Seven years ago, our daughter Margaret (who grew up on Bowen Island) was working for Partners in Health in rural Rwanda and we visited her there, doing all the tourist calls – the Genocide Museum, the gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park, the churches filled with skulls and bones of the victims of the genocide and, of course, sightseeing in the 10,000 hills of this beautiful country. We loved the country and the people, all of whom were anxious to tell us that they were Rwandans, not Tutsis or Hutus.
We were aware of a tension in the air but on the whole Rwandans seemed contented with the way that life was going and there was evidence of rebuilding and excitement.
Now, seven years on, I returned to Rwanda last month with my daughter on a very different mission. In those seven years, Margaret had set up and was running a US-based non-profit called Komera to support teenaged girls and their families in their efforts to achieve a high school education and transition to the world beyond.
On Bowen Island we had taken over the Run for the Ferry and renamed it Rotary Run for Rwanda. We also set up a CRA-registered charity, Komera Canada, in order to support 10 of the girls our daughter was supporting: funds to pay for their school and boarding fees, uniforms, school materials, health products, everything that an impoverished girl would need in order to complete her education.
What a fascinating time I had! We spent three days in Kigali, the capital, where high rises are being built, coffee shops and restaurants are filled with ex-pats and local business men, and the political chaos of Burundi seems very far removed. Once we left Kigali, life changed dramatically. Our days were filled with rides on the bumpiest roads I have ever experienced to visit families who live in the utmost poverty on little plots with a few chickens, a banana palm and some vegetables which provide the basics for the family’s meals, with the possibility of trading bananas and cassava at the local market.
I gave a four-hour English lesson to a group of 20 girls attending a Komera transition program recently set in place to help them move from high school to the world outside. Many of these girls will probably start their own small businesses as unemployment is rampant in country districts and the only other outlets for them are the tourism or banking fields, for which they need good English skills. Perhaps one or two of them will gain entrance to the local university, and in that case Komera will help them with board and lodging expenses.
What impressed me most was the enthusiasm of these girls and their determination to leave a world where their future would be early pregnancy and then tilling their family plots and caring for their extended families, if it were not for the fact that Komera is giving them the opportunity to take a step out of this world. Komera also provides entrepreneurship and leadership camps, and has set up a parent cooperative.
Our week finished with a 3K run with at least 250 young girls on a very dusty road on an extremely hot day. The annual run, which is a highlight for the Komera scholars and the surrounding schools, was sandwiched between music, dancing, speeches and presentations. The Rwandans certainly know how to orchestrate an event!
And then there is our community run here on Bowen. Rotary Run for Rwanda is our major fundraiser. Registration forms are available in various outlets on the island and at North Shore Athletics, and online registration is open too. There is something for everybody: a 1.5K run for kids nine and under, a 10K run and a 5K run or walk for everyone else.
Check out RotaryRunForRwanda.com for some fun Rwandan prizes, bought on my recent trip, gift certificates from North Shore Athletics and others from generous Bowen Island sponsors. We have extremely low overheads, thanks to our sponsors, and all registration and donation funds go to Rwanda to help our girls in their lives. Please come out on August 29 to support us!