From the ashes of genocide that leveled the nation just 17 years ago, Rwanda has shown remarkable social, economic and political growth. The nation’s success has become even more astonishing after having spent almost four weeks here, as I am able to contrast Rwandan life today to reflections of the genocide from friends I have spoken to here.
A few days ago we shared breakfast with David, a Rwandan who survived the genocide, and has now started at least one nonprofit, earned two masters degrees and is now working towards a PHD focused on young people after conflict. David himself is a symbol of the growth of this nation. Among conversations where David described his nonprofit, and memories from years in school in Kenya, South Africa and the United States, David remembered the genocide. Looking at the main street of Butare from the café where we were eating, David recalled “It took a long time before I could come back to this city. I had to wait for all of the blood and roadblocks to be removed.”
In contrast to this memory, the main street of Butare is now back to life, full of businesses, university students, and the occasional tourist. Like David, Rwanda has grown.
Yesterday, we had an opportunity to meet several village women who also exemplify this phoenix-like growth. Accompanied by two RVCP members, Jean-Pierre and Peter, we went to a village in Rukira to visit women who participated in last year’s Maternal Health Education Program. Since last year was the first year that the program operated, this year is therefore the first opportunity for GlobeMed members to evaluate their success. The women in the cooperative were chosen because of their extreme need for health education and income generation. After attending ten health-information sessions one year ago, the women also received a goat and plot of land. We were eager to visit them to see if the information and income generation opportunity had positive effects on their lifestyles.
The village lays at the end of a long dirt road, winding among mountainous hills, which are so lush with life that they actually smell like the passion fruits that hang from trees throughout. The president of last year’s cooperative, Grace, met us at the beginning of the village, barefoot and brightly dressed. Together, walking through the hills of the village along a narrow dirt road, through cornfields and pastures, we went door-to-door to meet several women who belong to last year’s cooperative.
When we arrived, the women would show off their goats. Many of the goats are pregnant, and an equally large amount had recently given birth. This was great news for us to hear, because the women can sell some of these goats to earn money. Some said they planned to sell the goats so they could invest in a cow, which is the cost of three goats. The women also use and sell the goat manure for fertilizer. Also, the goat meat and milk is sold and used for nutrition. One mother brought both her goat and her young daughter to greet us. She explained that before participating in the health sessions, her daughter was dangerously malnourished. Now, with information from the session and the availability of goat meat and milk, her daughter is healthy. She asked us to take a photo of the girl with her goat.
Impressed with the success of the women, we left the village after visiting about ten homes in the village. We plan to go back in two weeks with a survey we have created. To be administered every two weeks (and a different survey every six months), the survey will allow us to track the health and income generation of women who have participated in the Maternal Health Education Program. This evaluation will allow us to alter the program later so that it is most effective for the women.
As we continue our work here in Rwanda, we are inspired by our surroundings. The individuals, communities and landscape of this nation carry a story, in which hope continues to defeat tragedy.