Rwanda: Alison Wheeler’s Trip, January 2010

Sunday, January 31, 2010

We arrived into the Kigali airport at 10 p.m. My very first observations walking down the airplane stairs were: the weather (warn and balmy), trees and canopies of leaves and the smoke smell (people burn their trash here).

The small Kigali airport was clean, efficient and relatively quiet. Many people welcomed us to Rwanda and then went on their way. Our drivers picked us up. We could see twinkling lights on the surrounding hills as we drove from the airport into Kigali. Paved two-lane roads wound around to the center of the city. There was somewhat of a center of the city, surrounded by homes and hills. It was amazing to hear that 1.5 million people live in Kigali and nearly 10 million people live in this very small country.

We arrived at Hotel Milles Collines (Rwanda is know as the Land of Thousand Hills). English has recently replaced French as the official language, though most people still speak the local language–Kinyarwanda.

The Hotel Milles Collines was the hotel that inspired the movie “Hotel Rwanda.” You enter through a big gate, and I couldn’t help visualizing what this place must of looked like when hundreds of people were trying to get through the gates during the genocide, seeking the protection on the inside. After we had checked in, we all headed to take a look at the swimming pool. It was surreal to sit there and think about what it must have been like for the people that were trapped in the hotel during the genocide—the people who stayed here actually ended up drinking the pool water when they ran out of fresh water.

I guess that is one of the things I couldn’t get out of my head the entire first day here. How did the genocide happen here? It doesn’t seem possible. Unlike Bosnia, at first you don’t see the damage of the war that took place here. The buildings weren’t really destroyed. You don’t see the machetes lying around. But it’s there. Our taxi driver, Remee, told us he lost his entire family during the genocide–mother, father, brothers and sisters. He has no family. He also showed us a machete scar on his scalp. There are other scars, he told us.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

We left the hotel early Wednesday morning to visit the sustainable farming initiative about an hour from our Kigali office.

Outside the city, the countryside is a terraced series of hills that go on and on with lots of green valleys and banana trees everywhere, in addition to the potato plant and the tomato tree (like a passion fruit in look and taste). Kigali is very adeptly described as a mountain hamlet—calm and clean. Most of the country is amazingly clean; you will never see any trash. Of course, no plastic bags as these are illegal to bring into the country!

You see women walking along the roads with babies happily strapped to their backs. Everyone seems to be in motion—people seem to be everywhere all the time. Even in the winding hills of the countryside you see people walking, riding a bicycle or sitting by the side of the road waiting for a bus ride.

We reached a valley where the organic farming initiative was located. A shelter for the working women and storage area for the tools was being constructed. It was the middle of the day and it was extremely hot. I understand that most of the women work in the morning, at 6 a.m. and work until about 11 a.m. and then sit out the heat. Under the shade of corn husk roof, we saw chili plants blooming. The other crops to be planted were watermelon, tomatoes, passion fruit, beans and corn.  The WFWI-Rwanda office has done a tremendous job securing market partners to ensure the women have somewhere to sell the crops they produce. The office has partnered with the largest juicer in the country that buys watermelon and passion fruits. The office will also sell corn and beans to the World Food Program—every crop has a market partner. To me, this seemed absolutely fundamental to ensuring that the women had a sustainable income: markets.

We saw the canals that had been dug to carry water from part of the farm to another. There are three other farms like this that the organization has developed. The locations of the farms are Ngenyue, Karongi and Njagama. The idea is to teach women vocational training in farming as part of the program and then give them the opportunity to earn income, post-program. The other key objective is to have the women own the land. The majority of people that work the land around the world are women but they own a very small percentage of the land.

Alison Wheeler is the Director of Marketing at Women for Women International.



Filed under Africa, Rwanda

8 responses to “Rwanda: Alison Wheeler’s Trip, January 2010

  1. Silke Gardner

    I am sponsoring a sister in Rwanda and your trip description allows me to get a glimpse into what Rwanda looks like, smells like and how the life of the woman there is. Maybe one day I can do a trip myself!

  2. Teresa

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I am sister to the women in the Congo/Rwanda and have appreciated my opportunities to participate in this program. I hope one day to visit the area also but for now, I will settle for my letter writing and the stories of others who have visited.

  3. Hi, we are a group of “church ladies” who are working on sponsoring a Rwandan sister through your organization.

    I reposted a link to this blog post on our facebook page to help inform the group of ladies who are interested in partnering with WFW at Bethany Baptist Church.

    I’ve put together a website and a facebook page, to promote the cause of women helping women, to keep current with how women are being helped.

  4. china street

    Dear sisters,

    My heart goes out. Please place me on your contact list and allow me to pray not just for you, but anyway give will give me to help.



  5. Are there no longer any militias in Rwanda? Who is the government leader there? It seems that women are more protected there than in Eastern Congo. What is the community doing to help women in Eastern Congo find a safer place to live?


  6. Monica Shaw Webb

    Thank you, Alison, for your excellent and informative posting. I feel closer to my Rwandan sister, Violette, now that I’ve seen more of the country and the WfW program. I’m struck by the image of no plastic bags! Thanks again.

  7. Dolly Vivian Wekesa

    Alison; Your experiences in Rwanda are simply touching! Thank you for sharing with us the sustainable initiatives that you have set in place. It is these women in Rwanda (Africa in totality) that bear the brunt of raising their families >communities, yet they are trodden upon by their societies. These are causes very dear to my heart and I would like to know how I can participate more effectively as a member of WWI..I admire the work you do Alison

  8. Michelle marino

    Thank you for giving us a glimpse of your experience in Rawanda. It’s amazing to me that this beautiful country has seen so much horror,
    and yet they move forward with much grace.Thanks once again.

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