The end of week 2 - Gisenyi, Rwanda
I’m almost at the end of week 2. We have spent all week working with different cooperatives here in Gisenyi. The cooperatives are made up of women who are either HIV positive or victims of gender-based violence. They meet together to make crafts in which they sell to volunteers, in the market, in whatever way they can. They then use the money to get what they need. If there is a woman in need of insurance for a year, which costs something like $6,000 Rwandan francs (I need to check that fact), they will give her the money and buy it for her. If someone needs medicine, they will get it for her. They make the crafts together and they share the profits together. Most of these women live in villages in Gisenyi and walk up to 2 hours to get to the cooperative. They make labor intensive crafts with the hopes of building some type of business to support each other. They’re not on the streets begging for money, they are trying to do what they can with no education. I admire their sense of commitment because it seems overwhelmingly hard. I also admire their sense of community. Not one of them is left behind. They will sacrifice their own knowing that one of their fellow friends is in need. Most of Rwanda is that way. There is an overwhelming care for his/her brother. The idea is to lift up the country versus lifting up the individual. It makes for a place that is very welcoming and loving.
The other thing that is amazing to me is the amount of people who were affected by the genocide. If you do not know, in the early 90’s, after years of dissent amongst two tribes that never existed before Belgian occupation, the majority Hutus decided to exterminate all of the Tutsis and moderate Hutus throughout Rwanda. Over 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed. That may not seem like a lot but you’re talking about a country who isn’t much bigger than the state of Maryland. I hear that number and think, wow, that’s a lot. It’s always been a fascinating story to me, one that brought me to Rwanda in the first place. But what’s overwhelming is this; since I have been in Rwanda, 3 members of the FVA group, the group that I am volunteering with, have worked with me. Claire, the program coordinator, Angel, our interpreter, and Amani, our house manager. Of those 3, all of them had a family member die in the Genocide. Amani’s story touched me so much because his father was killed, their farm including their cows (something very expensive in Rwanda), and they house was burnt down. Amani’s family was very poor, him being the youngest of 10. They had hard times for a long time until Amani was able to travel to Kigali, the capital city, and work. He is currently building a house near his mom’s farm, is learning english, and eventually wants to be a bus driver. He only finished primary school because you have to pay to go to high school in Rwanda. He is a very happy, kind person. Our interpreter, Angel, said Amani never gets upset because he knows he’s had a hard life and is grateful for what he has now.
That’s how everyone seems to be here. It’s amazing. As we walk down the street, people will stare because I am white. As soon as I smile, they smile and wave. I say, Muraho and they laugh because they are so excited that I am attempting to speak their language. I know I keep saying overwhelmed, but I can’t think of another word to describe it. I’ve never been to a country that has had so much heartache and turmoil but still has such a good spirit. Life is much simpler here. There are bucket showers, lots of walking, most roads are not paved. Their irons are just literally an iron with hot coals in it. Sewing machines are like the ones we used in the 50’s. They buy their fabric in the market and have people make them. There are not many restaurants. Many people have chickens for their eggs. They have cows for their milk. They have goats for their meat. While I do miss a hot shower now and again, I’m loving the simplicity.
More than ever do I feel like I was called to this country. I don’t really know the purpose quite yet, but I feel like this is somewhere I’m going to return to as much as I can. When I have a desire to give money to Africa, I know where to send it. When I think of what cause I want to help, I know what it is. I almost feel like I’m apart of the community here. My goal is to try to start a website where I can help the women in the co-op sell their goods. I’ll try to post pictures of the orphanage so people can send money and buy specific things. I don’t know exactly how I want to do that because it seems a bit hard, but I figure the hardest part will be promoting in which I will need the help of my family and friends. I know that overall, I’m so glad that I came here because Rwanda has helped to restore my faith in people. It’s also helped me realize that some of us westerners can learn a lot from people in the third world.