Day 2 - part 1
Kigali Travel Blog› entry 3 of 6 › view all entries
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.