In November of 2012, I travelled to Rwanda with Vicky Trabosh, my dearest friend of 37 years, to see the land and meet the people that have become so much a part of her heart. And now I understand.
While I have journeyed to many places in the world, I had never been to Africa. After hearing about Rwanda and supporting Itafari for years, I told Vicky that I wanted to go with her on the next trip. The Itafari event last year in support of building the Kigali Parents Secondary School had touched me. Why couldn’t we get a school built? I wanted to see it for myself. I also wanted to see the mountain gorillas, which was an unbelievable experience.
It was an amazing trip. I would like to share some of my impressions of this land of a thousand hills.
I knew this would be an adventure. What I didn’t expect was the beauty of the land and how moved I was by the people. They are working hard on all levels to bring their country together and to rise up to become a modern center – self-sustaining and self-sufficient. They know they need help, but are not looking for handouts. There is an emphasis on education as one of the pillars of this development. They know that education is the way up. And I agree.
So, I am sponsoring a child. Over the years I have often thought of it, but never followed through. Then, I came to Rwanda. And I saw for myself what is happening there. People here are trying to make a better life for themselves and their children. Even the children are trying to make a better life for themselves and their sisters and brothers. How could I not
So, I am sponsoring Donata; helping her go to school and work to fulfill her dream ofbecoming a doctor. You go girl!!
It was clear that this small country does not have an abundance of natural resource commodities. But, they have people – lots of people. And people can be a great resource, especially when educated. Schools are only one way Rwandans are educating themselves. We visited Gahaya Links, one of Itafari’s partners. This is a cooperative where village women are taught to weave beautiful baskets and jewelry (sold by Itafari). It was clear how much it meant to the women to have a source of income to improve their families and communities. I enjoyed interacting with the women - watching them work and trying to talk with them. My Kinyarwanda is sorely lacking, but I’m very good at saying “Hello – how are you?” They were very warm in their responses.
One cannot visit Rwanda without facing the genocide. I went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial to learn and understand what happened here. Difficult emotions came up. “Over 1 million dead in 100 days”. It was impossible to wrap my head around it – both the blood shed and that the world did nothing to stop it. Everyone’s life here has been impacted by this violence. But the country is trying to heal itself and it is palpable. One can feel the collective strength of the people of Rwanda.
We also went to Butare to meet with Pastor John about a possible partnership with Itafari. John asked if we would like to come out to the construction site of his new church. Remember, everything is on a hillside in Rwanda. They don’t call it the Land of a Thousand Hills for nothing. So being the Muzungu (Westener), that I am, I assumed we would see a big piece of machinery digging into the red clay soil; leveling part of the hill. However, when we got there, I saw a different kind of machine. A Rwandan machine. I saw an army of women,and a few men, hard at work digging with hoes; leveling an area on which to build their church. Women with children on their backs. Women swinging hoes with an intensity I have rarely experienced.
And they were getting the job done! I realized that in my cushy modern life, I have lost sight of the enormous capacity of the human body and how much can be accomplished when moved by spirit and motivated by purpose.
These are a few reflections on my wonderful journey in Rwanda. You may have noticed that I didn’t speak about the school. I would like that to be the topic of my next post. I know we just met, but I hope you will stay tuned.
Murakoze cyane (thank you very much),
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"