Final Thoughts

It is a little sad to wind up this blog and this chapter. I have learned SO much during this trip and come away somewhat in awe and inspired by what Rwanda has gone through in its recent history and the remarkable recovery and progress the country is making.

Probably the single most important aspect of this remarkable recovery is a return to traditional integrity with modern goals to lift up everyone in the country. The billboard at the border with DRC says it all:


There is a billboard just outside the Kigali airport: “Corruption undermines your integrity – sweep it away.”  I’m sorry I was not fast enough to photograph it.

I leave with  many more questions and it is hard to really know the country and the people without understanding their language. I can’t listen to the radio, have a sidebar chat with villagers without an interpreter which limits the conversation.  However, I have come away with many wonderful connections and have had great conversations with both Rwandans and expats who live in Rwanda.

There are many  impactful and inspiring projects that I’ve shared throughout this blog, AND there is still a need for more education and support throughout the country. Rwandans are proud, gracious and generous. They are healing together and I can only imagine what inner resources it takes to overcome the pain and resentment that must have built up during the genocide. They are doing this through small empowered communities, developing transparent servant leadership, educating the best and brightest to be leaders and creating partnerships with other countries, agencies and individuals.

When I started the blog,I shared  that there is a lot of criticism for the current government, but to pull themselves out of total devastation, they needed strong leadership and clear governmental and social structures to allow people to work together.  As we’ve seen in the progress of the imihigo annual goals, there is a move to less centralized control. I keep thinking that Rwanda is well on its way to fulfilling its dreams of bringing everyone into the middle class and becoming a regional health and Information Technology hub. The pieces are strategically coming together.


This sculpture is in the Genocide Memorial garden and is a gorilla talking on a cell phone to alert the rest of the world to remember how devastating genocide is.  The recovery here is remarkable – we need to “take the call” and listen to their message.

The day before I left for Rwanda, my friend Bernadette (my favorite midwife) gave me a stone egg to give to a project or agency that was birthing as a symbol of encouragement and support. That egg burned a hole in my bag the whole trip and I came full circle back to the women I met the first day I was in Rwanda – the INEZA sewing cooperative of women who shared their stories of violation and loss during the genocide, resulting in HIV/AIDS. Women who had nothing (except shame, loss and a lifetime disease) and have come together to support and love each other back to joy, independence and prosperity. As I presented the egg to Marie, the president of the cooperative who came to meet me at the hotel before we left, I encouraged her and the other women in her cooperative to dream big and create the lives they want because they have proven that they have the strength, will and ability to do that. They are beautiful women and I wish them well.  Thank you, Bernadette!   

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I’ve found that when I’ve talked with people about Rwanda and my admiration for what they’ve done, I get emotional, the tears just come and I’ve been trying to figure that out. I am very touched by the resiliency we see here, the good will, smiles, welcome, forgiveness and freedom to dream big and rebuild the country together. Rwanda is a special place and I frankly was fairly ignorant about what is happening here – I had a vague recollection of the genocide and sort of knew where it was located and that it was a nice place for colonialists. Beyond that – nothing. I had no desire to visit, but I believe there are no accidents and I was led here. It reaffirms my gratitude for my own life and the realization of how privileged I am and I will hold this experience forever in my heart.

Of course, being in the forest with the Mountain Gorillas was icing on the cake, something I never dreamed I’d be able to do and I feel so privileged to have had the experience and realize how critical it is to preserve their environment.

One of the Americans that we met told us that when you get the red dirt of Africa on your skin, you can never get it off. My guess is this will be the case for me.


As we visited institutions, NGOs, projects and ministries we gave an donation from the delegation. I’ve posted as many websites as I can in the blog and I do have contacts. If you are moved to GIVE to any of the programs, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with the contacts – I can guarantee any donation will go far and will make a difference.

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I am confident these young people have a bright future ahead of them!

Thank you for joining me on this incredible journey and for your kind and supportive comments.

Peace to you all!!

Last Day in Rwanda

This is our last day in Rwanda and after a last look Lake Kivu, we drove back to Kigali. Passing through the villages and seeing so many people walking along the road, I was again aware of how hard everyone in the country works and how close to the earth they live – literally on the earthen floors in their houses. They have no real seasons, just dry and rainy periods. The days are the same length because they are so close to the equator. It has been like this for generations and is finally changing with everyone being lifted up. IMG_8830 IMG_8833 I love looking at the cultivated fields rising up the hills and seeing all the activity on the road. As everyone said, this country is truly beautiful. I hope it can stay that way and not have too much advertisement (although we see ads painted on buildings) and western development. I have been pleasantly delighted not to find a Starbucks, McDonalds or much neon throughout the country. Gardens for Health On our way back from Lake Kivu, we briefly visited Gardens for Health, co-created by a young American, Julie Carney, who came here originally to help with an HIV/AIDS project.   In a short time, she realized that malnutrition is still the biggest health problem in spite of the progress made with health in the country and she formed Gardens for Health in 2007.

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Julie told us that 44% of the children under 5  in the country are malnourished, and the cost to Rwanda’s GDP is 11%. Malnutrition has been treated as an emergency issue with high protein food arriving from donor countries. Gardens for Health is working to educate people to take care of their nutritional needs. We visited an experimental farm modeling what people can do on their own small plots of land to grow what they need. The property has vegetables, fruit trees, a classroom, and an eating area where they serve regular meals to people in the community. In seven years, the staff has grown to 115. IMG_8851 IMG_8850 The Health and Program Managers are both Rwandans who shared some of what Gardens for Health does for families. The health manager is a medical school graduate who works with health centers to create a training program that has reached over 2000 families. In addition to the reproductive health, hygiene and family planning curriculum that we have heard from so many other programs, they have included nutrition in their courses. They created colorful posters for participants about food groups using familiar foods, indicating optimal daily portions as well as a poster and cooking demonstrations for “one pot, one hour” meals with ingredients from all the food groups that take in consideration how much rural women do and how little time they have. IMG_8848 Demonstration kitchen The program manager described the farm model program where graduates of the intensive training program (so far 125 families) receive a home package including a choice of fruit trees (papaya, passion fruit, or citrus) in addition to an avocado tree; a choice of vegetable seeds and either chickens or rabbits to take home and raise. IMG_8862 IMG_8859 Trees ready for distribution                                     Classroom inside and below outside                                             IMG_8849 This was yet another garden and program I wanted to stay and learn more about, but we were on a tight schedule. As I have said before, I am in awe of these amazing social entrepreneurs who are making such a difference in so many people’s lives. They inspire me with their commitment, courage and determination. We heard that Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s President, is very interested in this program and they may receive additional government funding, but at the moment, all of their work is done through private donations. We had a lunch date at Chez Lando with Kate Wedgwood, with, DFID, (Department for International Development), the British equivalent of USAID who is on loan to the Girl Effect, started by the Nike Foundation. Cathi Smith, the President of the Delegation and I met with Girl Hub the first day we were here when Kate was not in town, and we wanted the Delegation members to hear about Girl Hub and their fantastic work here in Rwanda.  In just three years, Girl Hub has launched a successful brand, Ni Nyampinga, with a magazine circulation of 100,000 throughout the country and a successful weekly radio program, both produced by girls and about girls’ issues. It has made an impact in promoting literacy because girls (and boys) want to read about things that are of interest to them and their lives as well as creating local clubs to discuss the articles and shows.                                      ImageGen.ashx Radio has played a huge role in Rwanda. In a country of 1000 hills, few TVs, major illiteracy, and isolated communities without electricity, battery operated radios are the main link to the world. Leading up to the 1994 genocide, radio played a huge role in spreading hate-filled messages about the Tutsis to a largely illiterate and obedient population. (This is one of the reasons education and critical thinking are such a big part of the national vision, so this won’t happen again). Radio still plays an important role in the lives of Rwandans and programs like the Ni Nyampinga programs and others that educate people act as a healing force for the country. Kate told us that they provided a toll free SMS number for girls to interact with the program and expected a couple of hundred people to respond and received thousands of participants! It is such a positive and inclusive opportunity for Rwandan girls to stand up, be proud, to realize that it’s OK to express themselves and to take charge of their own lives. Yesterday we had a chance meeting with Tom Allen, an American who was eating lunch at the same restaurant. We struck up a coversation with him and learned that he has been here for seven years with a program to help Rwanda’s brightest students prepare for SAT exams, college preparation and college applications for American colleges through the Bridge 2 Rwanda, program. Most Rwandan students complete the A level examinations and have a sort of forced gap year as they wait for the results. This is when they apply to colleges and the Bridge to Rwanda program fits perfectly. Tom shared that they have placed students in many ivy league and prominent colleges and universities around the United States and Canada. These students are eager to learn and develop servant leadership skills to bring back to Rwanda and help build their country. After a brief after lunch rest, we visited with the President of the Women in Parliament Forum, Nyirarukundo Ignatienne. The Parliament building sits atop one of Kigali’s hills opposite the airport. The building still has the scars of the shelling it received from troops based at the airport during the genocide. They are kept to remember. IMG_8879 IMG_8886 As I’ve mentioned before, women hold more seats in the national government than any other country in the world. Unfortunately, most of the women are visiting their districts and are checking on programs and how they are progressing, so we didn’t meet them. The Rwandan constitution reserves 30% of the seats for women-only elections and the rest are competitive for both men and women with eleven parties putting candidates forward. There are two houses as we have, the Senate with 26 members who serve for eight years for one term, and the Chamber of Deputies with eighty members who are elected for five years and can run for another term. The parties finance most of the campaign and Nyirarukundo told us that she spent about $2000 on her whole campaign. We had a very interesting conversation discussing the difference between U.S. women’s involvement in politics versus those in Rwanda. She had a hard time understanding why more women weren’t involved in the U.S.. The conversation got around to the expense of being involved in politics and how big money is so influential in American politics. Their members of parliament are not able to hold another job because of conflict of interest or possible corruption, she was aghast to hear how our system runs. There has been a bit of criticism about Paul Kagame and what is perceived as a heavy hand in running the country. We heard that there are processes and procedures for introducing new programs and the legislative branch works in partnership with the President. They work full time and have a regular weekly schedule of committee work, visits to their districts and community work. I asked her about Imihigo, a practice of accountability that is rooted in traditional practices where goals are set by local and regional leaders and reviewed annually. Rwanda has 30 districts and four provinc­es—Southern, Western, Eastern and North­ern—and the City of Kigali. Every District Mayor, Governors of Provinces and the May­or of the City of Kigali sign Performance con­tracts (Imihigo) with the Head of State at the beginning of every financial year. By signing the Imihigo document, local gov­ernment leaders commit both the population within their respective constituencies and themselves to fulfill the pledges therein con­tained, whereas the President of the Republic commits both full support from the Central Government and himself as the elected repre­sentative and leader of the whole nation. The Imihigo program helps the government to realize goals set under the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the locally driven Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) and the broader Vision 2020, which details key targets the country seeks to attain over the medium to long term development in the pursuit to become a middle-income economy where every citizen should at least have an annual per capita income of USD 1240 by 2020. In one conversation, I learned that two district mayors actually lied on reporting their results and when found out, resigned and fled the country in shame. Provinces and Districts that meet their goals are solemnly rewarded and those that don’t are helped. It is another “good news” story that is helping the country move to a more decentralized government with greater involvement from citizens at the local level. Another local system based in traditional practices are the Gacaca courts established in 2001 to relieve the over crowded courts after the genocide. Less drastic ases were taken to the local communities where community elders presided over the reconstruction of what actually happened during the genocide and facilitated reconciliation and reparation. It was a delightful, frank and warm conversation. I had about ten minutes to change my pants and lace my boots up in preparation for the flight home because I was meeting Marie Aimee, my mentee from the Akilah Girls School that we visited last week. She is in the first year of the Information Systems program. We had a delightful visit with Beth and her mentee before I had to dash off to the airport.                                      IMG_8889 I am so excited about having this motivated young woman in my life. She is twenty-one and does not have memories of the genocide although her family did go to Congo. Unlike many of the girls at Akilah, she comes from a home that emphasizes education. Her mother is a college graduate and works as a social worker and her father has a Masters degree in fine arts. We looked at pictures on each other’s phones and learned more about her ambitions and dreams. It was so wonderful that she could come even for a short time. We exchanged some little gifts and when I asked her to give me her home address so I could send her things, she looked a little stricken. When I think about how the houses are haphazardly built, there is really no physical addressing system and come to think of it, I never saw a post office. We are using the school for the moment. I feel like I will get just as much out of this mentorship as she will because I will have a front row seat from which to see Rwanda’s further development. It was bitter sweet to say goodbye to Clementine, our young and vibrant guide who worked hard for us. She is finishing her Master’s thesis in biochemistry at the University of Rwanda in Butare and has this job because of her out going personality and ability to speak three languages. She earned her salary just in translating for us! photo 2 IMG_7304 My heart goes out to her because she was ten in 1994 and remembers the genocide as oldest of five children. She lost her father at that time and her mother struggled to take care of the family and relied on the goodness of many people who hid and fed them. She told of moving frequently and suddenly and having to learn the right things to say, and to keep her siblings quiet and safe. They even had to hide in a pit with planks, dirt and what looked like a freshly planted garden on top of them. I can only imagine the horror that she experienced. She talked about the smell of blood and rotting bodies. We also learned the reason that we’ve seen so few dogs in Rwanda – they are expensive to feed and lost favor in Rwandan hearts after so may of them ate the humans lying in the streets. After the genocide, most of them were just shot. The good news is that her mother is now a retired primary teacher and all the other children in the family have been educated and are finding their ways in the world.                                                 photo 1 Clementine studied in a French school and now has to write her thesis in English. Since she thinks in French and translates, it is proving to be a challenge. Luckily, she has a host of mentors in our delegation who will help her edit, myself included.  Her mother is now a retired primary teacher and her other siblings are well on their way with education. As I am preparing to end this blog and this wonderful journey, I want to say a word about the members of our group. We were blessed to have so many strong, capable and diverse women in the delegation who are able to make connections for different organizations we visited. The ideas are flying and the Rwandans are thankful for the introductions. I loved getting to know everyone and appreciate the special gifts that each person brought to the team. I understand that this was an unusually cohesive group (no prima-donnas or high maintenance people) and that this trip was so satisfying because Rwanda is at the stage it is with its development. IMG_8249 photo 4 photo 1 photo 4 Judy                                     Cici                                             Jill                       Kim photo 5 photo 3 photo 5 photo 2 Sylvia                   Maureen                         Cathi                               Linda IMG_8255 photo 3 IMG_8888 photo 3 Jo                                Patti                         Beth                                             Malia photo 4 photo 2 IMG_7704 Cherie                              Holly                         Clementine Thank you all for a wonderful time!  (and to Beth for the great photos!) Tomorrow I will post my last thoughts about Rwanda.


Even with the early start and a boxed breakfast, we were excited to be going to Volcanoes National Park to see the famed Rwandan Mountain Gorillas. The road, which is perpetually crowded with pedestrians was empty and there was dense darkness even though we were passing villages. With expensive power, there are no street lights along the winding paths between the homes in the villages but there were periodic fluorescent lights and a bulb here and there.  The darkness is one of the things I noticed from the air when I first arrived in Rwanda – so few lights, and very few streets were lit. I could see the headlights of cars moving along in a ribbon of light, but few streets with actual lights. There is some experimentation happening with solar lights around the country.

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As we rode, we watched Rwandan villages wake up. People began walking along the road with their hoes on the way to the fields to weed or prepare the land for planting. Everything is done by hand. We’ve seen no tractors on this trip and very few carts or ways to transport their crops except occasional wooden wheel barrows and bicycles. As I thought about it, the narrow uneven paths between the terraced fields couldn’t handle large machinery and there are so many hills that are covered with terraced plots planted often to their steep tops. I am sure there will be some enterprising entrepreneurial young Rwandan who will invent something efficient and helpful for these hard workers like the low-consumption charcoal stoves many of them cook with.

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The villages wake up and we see groups of school children in their uniforms on their way to school, well dressed women walking, ladies carrying large bags of charcoal on their heads, men with long planks and other wood on their heads, and women sweeping the streets with short brooms. I know I’ve mentioned how clean Kigali is and the tidiness reaches the farthest villages. There is no litter and debris from trees and dust from the road is swept daily. It has the be the cleanest country in Africa, if not the world.

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As we approach Musanze, the second largest city in Rwanda, we pass washing stations where people bring their vegetables, mainly potatoes and carrots, freshly harvested from the fields to wash them and prepare the bags to be delivered to the markets in the cities. Musare also has a large hospital that seems to go on for blocks. We learned that families need to bring food to patients who are staying in the hospitals in Rwanda. There is no food service.

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Eventually we arrive at the Volcanoes National Park gathering area, sign in and enjoy the traditional dancers and drummers. We have already paid for our trekking permit into the park. It is so wonderful that Rwandans value and know how precious their Mountain Gorillas are and that they are committed to protecting them and their environment. They are a major source of revenue from tourist dollars. The good news, according to David Greer, from the World Wildlife Fund stationed in Kigali, is that the gorilla population in Rwanda has increased substantially from 200 a few years ago to about 700! This is not necessarily the case for other species.

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Volcanoes National Park is a part of the much larger Virunga Park which is mostly in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Uganda. Unfortunately, the corrupt political leadership in the DRC turns a blind eye to the destruction of the park by mining. This could have serious impact on Rwanda.

We met Oliver, our guide for the seven in our party. He explained that there are eighteen groups of gorillas in the park. Ten are available for tourists to visit and the treks are limited to ten daily in the mornings. The other eight groups are for researchers.


We are going to visit the Umubano group led by a silverback named Charles. The group has two silverbacks, older male gorillas that are probably about twelve years old and whose back hair is turning grey. Most groups have one leader, in this case, the second is submissive and he needs to sneak any sexual favors from the females. If Charles catches him, both he and the female will get punished. If he gets tired of that, he may take some of the females and form a new group. This group has four females, a number of juveniles and a five-month-old baby.

Every year in June, the park rangers and guides hold a naming ceremony for the newborns of the preceding year. Each gorilla is named and are identified by their different nostrils.

Oliver shared that most of the gorillas become sexually active at about eight to twelve years old and the females may have their first baby at about eight or nine years. Babies are weaned by the time they are four, and until then, the females will not breed. They live to a maximum of forty-five years.

The Mountain Gorillas graze on over two hundred species of food found in the park and are strictly vegetarian. Much of the water they consume is in the plants they eat. Their days consist of eating, resting and playing, eating, a siesta and eating again. They roam around the forest foraging and don’t move at night. They make new nest each night either in the trees or on the ground.

We finally started out by hopping into the waiting jeeps for another forty minute ride over the bumpiest road! It is a wonder that I was able to take pictures of the new type of housing we passed. We rode through bamboo and eucalyptus forests that clearly are being logged since we passed human powered saw mills and stumps with new trees sprouting up! A number of years ago eucalyptus were introduced because they are a fast growing tree but they are invasive.

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Hand saw mill                                                             Eucalyptus forest

The houses were made of framed bamboo and wood interwoven with reeds and mud with corrugated tin roofs. Some of the more finished ones had smoothed mud exteriors. They are similar to so many of the other village dwellings we’ve seen with dirt floors and sometimes windows. These people are so lucky that the climate is so mild year round at 2 degrees from the equator and three-five thousand feet, so they don’t need heat, insulation or air-tight homes.


We finally arrived in a small village and met the porters who were all uniformed and waiting patiently. I’d been advised to hire one to carry my pack and to assist me in the harder climbs. I met Eddie and am glad to have had him along with us – he was most helpful!


Thank you, Eddie!

We were at the base of one of the volcanoes and the forest was still some distance, we walked the narrow paths that lined the pyretheum and potato fields and even saw bee hives!

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Potato fields                                                               Planting potatoes

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Pyrethrum field                                                         Carrying a bee hive!

When we reached the edge of the forest, a park ranger and two armed men were waiting for us. I assumed they were protecting the park from poachers and was surprised to learn that they would accompany us up the mountain. They were with us for our safety – one in front, and one at the rear in case buffalo or elephants appeared, they would scare them away by shooting at the ground. Fortunately, we saw no sign of them!


We started up the mountain via the narrow, loose dirt trail. It was unlike any trail in the U.S. – just straight up the mountain with no switch-backs! It was tough going over the roots, fallen branches and through the nettles. The nettles sting! We were advised to wear gardening gloves and gaiters. I opted for rain pants which gave me another layer of protection from them and in the event of rain, I was prepared. We stopped every few minutes or so to catch our breaths and learned that we were at about 9,000 feet when Oliver whipped out his altimeter.


Stinging nettles!

The gorilla treks are so well organized and we were guaranteed to see gorillas. I was thinking of Dian Fossey and her first days here when it took weeks to even find them as she traipsed up and down the steep slopes of the mountain. Today, there are trackers who set out early to see where they nested and where they are headed and, I suspect, help guide them towards us. Oliver was in radio contact with them.

We kept climbing and suddenly we saw the large black furry bodies lounging along the path in front of us. It was stunning and overwhelming to see them! It was such an unexpected surprise! Our porters disappeared with our packs and walking sticks because they are a distraction to the gorillas, and we found ourselves joined by two wonderful trackers who whacked ferns down with their machetes in front of them so we could see better.

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Mother with 5 month old

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About a minute into our encounter, the dominant silverback, Charles, charged through the group and down the hill, letting us know that he was the boss. All the while, we were mumbling gorilla sounds that Oliver and the trackers had taught us that mean “everything’s OK”.

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Silverback gorilla with Beth and me

As we stood there in absolute amazement and delight, a mother and the five-month old (yet to be named) appeared as did more members of the group. As I looked around, some were in the small trees, and others nestled in the thick forest bushes were stripping branches and stuffing the leaves in their mouths, munching contentedly. They were constantly on the move and were fortunately for us, headed down, so we followed them through the thick brush, as the trackers cut a trail for us.


I was surprised by how they destroy the forest by climbing small trees and just come down when the branches break, they strip branches, break them off and there is a lot of broken foliage. I also see the resiliency of this forest – it is growing back as fast as it is being bruised – a wonderful environment for the gorillas!

It was fascinating to watch these large, gentle creatures that were very aware of us, going about their business of stripping leaves, eating, breaking off branches of delectable delights and finely peeling them like we might strip celery, before they ate them. Their massive hands are so dexterous and are so much like ours with finger nails that are huge and often a bit tattered.


I had heard that eye contact was not something we should do and that we would have to act submissive. These gorillas are used to people and it was OK to gaze into their eyes and sense their intelligence.

We were almost squealing with delight as we picked our way down with them as they foraged. At one point, one of the juveniles just lay on her back and basked in the sun scratching and looking at us as we frankly gawked at her! It appeared that she liked the attention and wanted to show us that she had only one foot. Apparently, it was damaged when she was born (they suspect another female grabbed her) and the vet was able to fix her up. She gets around quite well with only one foot – maybe she doesn’t do as much aerial acrobatics! She was charming.


We were told we should stay about seven meters (about 21+ feet) away from them, but most of the time, were about five feet away. In fact, one slapped Beth as it passed her. It was breathtaking to be with them!

We again sat with the momma and her baby, with the baby curious about us, and the mother protective. The baby climbed all over the mother and eventually settled on her head at which point the mother just took off and the baby just held on.


We had about an hour with these magnificent creatures (daily treks are limited to protect them) and it was sad to have to say good-bye. I found myself in tears a lot of the time – it was so special to be on that mountain, in that forest and with these magnificent creatures that are living their lives as they should. I also found the trackers and Oliver to be the sweetest, most gentle men who are definitely in love with their charges.

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The way down was steep and straight down and we found our porters and packs waiting for us! The other group from our delegation had a different experience because it took them longer to find the gorillas and they were caught in one of the frequent downpours that happens in the tropics and had a more muddy, slippery time of it, but were just as enthusiastic and ecstatic about their experience as we were!

Since we were all tired, after showers, we headed for our farewell gathering – bitter sweet.

“Pilgrimage” to Mongongo

Today I felt like we made a pilgrimage to Rosamond Carr’s plantation in Mongongo.  As preparation for the trip, I read Roz Carr’s Memoir, Land of 1000 Hills, My Life in Africa.  It was an unexpected treat to visit her plantation and find that it is thriving and has a good future ahead.

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The plantation is located about 7 km from Ginsenyi where we are staying and it took quite a while by jeep to get there because of the terrible road.  When we arrived, we were met by Graeme Loten, executive director of the Imbabazi Foundation, (Www. and former British ambassador to Rwanda from 1998-2001 who is now a retired diplomat.  He lives in the house on the property two weeks, then spends a week in Kigali with meetings and picking up supplies.  He knew Roz Carr when he was ambassador.

Roz Carr’s book is a wonderful memoir that captures Rwanda’s history from the late 1940’s through the genocide and is considered one of the only histories of the period.  She was an American who grew up privileged, married a dashing English game hunter in the late 1940s and settled in the Congo just over the border.  They lived between Rwanda and the Congo and after they divorced, she  bought the Mongongo plantation in 1955.  She grew pyrethrum, a daisy- like flower, and natural organic insecticide that is harmless to humans until chemical insecticides came out in the 1970s. Pyrethrum was one of the three big Rwandan exports including coffee and tea.

When growing pyrethrum was no longer profitable, she managed a hotel in Ginsenyi and turned to the production of cut flowers.  Colonial society liked the flowers and they were sent to hotels and restaurants in Kigali and Ginsenyi.

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Calla Lilies and Agapanthus for sale

In 1994 she was reluctantly evacuated and returned in August 1994 (a month after the genocide ended) with a humanitarian flight with the UN.  She saw the devastation and realized she needed to set up an orphanage- at 82 yrs old!  After holding a naming contest with her staff and neighbors, they settled on the name Imbabazi z’i mugongo which means “Mugongo is a place where you will receive the love and care a mother would give.”

She and her loyal servant, friend and assistant turned the pyretheum drying house into a dormitory for the children and many humanitarian relief agencies that came in after the genocide helped build the dormitories, toilets and showers for the orphanage.  IMG_8444  IMG_8449 IMG_8450  Toilets above and showers left

In 1997-98 there was a lot of unrest because of the closed refugee camps in the Congo and returning Hutu leaders attacked villages near the border.  They moved the orphanage to Ginsenyi for security.  In 2004 the present buildings were completed and Roz Carr died in 2006 at age 94. The orphanage was closed in 2012-13 because of the government  policy to close orphanages and the majority of children were ready to leave. At some point The children were given cameras and they shot beautiful photos of every day things that are hanging today.


Currently the Imbabazi Foundation keeps Carr’s legacy alive.  They still have her 53 hectares (about 130 acres) of land which is cultivated and proceeds from selling potatoes, flowers, artichokes, rhubarb (a legacy of Carr – they are the only place in the country that grows them) and experimental vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and parsnips to restaurants in Kigali including the Heaven restaurant where we ate.


Another area of development is tourism with groups and individuals like us visiting.  The orphanage has been reopened as a pre-school with 66 children from the local village.    Children wear uniforms and pay $5 per term.  The foundation pays school fees for children who were in the orphanage and they also support local schools with projects like last year installing windows and doors.

We had a delightful tour of the property and gardens. We started out in the old  pyretheum drying house with the screened racks that were placed over a fire for about 24 hours .  This building had been an orphanage dorm and is now a museum.

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Pyretheum drying racks                      Back of the drying house and museum

We visited the nursery school which is bright and cheery.  We learned that the students are taught to use utensils, pencils and pens.  The former dining room where students also did their homework has been turned into a rental hall for people to host weddings and other events.  They have a TV for people to come in to watch the soccer matches and charge a small fee.  The infirmary now houses the offices.  It was used only used one year before the local health center was opened.

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The gardens were spectacular and stretched for acres.  As mentioned earlier, Roz Carr started growing artichoke and rhubarb because she liked them.  Currently about fifty artichokes are shipped per week to Kigali. They are experimenting with broccoli, cauliflower parsnips and are showing local farmers how to diversify their crops.  At an elevation of 2500 meters, they can’t grow fruit trees but are experimenting with a newly installed green house.

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Recently, they are working with an export firm to send agapanthus and calla lilies overnight to the Amsterdam flower market and they continue to send flowers to restaurants and hotels in Kigali and Ginsenyi. The forty full time staff manage the gardens, the pre-school, 12 milk cows and they bring in teams for the potato harvest.  Pyretheum is again in demand with the push for natural insecticides, so they will be planting more.

The formal gardens around the house are spectacular and as a gardener, think I need to arrange an itinerant gardening gig here!  The entire yard in front of the house is a formal garden down to a beautiful white gate at the road.  The side garden is an oval of grass bordered by her beloved hydrangeas, roses and other perennials that she called the dance garden.

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From the fence looking back at the house

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Side “dance” garden

When Roz lived here she had dancers come every Sunday and served tea for her guests both local people and dignitaries from Kigali.  It is said that she constantly entertained and the world came to her – always bringing news of the world and books- because her place is a magnificent oasis with a view of three volcanoes (one still active – glowing in the night sky).  Now the teas and dancers are held once a month and when groups like ours visit.  We had a delightful performance with about four different dances and a very tasty cup of tea with lemon cookies.  The dancers were charming and invited members of our group to help with the drumming at the end.  I was amazed to feel the earth shaking as they stomped on the grass.

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Our group members invited to drum!                  Dancers enjoying photos!


Traditional ladies’ headdress

The house was built in the 1930s and is actually historic since there are few buildings in Rwanda that are that old.  It is actually a cottage that was built of cinder blocks and is covered in ivy.  It has two bed rooms (one considered Dian Fossey’s because she was a frequent visitor), a great room with a dining area overlooking the dance garden and a sitting area with a fireplace (there is also another fireplace in what was her bedroom).  It is cozy and filled with her photographs, books, china and other knick knacks.  We were charmed by the place.  Graeme showed us a picture of how the place looked when she returned after the genocide.  It had been looted and interestingly, many of the missing things were returned little by little because she was so beloved by the locals.

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Front of house from formal garden                      Looking out at garden from “Dian’s desk”

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Dining Area                                                               Living room fireplace

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Rosamund Carr is buried on the property in a spot where she will forever be able to see the volcanoes that she so loved.  The last Sunday in November her former students pay tribute to her and gather at her grave site.

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It was inspiring to visit Mongongo and Roz Carr’s place and to see it so well maintained and her legacy alive.  I loved the day!


Need to sleep because we have a very early wake up call for tomorrow’s gorilla trek – pictures forthcoming!

Umuganda and Batwa

Umuganda Service Day Rwanda

A day of service is held the last Saturday of the month required by the government for everyone to work in their communities from 9-11:30 with a half hour for a community meeting from 11:30-12:00. This national community work day has played an important role in the reconstruction of Rwanda.

“Umuganda” is a word in Kinyarwanda (the national language of Rwanda) that can be translated as “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome.”

Businesses are closed and people come together in the communities where they work. As I’ve mentioned before, Rwanda has about 5 tiers of government from a centralized national government, provinces, districts, cells and individual villages or communities in the case of larger cities. People work together on a project that has importance for their community – it might be picking up trash, pruning bushes, building a wall or a house for a family moving into the community.

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Umuganda became an official government program in the mid-1970s as a way of nation-building after independence from Belgium. Back then, it was criticized for bearing a striking resemblance to forced labor. The projects were held weekly, citizens did not have a say in deciding which projects to work on and people were penalized for not participating. Today it is a once-a-month activity and people are fined by the community if they are unable to participate.

I was very disappointed not to be able to participate in this day of service as other groups visiting Rwanda have reported or observe the activities close to where we are staying, because we had a meeting of the delegates.

A visit to the Batwa

The day was saved by a remarkable visit to the Kanembwe community where over 600 families have been relocated from landslide and flood areas. It was an amazing and remarkable experience – one delegate commented that is was worth the whole trip!

The Batwa, or Twa as they are often called, make up 1% of the population and were pygmies living in the forested people of the mountains and survived by hunting. With the forests being cut down for farm land, their existence was threatened and many of their settlement areas suffered landslides during the rainy seasons and resulted in many deaths.

After lunch a delightful lunch at Thai Jazz aside Lake Kuvu, we boarded our jeep convoy and drove through town and I was struck by how similar all the shop fronts are throughout Rwanda – small rows of storefronts of about 4 or 5 all looking like they had been designed by the same architect!


Almost immediately we turned off the main road and the road turned to dirt and we passed shops, homes, community centers and churches. I was struck by how many of them are under construction. It is like a building boom. There were three churches being built and many of the houses and shops were partially completed. Most of the houses were made of bricks made from local mud and left to dry in the sun. Water is combined with the bricks to make mortar to hold them together. After, a wash of plaster is applied and a roof added and the house is habitable. In some of the unfinished houses, the window spaces are partially filled in (I assume temporarily) with other bricks and again another assumption to protect the structure until it is completed.

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One of Rwanda’s ambitious Vision 2020 goals is to help the majority of the population to join the middle class. Many of the houses we passed looked great! There were newer houses interspersed with older ones. The older ones weren’t as finished, had tile roofs and many had food gardens planted to the road. The newer ones were a little bigger with corrugated tin roofs, porches, some were painted and had a space for a garage, a fenced in area. Some had welcoming ornamental gardens in front and even a satellite dish or two.

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New buildings going up everywhere!                  Even some satellite dishes!

We followed the electricity wires up the road and noticed most of the houses had wires running to them. I am uncertain about running water or sewers because there were outhouses and community water spigots along the way. I am struck by the lack of dogs and chickens that I’ve seen in so many developing countries. There were a few chickens, but not what I would have expected. Goats are valued and many houses had a goat roaming or tethered outside. One house had pigs in a pen.

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Pig pen                                                                        Cows in the yard



We passed people carrying cabbages in towering stacks on their bicycles to market as well as other things like furniture along the road. I am stunned by their balance an grace, especially the women who carry huge loads on their heads while holding something else in their hands and having a baby strapped to their back!

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As we progressed, we came to a school and it looked like the end of the road. The jeeps carried on along what we might deem an almost impassable “road” and the houses dramatically changed in character. Now we were passing houses made of wood with corrugated tin roofs and an outhouse in the back clearly organized into a grid that bespeaks of future neighborhood streets that are currently rough foot paths.

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As we passed, people waved and smiled. I was struck by one boy, who sat in his family’s door way intently engaged in a notebook with pencil in hand. I was impressed that he didn’t look up as we passed, and I missed taking a picture – he is in my mind as a future nation builder.

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When we arrived, the president of the cooperative came out to greet us. She was shy, shook hands all around and led us back to the community where welcoming singers, a drummer and dancers welcomed us. It was wonderful to see all the smiles and feel so welcome. We settled into the benches they provided for us and were introduced to some of the community leaders who told their story.

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The cooperative has 206 families and the culture troupe of the cooperative helped receive us by singing “Where there is a will everything is possible.” Dominique, one of the dancers, told us that they lived in the natural forest in grass huts where they spent their time hunting and making pottery.

In 2009 they were relocated by the government because they were living in a bad section with no access to health and other services. They only ate meat and now have a more balanced diet. They grow beans and potatoes in their gardens. The benefits of being here are that they have tap water and a proper house with a stove that consumes less charcoal. The children go to school in both Kiranrwandan and English and there is a health center close. They are also learning to use contraceptives. They are happy live in good environment and have more access to services. Within a year, they expect to have electricity in their community. The community needs to raise some of the funds and the government also contributes. Our visit provided some income to them towards this goal.

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We had a delightful visit with community leaders stepping forward to ask questions and we asked them some. They were interested in hearing is we had native peoples in our country, how many children we had and who we were. It was clear that most of them have more than two children by the number of them in the crowd.


After another dance, they brought a couple of tables out filled with some of their pottery and few of us bought some. They were unfortunately a little big to fit in our suitcases. We were invited into a house to see how they lived. The floors were unfinished (not even smooth). The inside was surprisingly large and very stark. The entrance was what could eventually be a sitting room when they get furniture, another front room was closed off and I assume contained storage. The two back rooms were separated by a hall, where some gardening tools were stored. One of the rooms was clearly a bedroom with a bed and storage area, the other had a bed and was the kitchen. The wife showed us the efficient stove that they cook on – there were several. There is no chimney in the house and they have containers to store food.

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The wooden homes were built with horizontal planks and the roof material that were given to them by the government and they built themselves. Light showed through the planks and there was space at the floor that I couldn’t help wondering what happens during the rainy season – the floor must be very muddy and water flows through. I was surprised not to find the woven mats we found on the floors of the traditional grass huts we visited in the ethnographic museum.

In spite of the poverty they live in by our standards, these people were warm, hospitable and smiling. I sense that they are encouraged by their government and are motivated to make a better life for themselves.


With a final dance, we were invited to participate and tried to follow our partners with their complex arm movements and stomping at the same time. So much laughter, smiles and fun! As we left, they sang us out to our jeeps and with handshakes and hugs all around, we bumped down the road with gratitude for being invited into their lives.

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It was nice to have a quiet evening although the loud dance music from the party hosted by the Kigali Bank conference staying in our hotel by the pool kept me up most of the night.

To Lake Kivu

Travel to Lake Kivu

Today we rode four hours to Lake Kivu to the West in Gisenyi on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. As soon as we left Kigali, we climbed into the mountains through beautiful terrain. The views were spectacular, particularly the range of volcanoes that ring the area. This part of Rwanda is the most fertile because of the volcanic ash in the area and is almost completely farmed to the top of the many steep ridges with terraced fields of vegetables, tea, corn and other crops. The area is densely populated with narrow footpaths winding up the houses perched on the sides of the hills. We passed through many villages with small stalls with people selling their wares: potatoes, carrots, charcoal, and other vegetables. There were tailors, a bicycle shop, saw mill, and other small repair shops along the way. We passed a goat market and many overloaded bicycles and people carrying loads on their heads. Each district we passed through had schools and health centers, which looked new and many of the homes had electricity and maybe not running water, but a local water source. One had the water jugs lined up waiting for the water truck.

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New shop fronts – much construction!             Newer “middle class” homes – very nice!

In may ways, the ride was the most beautiful of all we have seen in Rwanda so far, but I was struck by how hard people have to work to survive. We have heard about the many programs that have been instituted to help Rwandans get on their feet with education, health care, financial literacy and psychosocial assistance to assist them with genocide trauma. I am painfully aware of how much is needed in this densely populated country.

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We arrived in Lake Kivu and are staying at a beautiful hotel right on the lake. Lake Kivu is 61 miles long and is one of the deepest lakes in the world at over 1200 feet and produces methane gas at the bottom, which is pumped up by rigs out in the lake. Apparently it doesn’t affect the water. We took a short boat ride out onto the lake which was a little choppy and the boat started taking in water from the spray, so we turned around much to the relief of our group!

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View from our room and an attempt at a panorama shot

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We took a walk along the lake, which is absolutely beautiful – full of tropical plants and blooms. I appreciate all the plants that we grow as house plants sprawling all over! Between the birds, bats, lake and flora, it feels like a tropical paradise.

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Within about twenty minutes, we were at the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This was one of the largest crossing points during the genocide for refugees. Today it is a calm check point with what appears to be regular passing of day workers. The DRC looms to the west of Rwanda and in some ways is a huge problem because they still harbor perpetrators of the genocide who still cause problems for the Rwandan government. The DRC government is very corrupt and threatens the stability of Volcanoes national park where we will visit the gorillas on Monday. The Rwandan park is part of a large park, Virunga, which is mostly in the DRC and also in Uganda. The corruption in DRC has allowed illegal mining of gold and diamonds as well as charcoal production in the park which is decimating it. This along with a terrible reputation for the treatment of women and rampant rape, make the DRC a tenuous neighbor to Rwanda.


Our evening consisted with a speaker from Point d’Ecoute (Listening Point), an NGO that was established to help refugee children and their families reunite during the crisis. Today it works with street children and assisting families who are marginalized. The funding comes from Save our Children, but as many of these organizations are, they face the threat of discontinuation because of lack of support.


We ended our evening celebrating Sylvia’s birthday overlooking the lake!


Thursday in Kigali

Kigali music school

Our day started with a visit to the Kigali music school, which was established by an American missionary.  The school is directed by the Reverand Aimable Nsabayesu,who was the first student of the missionary before the genocide.

This is a private after school program with group and private lessons. Adults use the center during day and when we arrived there was a group of church musicians doing vocal practice.

Reverand Nsabayesu shared that the school had moved to a new site three months ago closer to an orphanage so they can participate in art and music as healing tools.  It is a solace and helps people to open and share their stories.  On Mondays there is a group of HIV students who meet at the school. Rwanda is a culture of reserve and they have found that music opens them so they can express themselves.

There is a lack of professional music teachers and they welcome musicians who would like to donate their time to help teach people either in person or via Skype.

There are no instruments for students to practice at home.  The only place to find instruments is at the school.  They have two piano synthesizers, a cello, a few guitars, recorders and other small instruments that we saw.  We were asked to bring music books, guitar strings, and any old instruments we might have. In addition to those things, delegates brought a guitar, a violin, a clarinet, harmonicas, recorders, percussion instruments and music books.

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There is a concerted effort to bring back roots with traditional music since everything was destroyed in 1994.The dream is to provide assistance to help people compete in the world music scene. Another music school outside Kigali started last year. Things are beginning to change with vocational schools now offering music and starting next year music will be introduced in primary schools.

Reverand Nsabayesu is committed to growing the school to help people. He shared that during the genocide he had a knife at his throat and felt he was going to die and wants to give back because he is thankful for his life and his gift of music.

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I think all of our hearts went out to them and all they are trying to do with so little. The church in North Carolina that originally supported them can no longer do so. We saw a newscast video done by Al Jazeera that is on their facebook page.

King Faisal Hospital

The next visit was to King Faisal Hospital, a private hospital reputed to be the best in the country and we learned that there is a hospital in each of the 32 districts throughout the country.


Our first stop was at the neo-natal unit where the medical delegates were invited to go in. We heard that they can handle up to eight babies and there is 24 hour observation 1:1 for each baby and that they use modern practices. Usually deliveries are in local health centers by midwives that have been trained and pregnant women get three check ups before delivery.  It is new to have husband assisted births, but it is possible. Most women prefer female relatives or friends at the delivery.


We met with Dr Joseph, a pediatric cardiologist who recently returned to Rwanda after sixteen years in Belgium. Although there are no cardiology surgeons in Rwanda (one is in training in South Africa), open-heart surgery was started in 2006 with visiting teams from Australia, Brussels and the United States.  The hospital now has the equipment they need to perform the operations.

We again learned that rheumatic heart disease is a result of complications from strep disease if is not treated with antibiotics. Unfortunately there is a need to replace valves. When the teams come each year, 16 patients between 16-35 are chosen for the operation. It is hard to play God and choose from among 100 patients. They look for those with the best prognosis. No HIV or AIDS patients have been operated on because their prognosis and they don’t know how to ensure that the equipment they use will be able to be properly cleaned


Dr Joseph chatting with, me trying to keep up with the notes!

They are working on early diagnosis of rheumatic fever and are also working with pregnant women to see if they have it, so they can schedule a c section so delivery doesn’t put strain on heart and the mother die during delivery.

Again, education is critical. They are working to teach people about rheumatic fever for early detection. People miss shots when they feel OK and they need a way to track them to support good health and close monitoring.  There are 420 people in the program and about 115 with mechanical valves.

There are four pediatricians in hospital and they have about100 deliveries per month along with complicated deliveries and surgeries that are sent here. There are four cardiologist and two pediatric cardiologists in whole country.

We learned that valve patients need dental check ups and they need to be in the plan which they are not currently (dentists in the dental center at hospital don’t believe them is a link between gum disease and heart problems). Health centers don’t have dental care. Dr. Joseph is working on that and has even created an NGO for educating people for heart disease prevention.

We plied Dr. Joseph with random health questions which were pretty interesting. Rwanda has the strongest immunization program in Africa-all children inocculated. They have the lowest child HIV incidents and anti malaria program, and are one of the highest ranked in Africa in achieving Millennium development goals.

There are no abortions, no free condoms and heavy education in health centers. The birth rate decreasing norplant is the preferred birth control.

Aegis Trusts

We had lunch with Honore Gatara, the Director of the Kigali Genocide Memorial which was established ten years ago. His interest in the genocide stems from his own experiences. He is now 33 and shared that in 1994 he was 14 and had to go through a complete inner transformation to be able to live with other Rwandans that had persecuted and taunted him and his family. He is painfully aware of what that takes and knows how important education is since it took time for him to make the transition to forgiveness and feeling that he is part of a united Rwanda.


The Aegis Trust, which manages the Genocide Memorial is an NGO and is not political. He shared a powerful African saying: “Wherever two elephants fight, the grass will suffer.” Of course, the elephants are political entities and the grass the people. I can’t help but think of the elephants in Washington DC.

As a university student, Honore studied genocide, here and in other parts of the world and says we all have a commitment for life and an obligation to pass on the message about it to the next generation. He started as a student volunteer in the archives, was then a guide and now is the director of the memorial.

He shared three major roles the memorial plays in addition to the exhibits:

  • on site one day workshops where participants learn about genocide and critical thinking to counteract some of the toxic opinions people heard from their families. These are for secondary students. Unity clubs started in schools that worked together to assist poor families like buying them goats.
  • outreach program – they have a mobile exhibition where they take examples and share in rural areas. In this program they give examples of a 10 year old Hutu girl who rescued a Tutsi baby from her dying mother (the baby is now a graduate and the girl has a business), or a Hutu boy who took his best friend, a Tutsi, home. Eventually the family and community took him in. They use these as good examples of reconciliation and ask community members to reflect on their own experiences and what they are doing to achieve unity.
  • higher Ed research – universities both in Rwanda and abroad have research programs and as a result, in 2017 a new curriculum will be introduced in high school about the genocide. Up until now, history has been cancelled in schools until they can produce new books.

Imbuto Foundation

We visited the Imbuto Foundation founded by First Lady, Jeannette Kagame.  The foundation which is on the grounds of the executive branch of government, a sprawling and beautifully landscaped campus atop one of Kigali’s beautiful hills was originally started to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS.  It has now expanded to other health and education programs in partnership with local companies and other international aid organizations.

Books for Africa

This is the third trip to Rwanda for one of our delegates, Kim Harms.  after loosing her son in 2009 and reading Left to Tell:  Discovering God Admist the Rwandan Holocaust, she was inspired by her friends, Pam Pappas Stanoch, and board member of  Books for Africa to raise money to send books in her son’s memory to Africa.

Founded by Tom Worth, Books for Africa, collects, sorts, ships, and distributes books to students of all ages in Africa with the goal to end the book famine in Africa. 40 million books have been delivered to Africa over the years.

Eric Harms memorial libraries were started with a 2011 fundraiser and the first shipment went to Rwanda six months later. To date, the Eric Harms memorial has sent 120,000 books to 16 libraries – two new law libraries donated by Thompson Reuters, a dental university library, university and school libraries in thirteen small villages. Merck has donated over 1000 Merck Manuals to partners in health for local health centers.

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Kim Harms

It costs $22,000 to send a container of books to Rwanda and most are new books donated by publishers or slightly used ones, never over ten years old. They are sent only where requested and may have books for a number of libraries. One dollar will send two books. Most of cost is for shipment. Books for Africa is working with the Peace Corps whose volunteers help build the libraries and they are filling them with books. There are no public libraries in Rwanda. Kim is working on public library, which will be housed at the Wisdom school Musande (Fair children Foundation) near the gorilla park, which will be used by the community.

The delegation sent a container with twenty thousand books and ten desk top computers through Books for Africa. The Eric Harms foundation generously paid a third of the shipping cost. The books are going to the Imbaro Foundation, first lady Jeannette Kagame’s foundation.

We were fortunate to have Pam Stanoch join the delegation for a day before she worked with a school for nine days. She told a story about a child who had never seen a book and didn’t know how to hold it. It is important to get books to these children and it is wonderful to know about this organization, its mission and to be a part of making a difference in their lives.

Below we are pictured with staff from the Imbuto foundation.

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We ended the day as guests of The Honorable Oda Gasinzigwa, Minister of the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion for dinner at a lovely quiet restaurant with a beautiful view of Kigali.  With all the hills of Kigali, there are beautiful views everywhere.  One of the things we appreciate is the lack of neon signs everywhere.  Another FULL day!


Comment from Beth

We had raised funds to send books to Rwanda via Books for Africa. Kim, the Rwanda representative, now part of our Delegation, arranged for our shipment of 20,000 books. The books were to be a gift to the First Lady’s organization, Imbuto Foundation.   The ambassador in Washington had arranged for Mrs Kagame to meet us in appreciation of the gift, however Mrs. Kagame was out of the country so instead we met with Diyana Gtera, Senior Advisor to the Director General.

The Imbuto office is situated on the large campus of the Presidential offices. Security checks we are on their visitor list, take our passports, security check our purses and bodies, led through the gardens and buildings to our meeting spots.

Ms. Gtera welcomed us, explained Mrs. Kagame’s vision of Imbuto. Founded in 2001, the First Lady was passionate about caring for women who were HIV as a result of rape during the genocide. The organization has expanded its focus to include HIV prevention and malaria prevention. A second branch of Imbuto is promoting education, especially girls education through empowerment and mentorship programs. A third arm works to develop economic empowerment of vulnerable families.

The three to four million dollars needed to fund Imbuto comes from a variety of supporters. USAID being the primary, also UNICEF, DFID, The Global Fund and the Imbuto Foundation fund raisers in the U.S. Ms. Gtera said Boston annually has a large fund raiser for Imbuto. Check out Imbuto at

Women For Women International

Women for Women International
Today we visited the Women for Women International opportunity center in Kayonza in the Eastern part of Rwanda which opened in June 2013.
First impressions were WOW!  And the more we learned, the more impressive the center was.

The site is beautifully designed and sustainable.  It was designed by some American architects who thought of every thing from slanted roofs that catch rain water down rain chains to store in a 20,000 gallon tank, solar power for the pump to get it to the faucets and showers, composting toilets, solar hot water heater, natural “air conditioning” through the ventilated brick construction, and a garden!

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Of course I was drawn to the garden first, the almost perfect cabbages planted in rows and peppers, onions, kale and tomatoes were beautifully arranged in Africa’s red earth.

We were assembled to hear about the center and learn that they are creating a real community center where they can explore ways to use it.  They have training rooms for hire, group use facilities and an eco-tourism place for guests to lodge.

The Aegis Trust (an anti genocide organization) is a partner and manages the lodges (accommodation for 24) and restaurant that is open every day including dinner with proceeds going to genocide victims. (We can attest to the quality of the food from the lunch we had!)  We learned that they also have developed a genocide curriculum so all school students learn about it, not only what they hear at home.

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Women for women is designed to help poor and marginalized women and has centers in six 6 out of thirty districts in Rwanda.  They offer a free twelve month program for women.  The first part covers health issues such as nutrition, reproductive health, gender based violence; literacy, record keeping, how to use a calculator and use currency with an emphasis on developing self esteem.  English will be included in the future.  The next part covers business and vocational training.  They are encouraged to work in groups of about 5 and are given start up equipment for their businesses.  Each participant receives a $10 stipend per month for the year.  They learn to make loans and charge interest.  We learned that it is not in the culture to save and it might be because Rwanda has never faced a famine because of  the climate.

Vocational options include agribusiness vegetable production where they learn about business and distribution.  Specific areas include: bee keeping, tailoring, hair dressing, manicure pedicure, bead work and basket weaving. In the food processing and culinary arts areas they are adding goat cheese, yoghurt, and peanut butter production.  The food processing equipment will not be provided after graduation but they will be able to rent time and space at the center to use the equipment there.  Bee keepers receive 20 bee hives for each group of 25 women.

We toured the center and each of the workshop areas were beautiful – some were classrooms with moveable chair desks and others were stepped into the ground to provide space for the ladies to work on pottery and basket weaving.

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The gardens demonstrate how to grow food in limited space.  Stepped down into the garden are “barns” that house equipment and are production areas especially for cheese, yoghurt and peanut butter production.

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The program is designed for women eighteen to over fifty five.  Over 70,000 women have participated since 1997 and their target is 10,000 women per year.

The Center also operates a demonstration farm down in the valley and vegetables are produced and marketed to hotels and restaurants.  As part of the eco-tourism vision, tourists will be able to work in the gardens and eat the crops like farm to table.


A graduation event for about 380 local coffee grower women was in progress when we arrived.  Sustainable Harvest, from Portland, OR is a partner with the center and provides a training program funded through Bloomberg Philanthropies for women growers.  The participants learn about good agriculture practice, pruning, fertilizer, effective harvesting and gets help in finding markets for their coffee.  The average grower has about 185 trees.

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Beth and me                                              Beautiful women in traditional dress!

I neglected to say that the 600,000 bricks used to build the facility were made by local women – who were paid!  They also had a wonderful gift shop along the road.
We all were impressed with this amazing facility and how they are able to model, demonstrate and educate women to become empowered and self sufficient.  The center also acts as a community gathering place and as soon as the main hall is completed, will be available for rent.  Today’s graduation event was held in a tent.

As if it wasn’t an amazing experience to visit this inspiring place, as we were leaving the hotel for dinner, we ran into Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), who is in Rwanda at an IMF meeting.  She was charming, gracious and we were floating after we met her! Plus she had the same earrings on as me, but larger!

Her speech to the Rwandan parliament is here and reflects what we are learning about Rwanda – to summarize:  praise for what they have done and encouragement for the future.  It is worth the read:


Dinner was another fun experience.  We went to Heaven, a restaurant created by Josh and Alissa Ruxin, an American couple who originally came to Rwanda about 15 years ago to manage a health clinic.  They have made their home here and have a charming place.  The food was divine and after a six-course tasting menu, we were all in 7th Heaven! Their website is at Josh’s book, A Thousand Hills to Heaven is on Amazon.

They not only have a hospitality training program, but support the arts with a gallery and a craft store to support local artisans.

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One of the reasons we have such long days is that we even have guests at dinner and their stories are as compelling as the places we visit. At dinner tonight, we met Jacqueline Kamanzi, Executive secretary for the National Women’s Council. Although she has been in the position less than a month, she shared with the Constitutional mandate to build women’s capacity and the obligation to connect women to financial institutions to become economically empowered in Rwanda.


Katie Carlson, another ex patriot from Canada who has been working as an on the ground travel coordinator for our group, joined us for dinner. I was fortunate too be sitting next to hear and learned about her commitment to girls in Rwanda. She has recently launched Paper Crown Institute, in its pilot stages, offering a twelve week program for secondary girls held on Saturdays which will include six weeks of leadership and self-esteem workshops, and six weeks of team service projects. The girls are offered a small subsidy to do their work and will learn about budgeting and financial management as they manage their projects. Yet another wonderful, energetic and dedicated young entrepreneur creating programs to help move Rwanda forward!

Again, a packed and uplifting day.  We realize this country has a long way to go, but there is vision, political will and many partners making a difference and changing people’s lives for the better.


A Pattern Emerges

As we talk with the organizations we are visiting, it is clear that the Rwanda government is taking a strong and bold lead in trying to improve life in  Rwanda.  Although there are still a myriad of issues, there is an comprehensive country plan, Vision 2020 has aggressive economic, education, health, and gender equity goals that some people think are not realistic.

The things that impress me is that most of the people we speak with are glad that they live in a safe country – that seems to be number one, especially after the horror of 20 years ago.  Another is that the government is coordinating the NGO (non government organization)  activities so there is little duplication of effort and the activities are congruent with the national plan.  To people working here on projects, it may appear as excessive red tape to get approvals, but most are satisfied to be working with a common vision.

This morning we started out by visiting AVEGA –, an association of genocide widows.  Many of the members joined us.  It was an emotional meeting as we heard about some of their experiences, and their hopes and dreams were touching.

The association was established in 1995 following the genocide.  There are over 19,000 members which includes widowers and widows with over 61,000 dependents, many of whom are elderly, infected with HIV/AIDS and those who live with severe trauma issues.

The Association was formed under the notion that unity makes strength.  The vision is to restore hope and life to genocide widows to help them be reintegrated into society and the Mission is to work for progress and empowerment of their members.  They provide medical care, trauma counseling and have founded three health centers throughout the country, as well as advocacy and a socioeconomic program.

Members were affected by the genocide differently.  One of the women spoke for the members and she related that they support each other, that AVEGA gave hope, helped them build houses and their lives.  Social workers meet with them and some of the women create handicrafts and agricultural crops to support themselves.

We were charged by these women to be ambassadors and tell people about the genocide because there are still those who deny it happened or are not aware of it.  The meeting ended with warm hugs with members of the association and shopping among their handicrafts.

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Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion at the Gender Monitoring Office

The next meeting was at the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion with Minister Henriette Umerlisa and members of her staff.  The mission is to promote gender equity and family education.  Their task is to coordinate all the organizations and activities to meet the country’s vision and goals.  There are a lot of positive factors in play:  political will, strategic partnerships, policies and framework and a legal framework.  For example, the constitution has been amended to allow women to own land, receive inheritance, electoral rights and girls education.

They have made much progress towards their goals but there are still challenges such as a poor mindset (wanting to stay the same), low engagement of men, and ignorance of laws.  They are working to address these challenges.  We learned that the constitution states that a minimum of 30 percent of all decision making positions must include women.  This is why Rwanda’s legislature has 67% women!

This was a sobering and uplifting meeting – they are doing so much in such a short time and still have so much to do, but I am in awe of the unfailing efforts to move this country into a healthy, productive environment for all of its citizens.


Our visit was featured in the Ministry’s Newsletter:

Akilah Institute for Women

The Akilah Institute for Women is a post secondary school that was established five years ago as a three year program (currently with 280 students) to prepare young women for Hospitality management, Entrepreneurship and Information Systems.  Students come from all over Rwanda and the school focuses on empowering young women so they are confident and comfortable, even with public speaking as many of the girls did with us today.

I think this was the highlight of the day for all of us!  We had lunch with a number of the students in the student government and had a lively interchange with questions going both ways.  We were all impressed with their poise, confidence, great questions and comfort in speaking with us.  We ended up deciding that we would each mentor one of the girls in the coming years.  It was delightful.

When one of the girls expressed her hopes – she said “I hope I will be a part of Rwanda’s future ”  I am confident that she will be as well as her classmates!  The school also helps the girls find jobs and in the first graduating class 100 percent got jobs.  There were two babies in the nursery and girls are encouraged to continue their education if they get pregnant and bring their babies to school.  It costs about $3500 per year to educate a student, but the students are charged $500 with 90% of that a loan that they will pay back when they get a job.  It is a wonderful school and the girls were delightful!

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Me and my mentee, Marie Aimee

Our day ended with a cocktail reception at the Inema arts center

Inema Arts Center

Our day ended with a visit to the Inema Arts Center. I am charmed by the Rwandan language, Kinyarwanda, that has such poetic translations for words. Inema means a blessing, a gift, a talent to cultivate, to give, to receive!

The center is a non-profit arts program created by two brothers, Emanuel and Innocent who are both talented artists. Neither went to art school because there are none in the country.

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Innocent with his work                         Emanuel and his work

They have a passion for art, love for people, pride in Rwandan culture, sharing creativity, education, healing and cultural enlightenment. From the entrance, we were drawn by the bright colors and sculptures made from found objects, including two VW Bugs!

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The center has a craft center in what would have been a garage for the beaders and sewers where women come to work together. In addition to two floors of gallery space featuring the work of the brothers and eight other local artists, there is a gift shop and at the back, a studio where they work and hold classes for under served students. There is also a gallery for the students’ work!

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The beaders                                                                Trying to learn from them

The brothers call the center a social enterprise with about a hundred participants not only including artists, Musicians and but dancers. The delegation hosted a wine reception and invited many of the people we visited as well as other contacts that we were unable to visit in person. It was a very nice affair which concluded with the dance students performing for us. The center not only offers the dance lessons for free, but pays their school tuition out of proceeds from the center. We were delighted to be entertained by them and were very impressed by their skill and commitment.  (Sorry, I only took movies of the dancers!)

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Drummers                                                                     Mixed media fabric and paint

This is a wonderful example of two entrepreneurial brothers who have a vision for Rwanda and want to help create a vibrant arts community that also is a healing experience for many of the participants. They have also partnered with Heaven restaurant and have a gallery space there as well. I had a nice conversation with Emanuel who told me he had been an artist in residence at the University of Scranton and Arcadia University which is about three miles from my home!

Hats off to these two energetic social entrepreneurs!


At the reception, I met Lauren Russell, an American who originally came to Rwanda with the Nike Foundation to evaluate the Girl Hub program. She fell in love with the country and its people and decided to stay and start a business. There is no scale retailers in the country and many goods are inconsistently available when people go to the stores. With limited internet (national average of 2.4% of the people have computers), and no real option to create an on-line mail order business, her concept is to create an ordering system using a simple function phone through a text request. Using USSD, a mobile phone system with menu options, people will be able to order through their phones a limited menu of staple supplies and things like sanitary products. She will warehouse these items and deliver them via moped. Because there is no formal addressing system in the country (most people live on ad hoc footpaths), they will use a GPS to identify the site and store it with the ordering phone number. The transaction will use mobile money, which is prevalent here, and the products will be delivered by moped. I love these young entrepreneurs and their creative ideas!


Lauren and Ishmael

Before dinner we had the opportunity to visit with Deanna Freedman, MD, a friend of one of the delegates, who is an American pediatrician who is here for a year working to train medical school trainers. The program is funded through the Clinton foundation, Health Access, USAID and the Rwanda government. It is a 7 year project involving over 100 doctors in four hospitals.

There is some good news: Neonatal mortality has declined from 23% to 7% after training 35 people. The most common issues are worms, rheumatic fever and malaria. Education is the most important need in the country. Children are still defecating out in the open and are not using the latrines – this spreads the worms.