Rwanda Human Rights Delegation (Introduction)

Tonight, just as I arrived home, the clouds erupted into a summer storm. Immediately, I went to shut the windows in my apartment, but then paused and kept one open. I stood by the window, watching and listening to the rain pouring down outside, and realized that this was the first time I’d seen rain in over a month. It’s currently the dry season in East Africa– the deep red earth was dusty and dry. Here in Connecticut, the rain cools the black pavement around me, and the tall oak trees seem even more lush and verdant than usual. The contrast between my life in Rwanda and my life here seems vast.

I meant to blog while I was there, but it never quite happened. For one thing, for the full first week I was in Rwanda I had no internet– even at internet cafes, the wireless was touch and go. I since found a free wireless signal near where we were staying, but only if I sat in a certain spot, and even then, it wasn’t the most reliable thing.

But, even if internet weren’t an issue, writing created its own set of challenges. It’s not the writing itself– I wrote prolifically as soon as I arrived– 50 typed pages (single spaced) and an additional 2 notebooks full of notes, musings, experiences, and a 3rd notebook started. Writing was definitely not the issue.

But, I really wanted to take time to process those experiences before sharing them. I learned intimate details of suffering and survival, of hope and loss, and I wanted to make sure that I maintain the trust and confidence of those who have shared their experiences with me, and to share those experiences (when appropriate) in a responsible way. So, I didn’t blog while I was there.

But this evening, back home in Connecticut, as the rain falls outside my window, I feel ready to write again.

If I had to sum up Rwanda in 2 words, they would be “beautiful” and “depressing.” Being here has been surreal– it’s been both incredibly moving and uplifting, but then the next moment totally gut-wrenching, which I suppose is no surprise. I am so grateful that I brought my yoga mat, because it’s not only provided me with an avenue to attempt to regain balance in my life here, but it’s also provided cushioning while sitting on concrete floors conducting interviews. I seriously may kiss my ergonomic desk chair once I get back to the office. (July 10, 2009)

So, how did I end up in Rwanda for a month this summer?

Basically, to make a long story short, I applied and was accepted to participate in a human rights delegation through the organization, Global Youth Connect, which offers young people from a range of ethnic, national, economic and religious backgrounds the opportunity to meet with human rights activists and officials and take action on pressing human rights issues in post-conflict societies, including Rwanda and Bosnia. The program participants also engage in service projects with local organizations that are working to improve social conditions in those countries.

I had been to sub-Saharan Africa several times before, and had traveled and volunteered in South Africa, Ghana, and Namibia, but was unsure of what to expect from Rwanda. Fifteen years ago, between 800,000 and 1 million people were killed in a genocide that attempted to destroy the Tutsi minority and targeted moderate Hutus in Rwanda. Since then, the new government has made progress in restoring stability and security to a ravaged society, but there are many problems still to be addressed. I was going to Rwanda to learn about these problems, and through the human rights workshop and volunteer projects, do what little I could as an individual to try to help make a difference.

Spending a month volunteering anywhere can have only a minimal impact, if any, and I don’t claim to have any in-depth understanding of Rwandese life from just a few weeks as a visitor there, but I’ve gotten some glimpses and a few stories that I’d like to share. I’ll be updating this blog with my journal entries from June and July 2009 over the next few weeks. Some stories will be amusing, some will be surprising, some will be beautiful, and some will be heartbreaking. This is my experience in Rwanda.