By Erica Tavares
Today was a day of hopeful beginnings and joyful celebrations. We traveled 90 minutes outside of Kigali to Kayonza, Rwanda. There, we met with more than 250 women as they waited, in the sun and in the rain, to be enrolled in our program, eager for their chance to rebuild their lives. They came early, walking up to two hours to arrive by 8 am. Some would wait for 5 or 6 hours for their chance to meet with our trainers for their enrollment interview. While the women waited, they were divided into groups of 20, gathered together by village. These women, neighbors in their communities, would become a future “training group,” attending their bi-weekly rights education classes together and providing the powerful emotional support to each other that so many say is critical to their success in the program.
At the end of the day, we celebrated with 160 women who had completed their 12 months in the program. With the strong beat of African drummers providing the powerful backdrop, women danced, sang and shared their courageous stories of how they found the strength to rebuild their lives after joining Women for Women International:
“I now have an opinion about the status of my country,” said one.
“I’ve learned how to save money for the future,” said another.
“Now, I vote.” “I have started sending my daughters to school.” One after another, women stood and told us of the large and small ways they have changed their lives and the lives of their families. And after two hours of joyous celebration, we departed, with the women continuing to dance and sing as we walked toward the door. As we reluctantly prepared to head back to Kigali, Zainab left the women, our graduates, with this message:
“Always be strong. I want you to always be strong.”