Kigali, Rwanda, June 11, 2010 || Today is my first full day in Kigali. I arrived at the Women for Women International office in Kigali and was welcomed by Berra Kabarungi, our Country Director, and her dedicated staff. Fridays are field days for the Kigali office and I was fortunate enough to join the life-skills trainers and other staff members on their daily assignments.
The first stop was the village of Nyagasambu, 30 km. east of Kigali in the district of Rwamagana. There we dropped off three of our life-skills trainers to start their instruction. Before joining the classes, we continued up the road to visit a maize cultivation cooperative in Sasabirago. Emmanuel, the income-generation coordinator, gave us a tour of the site and talked about the co-op. Amid a backdrop of breathtaking hills and the expanse of Lake Muhazi lies a three-hectare farm of maize, cultivated by 99 women – all graduates of the Women for Women International program and skilled in organic farming. They are getting ready for the harvest at the end of this month, and will then be trained in post-harvest management as they prepare their crops for the market. Emmanuel noted that the entire harvest has already been pre-purchased by one of our partners, Purchase for Peace. I couldn’t help detect a huge amount of pride and satisfaction in his face as he told us the news.
We returned to Nyagasambu where the life-skills sessions were well underway. The first class we visited was just wrapping up their recap from the last time they met. The topic was on Matualle – the government issued health insurance of Rwanda. Jane, the group’s life-skills trainer, stressed the importance of registering for the insurance. She explained that for a small fee (5,000 Rwandan Francs – about $10) the women and their families can seek medical care and the government will pay for 80% of the expenses. Without the insurance, the women would have to pay for 100% of the cost. One participant commented that she is now able to go to the hospital and take care of her children’s health after registering for the Matualle.
Today’s new discussion was on civic participation and focused on voting. This is a very important year in Rwanda as August 9th marks the presidential election. Jane the life-skills trainer explained that in order to vote, each woman needs to register with their local leader with proof that they are over 18 years of age and a Rwandan national. She asked the group of 20 what voting means to them. One participant responded, “To vote is choosing someone who will really help you accordingly.” Jane emphasized that all women must know the candidates and listen carefully to their campaigns before making their informed vote. Another participant agreed and said that she will choose a President who will help her reach her goals and who believes in rights for women.
The second class we visited was finishing up its own discussion on the importance of voting. At the end, the trainer, Lucie, asked if we could say something. I introduced myself, and my colleague Jennifer from the DC office, telling the women that we work with sponsors from the United States and other countries. I told them that their “sisters and brothers” care for them, support them from afar, and encourage them to continue their training. The women’s faces lit up and they started to applaud. Many stood up and started to tell their stories of how the sponsorship has changed their lives and helped them care better for their families.
Jen and I asked two of the participants if we could talk with them after class. With the help of our translator for the day, Charlotte, who works with our sponsorship team in Kigali, we asked how the training affected each of the women personally. A woman named Joseline said that Women for Women International is helping her take care of her five children and two orphans she took in after the recent death of her mother. She now has health insurance for the family and is able to take the children to the clinic. She has also learned a lot about her civil liberties and teaches her daughters about their rights as well. The second woman we talked to was named Jacqueline. She grows tomatoes in her own kitchen garden. After selling her first yield at the market and saving the funds she received from Women for Women International, she was able to buy equipment to help with her harvest.
After a long day, all nine of us squeezed back into the Women for Women 4×4 and headed back to the office in Kigali. I am thrilled to have finally witnessed our life-skills training and to have seen the land that is cultivated by our graduates. The best part of the day, and what I will never forget, is finally talking with the women we serve – sharing well-wishes from their sponsors, encouraging them to continue their hard work, laughing with the participants, and hearing their stories of accomplishment and growth.
I know that these are the first of many stories I will hear over the next two weeks. Some will be triumphant; others will be difficult to take in. But I know, like today, that progress is being made – day by day, session by session, women for women.
Liam Dall is the Senior Major Gifts Officer at Women for Women International. He traveled to Rwanda and DR Congo in June 2010.