Tusabe from the Rwandan Embassy in Washington DC was one of the speakers who talked about the challenges and success that Rwanda is having in their country.
I am always humbled when asked to speak at such an event. But I have learned we must each do our part no matter how small we believe it is. Following is the text of my speech.
April 11, 2010
We are more alike than we are different.
Grief is universal; laughter connects people and the decision to change the world lies within each of us.
If you wonder why a mazungu is speaking today, you are not alone. I wonder myself. But I am. And so I'll share what I know - which I know is nothing compared to what many of you know.
I am here to commemorate and honor the people of Rwanda. Those of you who are here to today, and to remember those innocents who were killed through no fault of their own. Today we honor those who suffered or died, more by our action than our grief.
I just returned from my 7th trip to Rwanda in less than five years. I pay for these trips myself so if you ever consider donating to Itafari, know you're not paying for my seat on the plane!
If you don't know my story, I went to Rwanda because one woman asked me to come and speak about hope. What do I know? I knew what hope can look like. I know that healing can come over time. That when we lose someone we love, we can choose to never let their goodness die if we choose to focus on the difference they made while they were here.
Rwanda has changed tremendously in the five years since I've been traveling there. There's tremendous progress, but a huge amount that's left to be done. I was concerned on my last trip because the night before I was leaving three grenades went off simultaneously in the city. More innocent people were killed. And the terrorists (my word) accomplished their goal: to make people afraid. And there have been more grenade attacks since. So what can you or I do about it? We continue on. We don't become overwhelmed or intimidated by cowards who use violence to speak, rather than words.
You may not be able, willing or interested in getting involved in the politics of your country. I can't blame you! I'm not interested in becoming involved in the politics of this country. But how you or I live our lives speaks volumes of what we truly believe.
You're here today. Some of you because you want to be. Some of you may feel you should be here. But you're here. And this unique group of people will never be gathered again. We represent different experiences, different attitudes, different goals, different hopes, and different dreams.
We have different colors of skin, are of different faiths, or of no faith at all. We are men and women, boys and girls, young and old. We have vastly different experiences. Some of us want to talk about what is possible, others want to be silent. Some have hope, some have lost all hope. But what if who we are as a group, is just the group we need to be?
The role John and I play here today is a small one. I'm honored as always to be asked to speak. I'm so inadequate for this job, but I do it anyway. So know that I know I don't know much. But I'm passionate about making a difference in the world and the part of the world that I care to make my difference is Rwanda.
Some of the finest people I've ever met in the world are from Rwanda. Rwanda has changed my life. And so I do what I can to pay that forward. To change lives as mine has been changed.
I'd like to conclude with the following thoughts: your attitude and words have power. Choose (and use) them wisely. Don't wait until you're perfect to reach your goals and dreams. Never stop believing in the goodness that is in the world. Be vigilant in speaking out or taking action against those who would choose to tear down what is good. Disagree with courage and respect. Keep hold of your emotions so that you can be heard. Know that forgiveness is for your soul, not the soul of the one that caused you or a loved one harm. To find peace within yourself is the greatest gift you bring to the world.
Murakoze cyane and "kora ibyiza buri munsi" -
in Kinyarwanda, "do good every day"
What do hippos, goats, and rollers have in common? Everything if you're in Rwanda.
I'm here in Rwanda for my 7th visit in less than five years. Nothing is better than doing what you're meant to do with people of vision and integrity. The work of the Itafari Foundation allows all of us to work with people determined to be known by their strength and resilience, not by a genocide that happened 16 years ago. The past should never be forgotten, but the future lies ahead of us: full of hope, challenges, joy, sorrow and impossible problems which will be solved.
One of our problems right now is getting water to the goats in our child headed households. Each of these 35 cooperatives, which are in the south, east and northern regions of Rwanda have been given 15 nanny goats and a billy goat from S. Africa. Their task: raise the goats, plant elephant grass for feed, use the manure for fertilizer, run their small business and within about three years become self sufficient. A huge task - much more so for children raising their siblings. But NEVER underestimate the power of the human spirit and a big dream to be independent.
Today I go back to Nyagatare to visit the first cooperative to whom we gave goats to in 2007. They call themselves the Power of Love! They get the need to inspire themselves and are aptly named. They've had success but also some severe challenges. Water is not always easily accessible. And goats are thirsty. The minerals they are given make them thirstier.
To get water to them requires the herdsman to fill jerry cans full of water. They each weigh about 45 pounds when full. Can you imagine carrying one for each goat each day over the land of 1,000 hills? The herd we were looking at has 35 goats. Can you imagine walking miles and miles each day carrying 45 pounds in your arms? Understandably, neither can the herdsman!
But if I've learned one thing in my work in Rwanda it's that you don't keep your problems to yourself; you ask others how they can help you.
Before I left for Rwanda I was speaking of my thirsty goats and said, "I don't know how we'll solve this impossible problem, but we will!" Two people from the audience came up and offered to help. One mentioned HIPPO ROLLERS which are on display at OMSI in Portland. Had I ever heard of them? No. the other person sent me the link to their site: http://hipporoller.org/ and then offered to buy three for Itafari and our cooperatives.
From there, the dream has grown bigger. The Hippo Rollers, which allow a woman or child to move 200 pounds of water EASILY only costs $100 each! It's the shipping that's the killer. But, impossible situations are meant to be solved, and we'll figure it out. In the meantime, the first person that offered to help donated $500, then another friend donated $1,000. We have enough to buy 15 rollers - and we've only just begun.
Have YOU ever been extremely thirsty? What do you do? Get water. Not so easy for a goat, a young person trying to carry water, or a group of people trying to thrive on their own. But you can help. Give us a hand, and literally, the children will do the heavy lifting which you have just made light.
Many things are changing in Rwanda - for the better. But there will always be challenges if you want to make a difference in the world. And I do. And so do all the many donors of Itafari. Join us. Send me an email letting me know your interest. I'll contact you when I return home on February 21st.
$100. In Rwanda, a hippo roller becomes a gift to a cooperative of children determined to raise goats, raise their standard of living and raise their opportunities in life. Can you imagine?
Write to me at Vicky@itafari.org or call the Itafari office with your donation at 503-636-3692. If you want to give on the website go to http://itafari.org/donate and check give any amount - make sure you note as you pay that you want it to go for a hippo roller.
Murakoze cyane! (thank you so much!) Warmly, Vicky
is unlike many African countries. One of
the ways they distinguish themselves is with their plan to transform the country
by the year 2020. This aggressive goal
is not just a good idea: it is the
compass by which the country and its leaders are charting their course.
the conclusion of the document the writers state:
“VISION 2020 represents
an ambitious plan to raise the people of Rwanda out of poverty and transform
the country into a middle-income economy. Some will say that this is too
ambitious and that we are not being realistic when we set this goal. Others say
that it is a dream. But, what choice does Rwanda have? To remain in the current
situation is simply unacceptable for the Rwandan people. Therefore, there is a
need to devise and implement policies as well as mobilize resources to
bring about the necessary transformation to achieve the Vision. This is
realistic based on the fact that countries with similar unfavourable initial
conditions have succeeded. The development experience of the East Asian ‘Tigers’**
proves that this dream could be a reality.”
note: **East Asian 'Tigers'
refers to the term Four Asian Tigers or Asian Tigers refers to the highly developed economies of:
- Hong Kong
- South Korea
Please download the PDF to read more
about the focus of this amazing country and its leaders: click here for download
When the stock market went wild in the world last September, I was in a hotel room in Kigali. What little access I had to TV gave me dire predictions of an international financial meltdown. Fifteen minutes, twice a day, from CNN World and the BBC was more than enough news a year ago.
A year later, I wait to return to Rwanda. Indeed, some of those dire predictions have certainly come true. But others have not. Life goes on. Not as we thought it would and for many of us our future may be different than the one we envisioned. But I know that we must continue to do the right things right. We must continue to choose to make a difference in the world. And those who are so much less able to bear the changes continue to need our assistance. And NOTHING does more to buoy my spirit then when I have the opportunity to make a difference in the world.
Itafari has given so many of you that same opportunity. And I’m asking you to support us once more.
Itafari just celebrated its 4th birthday! And our work has just begun. Like any four year old, we’re learning our way, struggling to do things that maybe a bigger kid (foundation) would only have the courage to try, and finding that our efforts are working – but not as quickly as we would have hoped.
In spite of all the challenges, we continue. So many of you continue to support Itafari.
THANK YOU again for all you do.
Our challenge now is to finish our commitment of $250,000 towards building the Kigali Parents Secondary School. An amazing school that will support the Kigali Parents Primary School (KPPS). KPPS has consistently had the highest scores in the country for their children in the national tests. The highest. And the school is open to all children, regardless of race or ethnicity. A school we are proud to partner with.
And so what better way to build this school than brick (itafari) by brick (itafari).
The government recently required that all buildings be complete before they can be occupied. (we were going to build the school in phases). Our goal is to open the school for the January 2010 term. The building has begun! You can see the pictures on the website under VIRTUAL FUNDRAISER or on the presentation that’s also on that same page on the website.
A unique and personal gift. An incredible remembrance of a loved one. A statement that you believe in the power of education. A reminder to yourself that anything we do, large or small, changes the world.
You can donate online at the website, call me, or send your check to
27 El Greco
Lake Oswego, OR 97035
Your gift is 100% tax deductible. We will give you a beautiful personalized gift certificate. And you know that this brick, this itafari, is a sign for you and the children of Rwanda that we must never ever ever ever ever give up.
I hope to be back in Rwanda in January or February to see what we have accomplished together. Itafari by itafari by itafari.
Itafari Foundation – Rebuilding Rwanda One Brick at a Time
April 7, 2006
United Nations, New York City, NY
My name is Victoria Trabosh and I am President of the Itafari Foundation. The word Itafari is Kinyarwanda for brick. I will explain how we chose this name later in my comments. We are a not for Profit 501(c)(3) Foundation dedicated to assisting the people of Rwanda. In the few minutes I have, I would like to tell you why we formed Itafari and how we are assisting people in Rwanda.
We know that genocide is not a crime of passion. It is a premeditated act. And so then is Itafari’s mission to assist and empower Rwandans. Itafari’s focus is premeditated. Our determination is premeditated. What drives us, anyone, outside of Rwanda to want to make a difference?
We know that the genocide in Rwanda was not an African problem but a larger issue. We know it was a human rights violation. And we cannot stand by and ignore the results of our earlier indifference.
Twelve years ago, I missed the genocide. I don’t remember hearing anything about it. I did not know where Rwanda was.
In 1984 I visited Yad Vashem in Israel, the holocaust memorial outside of Jerusalem. And after spending hours in the memorial I believed: never again. I believed that the evil that killed millions of Jews could never be repeated. And I felt assured that the world had learned its lesson.
I noticed what a serious place Israel was. Its people were not frivolous or wasteful. And I found the same true in Rwanda when I was there in June of 2005.
When I visited the genocide memorial in Kigali, Rwanda, I think I was less shocked by the images and human remains because I was prepared for what I would see. But I was not prepared for my remembrance of the Holocaust memorial and my belief that it would never happen again and then knowledge that it had happened again and again and again.
And so we know that another genocide in Rwanda is as close as our indifference. Another genocide is as close as our denial that it COULD ever happen again. And another genocide is as close as Darfur.
But we also know that one person can make a difference. A woman named Rita Ngarambe asked me to come to Rwanda and speak about hope. I met her at a meeting in Portland Oregon in March 2004. She was visiting Portland through World Vision as Director of the Microfinance Program.
Through her inspiration and belief that I could make a difference, I began to get interested in Rwanda and since that time, the intention of making a difference has been multiplied countless times by countless others.
In May 2005, I held a fundraiser for the Women of Rwanda to raise awareness and money for the Microfinance program in Rwanda. Two women, Karen Freelander and Bethe McChesney who attended the event, pledged to raise $50K through Pay It Forward Events.
Their desire to make a significant contribution and a life changing difference for others led us to the formation of the Itafari Foundation.
Itafari is Kinyarwanda for brick. And a brick represents the weight of a malnourished child that cannot be comforted. It is the burden that a woman carries as she struggles to find a way to feed her family. It is the color of the soil that a woman sees as she is being violated face down in the dirt. But, the brick also represents hope.
One brick alone can do nothing but together we can build something for and with the people of Rwanda.
And so Itafari’s purpose is clear – to help rebuild a nation one brick at a time.
Everyone touched by Itafari must be empowered. Our donors, board members, recipients and those who casually observe what we do.
Organizations formed like Itafari fill a need. Rwanda is a country full of people who are survivors, orphans, widows and widowers, men and women of great vision, children and even the guilty, there is no end to what must be done and what can be accomplished.
Our foundation is exclusively for the people of Rwanda. And that cannot change. After all, our name, Itafari is Kinyarwanda!
Eight million people live in Rwanda. And while we do not offer pity, we come with determination. A determination to quench this fire within us to reach out to another human being in need.
As their equal.
As our brothers and sisters of the human race.
We are an organization made up of more than just wazungu (white people), though there are a number of us. We are also African American, Rwandan survivors, lawyers, writers, screenwriters, musicians, housewives, retired executives, professors of African history, students and children and most importantly: we are people who care and believe that one person can make a difference.
We are all concerned citizens of the world who do not have all the answers but seek a better life for ourselves and others.
When you have the ability and space to create something for another, you should act.
A friend recently wrote a note to me that said, we celebrate and honor those who have died more by our action than by mere grief. Not everyone has the opportunity to do that. Not everyone came through the genocide whole enough to do anything but survive, or worse: wish they had not.Many Rwandans who I have met, both in the US and in Rwanda are lifting themselves and others out of the wreckage of a human explosion that was not their doing or desire. And they are doing work that is necessary and combats all that is evil. Here are some examples:My dear friend, teacher and survivor Nassira teaches me Kinyarwanda and will not accept money for her efforts.Jean Paul Samputu, along with Jacques and Vincent, travel tirelessly throughout the world sharing the beauty and joy of the music, dance, and traditions of Rwanda.And Immaculee Ilibagiza who has found the way to forgiveness as many before her who are left to tell have also found a way to heal.This anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide that we must remember happened because the world became complacent.
And however small the efforts of Itafari are, our faith and belief that one person makes a difference is enormous! The size of the undertaking is also enormous but the human spirit intentionally focused can create unbelievable change.
Our focus is on widows and orphans, microfinance, education and equality for all Rwandans in the world.
We do not define Rwanda by its genocide, but by the strength of its people who refuse to give up.
I will spend May 2006 in Rwanda meeting with organizations, groups, and individuals who have a vision of how Itafari’s assistance can be useful for them.
For more information, please visit our website itafari.org, take a brochure or see me after this session.
There is no end to what we believe is possible. We look to the future.
To educating the children.
To believing in reconciliation and forgiveness.
To listening to and for what the Rwandan people need and want.
To working with Rwandans of integrity like Immaculee and Jean Paul who believe that their nation can be healed.
And to paraphrase Winston Churchill, to never ever ever ever give up.