Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Rwanda

So my trip to Rwanda is the one leg of my journey where I won't be meeting with any CT franchise locations, becuase there aren't any here. But there is a CT connection, which I'll share in a moment.
My friend Jean and his wife met me at Kigali airport early Monday morning (March 3), but we didn't stay in Kigali. Jean and Janeen work in Rwamagana, about 40 minutes outside Kigali in a more rural settting. Jean is Rwandan, and is the Executive Director of ARDR, the Association Rwandaise pour le Developpment Rural, a local NGO which works to improve the lives of widows and orphans in rural areas, and Janeen is an accountant with another NGO working with HIV/AIDS programs in the country.
For those unfamiliar with Rwanda, it's a very small country in central Africa with a relatively high population. The population mostly speaks Kinyarwandan, but about half also speak French and maybe 1/3 speak English. It's a beautiful country, very green and lush, and is best known for it's mountain gorillas, and for the genocide you may have heard about which culminated in 1994 and resulted in the death of around a million people (the country's population today is 8.5 million). There is no one in Rwanda whose life was not affected, often traumatically so, by those problems (more on that later).

Nonetheless, I found the Rwandan people are moving forward in a remarkably positive way. Hundreds of aid organizations provide assistance in various forms to the country, and Jean's' ARDR was created after a Japanese NGO pulled out of Rwanda in 1999. The rural parts of Rwanda in particular are struggling more than the urban areas (Kigali), and there are many widows, orphans, and child-lead households as a result of the past problems. ARDR works with these groups in an association/cooperative format: members pay $2USD per year to join the association, and from that $2 they get health insurance for a year (including full retrovirals for HIV treatment, thanks to the Rwandan government), functional literacy training, agricultural traning and support (bannana and pineapples are plentiful here), and other support. I'm pleased to announce that Computer Troubleshooters will join ARDR as their first business member, and I've also joined as a personal member (we both paid more than $2 of course) and I'm looking forward to providing whatever support I can to assist in this very worth cause.

After a quick nap at my hotel (Hotel Dereva, in Rwamagana, which is a lovely place and I'll definitely stay there again, but it does make you appreciate some amenties other hotels have such as hot water, toilet seats, and no bed nets!), we toured some ARDR field operations. I met a woman who grows bannanas on a good sized plot of land (several acres). And we visited a group of women who were making crafts as another way to be self-sufficient. I wasn't expecting it, but they had prepared a reception for me including a presentation of some woven baskets & containers they make (which are quite extraordinary), and also some singing and dancing (in which I had to participate, but fortunately there are no photos of this). I did get some video of the girls dancing, so I'll post that eventually.

We also visited a kindergarten ARDR supports, where the children were learning to count by moving rocks on a bench:

That evening Jean and Janeen hosted a dinner at the ARDR offices, which included members of the Gideon's organization in Rwanda (which Jean recently became involved with), and the pastor of Jean's church (Jean and I originally met at my church in the US, while he was in the country part of last year). The food - everywhere in Rwanda actually but especially at this dinner since it was prepared by Janeen - was wonderful, the people were very friendly, and enjoyed the time thoroughly.


The next day we drove into Kigali and visited the Genocide memorial. This is something you have to see, but it's not for the faint of heart. It's hard to convey the feeling of what that time must have been like, with a significant portion of the population targeted for extinction by their friends and neighbors and even family members of the other tribe (Hutus vs Tutsi's). The images are painful, especially an exhibit which showed the photos of smiling children, and included facts like their favorite foods, their favorite songs, the games they played.... and the way they were killed (hacked by machete, grenade thrown in their room, etc), their last words or last images, etc. Very painful. More painful is the portion of the exhibit that shows in great detail how the international community knew what was happening and wouldn't respond. Again, very painful to see. The genocide touches every aspect of life in Rwanda today, but there is encouragement in how quickly the people have moved past the problems of the past and learned to work together to build a better life for themselves and their progeny. Rwanda is rapidly growing, and improving, and can teach all of us alot about forgiveness.


After a brief tour of downtown Kigali (including a failed attempt to use Kigali's first ATM machine), it was time to go. Jean dropped me off at Kigali airport that afternoon, and we said our goodbyes but I'm hopeful I'll be back again soon.

Me & Jean relaxing on the Hotel Dereva's patio

1 comment:

Steve said...

Dear Chip

Thank you for including the comments from the Kigali Memorial Centre - it was very much appreciated.

I noticed you are a Computer-related company - would you be able to help us ? Our computers are now old (the Centre has been open for 4 years) and we need new ones.

Steve