I first worked in Rwanda in 2001. Since then, I have had the privilege to travel through the country on numerous occasions. Each time I am in Rwanda, I am moved to see the transformation that has taken place and continues to occur as Rwanda redefines itself.
We hear a great deal about how corruption is rampant in Africa, how African states are useless to their population, and how poverty is eating away at people’s dignity. I can go on with this list that so typifies the illustration of Africa, but that is not my goal as I reflect on my visit to Rwanda. Yet I will make this one point before I proceed. There is too little being said in the discussions that lump Africa into a single country about how a country like Rwanda is defying all of those odds that are given for the African Continent all too often.
The leadership’s commitment to womens involvement in all aspects of Rwanda’s development to the rebuilding of its infrastructure and human resources development are just a few of the things that move me as I encounter Rwanda again. Despite all these things, I am most startled by what I have witnessed through the Women for Women Program. Building Rwanda’s infrastructure, such as roads, homes, schools, and myriad others is perhaps the easier thing to accomplish based on the commitment and available resources. What is significantly more difficult to do in Rwanda because of the conflict is to refresh people’s souls and help them regain their trust in each other. This, I know all too well, is a long journey and will continue with each succeeding generation. Yet clearly, the group in society with the greatest potential to contribute to the rebuilding of trust is without a doubt the women of Rwanda.
At Women for Women International, the groups of women that come together to participate in the comprehensive educational and vocational skills training do so despite their different backgrounds. What they have in common is a willingness and determination to change their lives and those of their families and communities. We support them in that mission. In Rwanda, seeing women from different ethnic groups mired in that drive to transform their communities is the beacon of light that helps one understand the possibilities that exist for continued growth and stability in Rwanda. Forgiveness is not often granted without understanding, and with each group discussion, understanding is generated. You often see women building those bridges of trust. Indeed, such bridges are absolutely vital to Rwanda’s future. To hear a woman—a total stranger who has never met me before—say that she loves me and wants to see me to do well, motivates me to find the strength I need to love my neighbors. Hating does not help the pain go away; it never will. Her realization is perhaps that forgiveness might help lighten the load of the pain she bears. And with each burden that is laid to rest, the women find the peace and understanding they need to consolidate the foundation of the bridge of trust.
While in Rwanda I am reminded, that we do more than simply help women rebuild their lives by gaining skills and knowledge. We help them build trust through understanding, which is an ingredient that is perfectly essential to peace and nation building.