Ten Days in Rwanda
Written by guest blogger Hilary Butler, Chair of the Board of Directors of Komera Canada
“What do you like best about Rwanda?” was a question many young women asked me during my recent visit to their country. “Wow,” was my reply, “Well, that’s a tough question. First the people, your friendliness and affection, then the beauty of your country and, of course, the dancing and singing. And then the bright colours of your traditional clothes. And then the gorillas and the lions and other wild animals we saw in the parks. And of course, the excellent hotels and the great meals and the lovely friendly service everywhere. And…”
How does one sum up one’s experience in Rwanda? Our group of eight “mzungus”, half of us from Bowen Island and half from New York, were there to visit the Komera team and the young women supported by Komera in Rwinkwavu, a small village deep in the countryside. This meant that our experience was so much deeper than that of the average tourist, and deep it was!
From the moment we walked through the arrivals area of Kigali Airport, to be greeted by Bosco, one of our Rwandan drivers and guides who are part of the Komera family there, we were enveloped in warmth and friendliness. Margaret our fearless leader had planned a mixture of relaxation, tourist visits and immersion into the world of Komera. Some of us visited the gorillas, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is not to be missed, some visited the Genocide Memorial, also not to be missed if one wants to understand something of this country’s history and culture, and we all visited a coffee plant where we bought some tasty Rwandan coffee beans. Over delicious meals at our hotel in Kigali, we got to know the other members of our group that was a motley mixture of ages and backgrounds that melded into a happy gang of enthusiasts for our shared experiences in Rwanda.
After a day or so, we were on to the bones of our trip – a bumpy ride into the countryside through verdant hills and valleys, dotted with little homes and smallholdings, past bicycles and motorbikes burdened with huge loads of children, bananas, water containers, cassava, furniture and other household equipment. Our first visit was to a boarding school where most of the Komera scholars are located. We were given a warm welcome by the head teacher and staff, and a choral welcome from the Komera girls (which became a theme song of our group – “It is time, time, time to say Welcome”). We attended the opening of the new science lab sponsored by Ali, one of our group, a long-time benefactor of Komera, and chatted with the girls, most of whom have good English skills. It was great for us Komera Canada people to put faces and voices to the names of the young women we sponsor that appear on our website.
During the next few days, we helped at a service project – building a new home for a 91-year old man, his 41-year old wife and his two children of one and five years old! We did yoga with teenage mothers, a new project of Komera, we played soccer with many primary school students (yet another new project), spent time with the parent cooperative group (now 400-strong) and visited with some of the 35 university students also sponsored by Komera. We spent lots of time with the Komera staff, headed by Country Director Dativah, her deputy Rose and social worker Ruth, along with several other staff members who welcomed us warmly and enthusiastically.
The highlight of the week was the Komera Fun Run when we ran or walked with over 1,000 community members for an admittedly short distance on the red clay road of Rwinkwavu, after a dance and song warm-up that lasted at least an hour, and which was followed by a parent sack race and a primary school relay race, a yoga presentation by the teenage mothers and much speechifying and more dancing. All in all, we in our group were excited and enthusiastic about the great work being done by Dativah and her gang in Rwinkwavu to support the young women and their families, and Margaret and her small team in Boston who, apart from administrative work, do an amazing job raising funds and communicating the endeavours and successes of Komera to their many fans.
On our bumpy way back to Kigali, we stopped at a Zipline installation where we watched a drone with a small load of blood flying off to a local hospital. What a great innovation in this country in the middle of Africa! In fact, we were constantly reminded of the fact that Rwanda is the Singapore of Africa. Kigali centre looks more like any large cosmopolitan city every time I return, as the government encourages international investment plus innovative strategies such as banning single-use plastic bags, a monthly obligatory clean-up day, and even a city-wide exercise day. We in the West could learn a great deal from Rwanda!