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. 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, http://www.gardensforhealth.org/ 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.
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. 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. 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. Trees ready for distribution Classroom inside and below outside 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. http://www.girleffect.org/the-girl-effect-in-action/girl-hub/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. 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, http://www.bridge2rwanda.org/ 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. 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. 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! 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. 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. Judy Cici Jill Kim Sylvia Maureen Cathi Linda Jo Patti Beth Malia 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.