Rwanda, Africa’s most densely populated country (over 11 million people living in an area slightly smaller than the state of Maryland), is continuing a long journey to healing the scars left by one of the worst genocides in modern history. Rwanda faces many challenges. It is a poor rural country with about 90% of the population engaged in mainly subsistence agriculture as well as some mineral and agro-processing. The population is very youngwith over 42% of its citizens under the age of 14. The life expectancy is low, currently at 58 years old.
But one thing Rwanda does not lack is hope. The country has no shortage of friends around the world working to improve the country’s status. Two organizations, half a world away in Seattle, Washington, illustrate how the world community is supporting Rwanda in its quest to lay the foundation for a better future.
Addressing Gender Equality
Rwanda Girls Initiative was created by two Seattle women, Suzanne Sinegal McGill and Shalisan Foster. It is focused on providing secondary education to girls and was designed by McGill and Foster to eventually become self-sustaining within the community it serves. Their first project is the Gashora Girls Academy, located in a rural farming community (Gashora) about 40 minutes south of Kigali. In January 2012, another 90 girls joined the first group of 90 at the academy. The new school in Gashora will eventually house 270 girls.
The Gashora Girls Academy is situated on 25 acres, half of which serve as school grounds and the other half crop land. The academy terraced the land to protect against soil erosion and collect water which has allowed it to plant papaya and mango trees, along with peppers, sunflowers, cabbages and tomatoes. It also harvested 17 tons of seeds that were sold in local markets and is now growing zucchini.
Rwanda Partners is a non-profit organization committed to fighting poverty and restoring hope to the poor through economic and educational opportunities. Founded in 2004 by Tracy Stone, Rwanda Partners seeks to address widespread poverty and food insecurity in the country by creating sustainable income-generating programs for Rwanda’s most vulnerable poor – widows, orphans, street youth, former prostitutes, rape survivors and rural farmers.
To date, enterprises established by Rawanda Partners include:
- The Rwanda Basket Co.
- The Urunana Pineapple Plantation
- The Ambassadors Cassava Plantation
- Gashora Orphans Cassava Plantation
- The Gashora Orphans Sewing Program
- The Wirira Widows Chicken/Egg/Corn Farm
- Vocational Sewing Program
But the scars of conflict do not heal overnight. Recognizing this, the organization conducts reconciliation workshops. These 3-day relational workshops explore the dynamics of hatred and conflict alongside the unresolved issues that block forgiveness and repentance. In addition to the workshops, Rwanda Partners also conducts follow up sessions and personal visits with workshop participants who continue to work through any unresolved issues. It also forms “Reconciliation Associations” to help repentant perpetrators and survivors who have gone through workshops together further cement forgiveness and ensure a commitment to working together in their everyday lives.
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