After a solid thirty-something hours of traveling, I am back in New York City. I know it may sound strange, but while my first hot shower in two weeks was unequivocally wonderful, there is something about ice-cold bucket baths that I will miss. Is it the ferocity with which the frigid water destroyed my morning grogginess? Or is it the connection to the billions of humans, both past and present, who didn’t or don’t have access to the basic amenities (like hot running water) that many of us take for granted? Who knows . . . .
My last day in Rwanda was the ideal conclusion to what was certainly a life-changing trip. Matt, Anaclet and I returned to our partner cooperative ANGE, this time to pick up an order of stunning wine coasters and conduct on-camera interviews with the women. Having already completed several hours of interviews a few days earlier at Covanya, I assumed that it would be less draining this time. This was not the case. Each woman’s story managed to be both heart-wrenching and inspiring. Claudine, for instance, not only cares for her own child, but also NINE orphans – spending every extra penny on sending them all to school. She manages to do this on less than $1.00 per day. Despite such challenges, Claudine remains upbeat, hopeful, and full of playful banter. She joked light-heartedly with us about our limited Kinyarwanda and seemed impressively confident. It is women like Claudine who are the heart of Indego Africa.
After our ANGE visit, Matt and I traveled to the local Kigali coffee shop to offer the job of in-country internship coordinator to Jean de Dieu Niyomugabo. “Jado” is a remarkable fellow - a survivor of the genocide and graduate to-be in law at the top university in Rwanda. We hope he accepts the position.
Matt and I then met Alfred and Esperance Kayiranga for a delightful, emotional dinner. Alfred, a distinguished member of the Rwandan Parliament, is also the very proud owner of a dairy farm (as discussed in Matt’s prior post, “Kibuye and Kivu and Cows”). If you would like to make an investment in one of Alfred’s cows, please let me know (I’m not kidding). Esperance is a stunningly beautiful woman who is generously helping to oversee Indego Africa’s operations at ANGE. We discussed Rwanda’s past, present and future. Alfred and Esperance welcomed me into their family, and I welcomed them into mine. And Alfred asked that I tell people in the United States about the promise of Rwanda. As a family member, that’s now my mission.
So, my parting impressions:
The children. My favorite part of this trip, without question, was the time I spent with the children. As you can probably see from some of my pictures, a large number of the kids in Rwanda are malnourished, living in astoundingly unsanitary conditions, and unable to attend school for lack of fees. Yet, somehow, they manage to laugh and play and generally act like normal kids, despite the hardships they have to endure. Matt and I often wondered: do they understand how bad they have it? In some ways I say no. But then in other ways I think the beaming smiles and infectious giggles are somewhat deceiving, and once in a while you can catch the real impact in their eyes. Regardless, I am in awe of these kids and what they shoulder every day, and they will undoubtedly inspire me forever.
The poverty. I have never seen such intense poverty in person, and it was quite a shock at first. I thought that with time I would get used to it, but my dismay only grew stronger. At ANGE, for instance, there is no running water, no health services, no electricity, no transportation, and no steady source of nourishment. Across Rwanda there are millions of people in similar situations, just trying to survive each day. It is my hope that Indego Africa can make a difference, even if it is one basket or training program at a time.
The hospitality. From my first step into Rwanda to my parting waves goodbye, every Rwandan I met welcomed me as a brother and member of
their family. I have never visited a country so far away and yet felt so at home.
The natural beauty. This was perhaps the most surprising part of my trip. The lush hills that roll as far as the eye can see. The twisting red dirt roads. The pale, misty-blue sky. And a huge blood-orange sun that accompanies almost every late afternoon. Rwanda is truly a gem.
Determination and hope. Never before have I met so many people determined to better their lives though hard work and
cooperation. But it is so clear that the biggest missing link is opportunity. This is where I think Indego Africa can help. We connect a resolve for a better future with the opportunities to achieve it. Our women partners (and families) not only have the opportunity to sell handicrafts on an open market, but they also have the opportunity to gain long-term skills that will help them for the rest of their lives. And, of course, you have the opportunity to contribute to this effort. Please take a second and think about what you can do. Make a donation? Buy some amazing handicrafts? Connect us with an influential contact? Volunteer your time or expertise? Indego Africa is a serious, innovative, and influential project trying its best to make a difference. Thanks for taking the time to read about us.
Matt and Byron, the mic is passed to you! What’s going on over there?