Day 2 in Rwanda:
Our first two destinations were two local community associations that are supported by WE-ACTx. Icyuzuzo is an association of Rwandan widows located in the Nyamirambo district. Icyuzuzo (Kinyarwanda for “compliment” or “complete”) serves 5000 clients in the surrounding districts, sponsoring clincs, vocational training, HIV prevention education, palliative care and capacity building projects.
Upon our arrival, the doctors/nurses in our group (above, with Mardge Cohen, third from the right, Executive Director Eugene Twagirimana, right) and President Constance Kubwimana , sixth from the right). separated off to help provide care in the clinics while the children worked sorting medications. The rest of us met with Eugene and Constance (with me below) to learn more about their work with Icyuzuzo.
Among other things, we were sobered to learn about the growing income disparity in Rwanda. While the country outwardly appears to be economically rebounding since the 1994 genocide (Kigali is a clean, well-run and orderly city, and new construction abounds) most of the new growth comes from foreign investors – and very little of it is tricking down to the local population. NGOs such as Icyuzuzo are for the most part the only safety net available to the Rwandan poor. As is the case throughout much of the developing world, these grassroots institutions are stretched beyond the limit.
Our next stop was a capacity-building center in the Ramera neighborhood, to an association that produces beautiful fabric crafts. In addition to learning about the various services provided by the center, we had the opportunity to demonstrate a new and potentially exciting income-generation project. Before leaving Evanston, we purchased and packed thirty EarthBoxes – a relatively new growing process developed by commercial farmers, designed to grow a large number of crops in a relatively small space. (It was quite an adventure getting huge quantities of soil, plastic boxes and organic fertilizer through security at O’Hare!)
We brought and demonstrated the EarthBoxes at the behest of WE-ACTx; our visit was attended by several representatives from other local organizations and at least one government official (that’s JRC member Rich Katz explaing the process below). This project has real potential for local capacity building, particularly for WE-ACTx clients who do not own land. However there are clearly many variables and much will depend on the Rwandan’s ability to find local soil and substrate to replicate the process on an ongoing basis.
During this visit I had an interesting conversation with the director of counseling for WE-ACTx, who asked me how Jews continue live with the legacy of of genocide. I shared with her what studies have taught the Jewish communtity about second/third generation children of survivors and I shared a bit about the challenges of living with the darker aspects of our history. We talked about the ways the Rwandan experience is both similar and markedly different than the Jewish one. Obviously the wounds here are very fresh; and unlike the Jews of Europe, the goverment is committed to bringing all aspects of Rwandan society back together in one extremely small country.
Whether this will succeed over the long term or not is an open question. One woman who joined our conversation expressed her doubts – saying that while the political reconciliation is important, much of the underlying pain and hatred continues to simmer under the surface. How many generations does it take for this kind of pain to dissipate in a community? The Jewish people have been learning this for some time – Rwanda is now struggling with the tragic question as well.
Our final visit was a heartbreaking tour of Kigali’s Public Hospital. More on this in my next post…