Day 2 - part 1

Kigali Travel Blog

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Human Rights Commission

Kigali, August 6, 2009

We got up early this morning. After a quick breakfast, we met as a group around 8AM to go to visit the official Human Rights Commission of Rwanda. This is an independent organization of seven commissioners appointed by the Parliament at the suggestion of the President. It advises the legislative branch, monitors and puts forth initiatives related to the human rights situation in Rwanda. It also investigates complaints regarding human rights violations and possibly brings about a criminal action against the perpetrators. We met with the vice-president of the Commission and one of the Commissioners. They talked mainly about education . Education is free and mandatory. There are fees for supplies and uniforms ($15 dollars a year can provide a child all necessary supplies and a uniform).

Human Rights Commission
We also found out that the children of genocide - both the orphans and the children of men who committed genocide and are currently in prison are sponsored by government. Rwanda government decided to make education a priority. It knows that Rwanda does not have natural resources - no oil, no gold, no mines - so educated population will be their strength. As a part of educating children, the government also mandates that human rights education be a part of both elementary and secondary schools. The children are taught about their country - what it went through during the genocide and how these sentiments of hate brought a terrible crime. They are taught that there are no Tutsis or Hutus. They are all Rwandans. Indeed, you really don’t hear people talking about these divisions.
Women for Women
I am sure they still exist and Rwandan people know precisely who is Hutu and who is Tutsi. But with time and education, people realize that unified strong Rwanda is the way to go.

We asked some pointed questions during our visit at the Human Rights Commission, but got mostly evasive answers. The basic status on major human rights issues is: no death penalty, abortion illegal, homosexuality practically does not exist (yeah, right!) - or at least - no one is complaining about being mistreated on that issue (that’s, at least, their version).

After the appointment with the Human Rights Commission, we proceeded to our next scheduled stop. It was a compound that houses Women for Women Project - Kigali Chapter.

Women for Women
It was another really successful visit. Although they did not realize we were coming, the time spent there was really well organized. Women for Women provides for some life skills training, trade training, possibly sponsorship for the poorest women. Most of them are illiterate, some are widows or have useless husbands (I quote the manager). By the way, you can look up Women for Women on the Net and sign up to be a sister to a woman in Rwanda. Sponsoring cost, I think, about 26 dollars a month and it really goes to a good use. You are put in touch with a woman you are sponsoring and you can write and support her. I am planning on getting a “sister” as soon as I get a job J .

The women sign a one-year contract and attend many workshops and meetings to graduate from this program as independent, self-sufficient, confident women who can permanently change their lives.

Women for Women
The organization works in Kigali, but a couple times a week, they travel to rural areas to work with the women there.

We were given translators and split into several groups of three to attend the workshops. I have joined a workshop on hygiene. It was good. After listening to the speaker, the ladies asked questions. I really liked that part since the questions dealt with their real life situations. Some other workshops’ topics included: women and voting, gender equality in raising children, home economics, small business and nutrition for HIV positive persons. The topics were interesting and all of us came out pumped. We talked with the director of the program for a while. Again, I had an opportunity to hear the ever-present loyalty to President Kagame. The manager of the program was an educated, well-traveled, very dedicated woman named appropriately Peace.

Women for Women workshops
On daily basis, she deals with poverty, illiteracy, abuse, and such. She would be the person to dispel the myth of strong but just Kagame. She could tell us that he is not working for the people of Rwanda. Yet, I got the same answer from her as I got from a few other people. The president is fair, good, strong, and effective. He works for the people of Rwanda. He will surely be reelected in the next year’s elections without any trouble. And I believe that. I have never in my life heard the same - good opinion of a government. I keep asking people what are the criticisms against him. I don’t get much. Peace said that lazy people don’t like him and corrupt people don’t like him. The general population of Rwanda is behind him. Most Rwandans realize that they don’t have full set of freedoms but still accept that these limitations shield them from hate propaganda, ethnic conflicts, and war.

I guess I didn’t mention it before - after 1994 genocide - when Paul Kagame came with his army and ended genocide - the identity cards with the pseudo-ethnic affiliations (i.e. Tutsi, Hutu and Twa) were eliminated once and for all. The mantra of post-genocide Rwanda is we are all Rwandans. We will still talk to many various people - educated, uneducated - urban and rural, Tutsis and Hutus.. And we will test this thesis…

So, Women for Women was a great experience. The women who allowed us to visit their programs were gracious and asked us about our lives.

We ate lunch at a wonderful Africa Bite. Both visits this morning were very uplifting, but afternoon was going to be much tougher. We are going to Nyamata and Intarama memorial cites.

Stay tuned…

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Here are some of the surprises about this country. Even though I felt like I was prepared for this trip mentally, I am still a product of the stereotypes perpetrated by the western media. As I am writing this entry, it is the end of the third day (published a bit later - a couple days - because of some connectivity issues). I would like to relate these surprises to all. Maybe it will dispel stereotypes about Africans - as just a mass of poor, war driven, corrupted, desperate people living in wrecked, dirty countries.

1. Rwanda is very clean - Rwandans take one Saturday morning a month to clean their country. They do not allow plastic bags to be used here. So, as we travel through the country, we do not see any trash, any papers, any bottles on the ground. This country is much cleaner than Poland.

2. Rwanda is very safe - We can walk around Kigali in the evening - even just girls with no issues. I was told numerous times by different guides that, if I wanted to go and visit some of the memorial sites outside of the city, it was just fine for me to take a bus and a motor bike taxi to get there. It was safe. Also, there are not many car accidents - lots of traffic police. Drinking and driving is punished severely, so no one drinks and drives.

3. Lots of development and new construction - wherever we go, we see new construction, big buildings coming up. The spirit of growth and innovation is definitely here.

4. Beautiful people - It is not such a surprise to see beautiful people all over the world, but we see beautiful people EVERYWHERE and ALL THE TIME. We see beautiful girls and ladies and very handsome men. I cannot even start talking about the gorgeous kids.

5. Positive attitude and optimism - I have read about 10 or 15 books on genocide over the past several years - specifically intensely over the past six months. It was so tough to come and start talking to people. What I have experienced so far - talking at length to about 5 or 7 people - is optimism, hope, good outlook for life, pride in their country, need for moving forward and reconciliation.

6. Government initiatives and attitude toward the government - I could write ten pages on the government initiative, effective policies, and people’s faith in the government. Paul Kagame - the president of Rwanda - is an authoritative president strict and just with obvious limitations on some freedoms. But he has 95% of approval rating. He is considered strict but very fair. He battles corruption on daily basis and proves to the simple people that no one is above the law. People trust him, believe in him and understand his motives for curtailing certain freedoms. They consider him their leader and visionary. The country went a long way since 1994. One example of the progress is the instituting and mandating education for every child with financial help for needy children for uniforms and school supplies. Also, all children in both elementary and secondary schools go through a program that informs them about genocide, about human rights and about conflict resolution and reconciliation. There are tons of initiatives that government has instituted that are effective and followed. The country will be a different place in a few years, but it has already made an incredible progress.

7. Women’s rights - women are guaranteed 30% of parliament seats. They can compete for the rest. Women hold 55% of the parliament’s seats and the leader of the parliament is a woman. There is a conscious movement to guarantee women’s rights and make sure women get justice in the courts.

8. No beggars on the streets - or very few - we didn’t see many beggars in Kigali and the neighboring villages - not around the market, not around the tourist attractions. We saw lots of people smiling and talking to us, but no one asked for money. So, we asked one of the tour guides and found out that it begging is not a part of their culture. Nice and clear answer. Love it!

I am not trying to say that there is no poverty in Rwanda. Poverty is striking especially in the countryside. There are lot of issues that need to be dealt with. But, Rwanda is not hopeless Africa that has to be fled to survive. Rwanda is full of hope, future and opportunities.

 

baron_11 says:
Good impression given by your blog!
Do you have plans to do more visits for SMU in the future?
Posted on: Aug 12, 2009
lvmissions says:
Alex, what a memorable trip, Africa is a beautiful continent with beautiful people, my heart will always be in Congo where I grew up. Enjoy and we will see you soon with lots of pictures to share.
Posted on: Aug 11, 2009
itslola says:
what a great blog! thank's for sharing and CONGRATS on being featured!!
Posted on: Aug 10, 2009
Human Rights Commission
Human Rights Commission
Human Rights Commission
Human Rights Commission
Women for Women
Women for Women
Women for Women
Women for Women
Women for Women
Women for Women
Women for Women workshops
Women for Women workshops
Kigali
photo by: bushman_pepe