Rwanda Today: Rebirth among Ruins
Visiting Rwanda and feeling deeply shaken by the details of the atrocities of ’94 genocide and people like Romeo Daillaire, the Canadian peace keeper who kept begging Kofi Annan for troops to stop the genocide and was denied. The world called it a civil war and did nothing. No country intervened. Left were 300,000 genocide orphans, 500,000 widows to tell the story, many of whom were affected by HIV – probably close to 100,000.
We spoke to women parliamentarians as 56% of parliament is made up of women (Rwanda is the only country in the world where this is the case). Visited genocide museum and put flowers on the mass grave. More than 200,000 people are buried there. It’s staggering.
We lunched with the President and First Lady; it was a beautiful experience.
The women who work for Same Sky are alone in the world and see me as their mother and grandmother to their kids. They are all HIV+ and we made a film and interviewed them. They opened up about being gang raped and having children out of rape who are HIV+. They embraced me and told me they pray for me and Same Sky and all the people who support Same Sky. All of you!!!!! They are so deeply grateful.
Yesterday, Speciose who was not a verbal person and hardly spoke (she bore the deepest scars from the genocide) led all the women in song; the song was about beauty. The trip was worth it just to see her open up and transform.
Bridget cried tears of joy when we visited her at her house in the Survivors Village where we met her three kids. She is so proud of that house and was so full of love and adoration. She was taken as a sex slave by a Hutu general at age 13 and bore his children. Now she has mattresses for her children to sleep on.
Each woman that I spent time with confided in me and shared intimate stories about themselves and how Same Sky has saved their life. They were all inspirational and heartfelt. They are all heroes. I wanted to give them money but know giving them sustainable work is more respectful of them. Their self esteem has grown so much since we started Same Sky.
The President Paul Kagame deserves a Nobel Prize for uniting the people and teaching forgiveness. The First Lady is a role model for the women empowerment movement and taking care of the genocide victims.
Rwanda is safe, clean, orderly and controlled. There are fiber optics so cell service is tops. Rwanda is open for business; there is building going on here and they are even building a big convention center.
In Rwanda having a female baby is a blessing unlike in places like China and India where there are many instances of not giving antibiotics to young girls and letting them die. As a woman you can dream big and fulfill that dream if you work hard enough.
Accompanying Miss Universe and Miss USA to AIDS clinics and meeting the AIDS infected orphans and hugging and kissing them with so much tenderness was eye opening. The country provides free antiviral drugs and AIDS education so the statistic went from 11% of new cases down to 3%.
We saw men wearing pink and orange uniforms digging the road and paying their debt to society. The men in pink uniforms are the ones who are still on trial. The men in orange already received their sentence. Instead of staying in prison they work to improve the country. Even Same Sky’s artisans have had to learn to work together knowing the woman next to them had a Hutu husband that might have murdered their husband.
This a country focused on the future. The pain was so great that they are moving full steam ahead. They did this with the help of the women who demanded to have a voice and lead the reconciliation.
We are driving through the lush and verdant hills. Rwanda is known for the 1,000 hills. We trekked to see the gorillas. We saw the Agashya gorilla family which means “special.” It’s special because when the Silverback died a woman gorilla took over the clan for the first time and for six months led the gorilla family. The only thing that disturbed me about the trekking was watching the men wield machetes cutting down the bush so we could meet the gorillas. It reminded me of how good they are with that weapon and the atrocities that weapon caused during the 100 days.
The genocide museum is a heart wrenching experience. To really appreciate ethnic cleansing in the 20th century it’s a must see. Imagine that in just one century: Rwanda to Cambodia from World War II to Bosnia and Armenia. The fact that it all took place in one century boggles the mind.
Rwanda is a remarkable place with a dark past and bright future.
As President Clinton said, no country has progressed so far and so fast as Rwanda.
To get involved with Same Sky, visit: http://www.samesky.com/