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?
It is not what we talk about doing, but what we actually do, that matters.
On August 24th, Sara Oberdorf and I leave for Rwanda. We’ll be greeting our travelers from the United States who will begin arriving just a few days later. Our trip will be one of profound moments, laughter, reflection and sights and sounds that will change each of us forever.
Watch for blogs on the website, donate to the amazing programs we support, and keep us all in your thoughts and prayers.
Changing lives is not hard, but it is work. Yet our lives are changed immeasurably for the better as we support those who care so much to make a better life for themselves.
How can we do anything but support them?
In Rwanda we say, “Kora ibyiza buri munsi” (Do good every day.)
What good will you choose to do today?
Together, we are rebuilding the country of Rwanda
itafari (brick) by itafari (brick) by itafari (brick).
President and Co-founder
Itafari Foundation is a registered 501(c)(3) organization