After a scrumptious breakfast buffet, the members of the delegation convened for introductions and an orientation to the schedule. We are fourteen women from all walks of life: small business owners, nurses, physician, dentist, artist, real estate agent, computer specialist, board member volunteer, economist and I am the only educator! It is a good mix from around the U.S.
After introductions we piled into the bus to drive East of Kigali to the lowland plains area of the country. On the way, our country guide, Clementine, a beautiful and expressive young woman, gave us the history of the country and the genocide. She shared her family’s experience: she was ten years old and has four other siblings. Her mother was widowed and they are lucky – they spent a lot of time in hiding. (for more information about the genocide see the first blog entry).
It was very nice to get out of the city and see some of this beautiful country.
We saw a lot of people walking along the roadside and since it was a Saturday, there were markets along the way.
According to Clementine and another guide, after independence, the Hutu government persecuted the Tutsi minority and relegated them to the Gashora area where there were forests, it was dry and many tse tse flies that carried a deadly disease. The citizens sent there were not expected to live, but they did. In 1994, there was a church, school and religious compound where 10,000 people took refuge from the killing. Unfortunately, the priests and nuns were in cahoots with the Hutu and all of them were massacred. We visited the memorial on our way to the Gashora Girls Academy for Science and Technology.
It was very surreal to be at the memorial where the benches were lined up with clothes of the deceased. I had seen pictures of these memorials and wondered why the clothes were not buried with the bodies. We were informed that the bodies had decomposed by the time the genocide was brought to an end and all that was left were clothes and bones. The bones were buried in a grave behind the church and the clothes piled up “to remember” the atrocities. There were gunshot holes in the roof and a few human bones laid out because they had been recently discovered and brought to the memorial. A number of sculls were exhibited that showed where the victims had been struck. No pictures were allowed inside. It was a sober experience to realize all the deaths that occurred in such a short period of time.
Genocide memorial Mass graves Gunshot holes
On a lighter note, we arrived at the Gashora Girls Academy for Science and Technology. Because of the term break, there were no students or teachers there, but it was an amazing visit. We met with the principal of the school who told us that the school is in its 5th year having graduated two classes. It was the brain child of two Seattle women, Suzanne Sinegal McGill and Shalisan Foster. They wanted to create a good school in Africa for underprivileged girls, and Rwanda ended up being the choice. The need was for a school in the rural part of the country and the Gashora area that was previously “no man’s land” was chosen. Its focus is on science and technology, and the country is scoured for top achieving girls to become boarders no matter their socioeconomic status (28 per cent of the students are poor). Everyone contributes something, even if it is $20 for the term.
Founders One of the computer labs with colorful covers
There are no rules at the school and conduct is guided by seven principles (pictured below). Girls are expected to do “the right thing”, are treated as adults and are expected to come knowing what they want.
This school is amazing! It is well funded, beautiful and enjoys A LOT of support from US leaders as well as Rwandan first lady Jeanette Kagame who came to the opening. (Kagame and Obama have visited.)
Love the initials carved into the hedge Also Gorillas and Elephants!
There are 276 students ages 15-18 (some who do not arrive speaking English and make great strides). They do not take the national exams, but excel academically. Twenty eight girls are currently in college in North America (including Canada). Some of the schools they are attending are represented by the pennants pinned on the wall!
The school and Director were very impressive. It is managed by the Rwanda Girls Initiative located in Seattle.
After a lakeside lunch at a nearby hotel, we visited a weaving cooperative.
The weaving cooperative has 61 members, many of whom met us enthusiastically – see video. We enjoyed learning about their craft, seeing it all and of course, shopping! The video linked below tells the story! They were wonderful – as well as the village children.
On the way back to Kigali we stopped at a local market and enjoyed smiles and photos.
It was another FULL and wonderful day!