I am grateful to be traveling with a team in Rwanda this week in partnership with HOPE International, a Christ-centered microenterprise development ministry. On Tuesday morning, our team briefed with Isaac Ezell, one of HOPE's US regional representatives, Dave Wasik, HOPE's Vice President of Operations, and Erisa Mutabazi, Country Director for HOPE Rwanda.
(Watch Erisa's video, What's In Your Hands?)
We learned more about the specifics of their Rwanda program. As we are making visits today and tomorrow to HOPE clients, I'll look forward to sharing more with you here about the direct impact HOPE is making on the ground through their savings and credit associations.
After our breakfast briefing on Tuesday, we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial, built at the site of the mass grave of 250,000 victims of the genocide.
At the memorial, I learned not only how actively Rwandans want to remember the genocide (every April 7th, there is a national commemoration) as a way both to honor the victims as well as to prevent further violence in the future.
Particularly striking is the emphasis on Rwandan national identity: we are not Hutu. We are not Tutsi. We are Rwandans. We are a single people with a single language.
Our visit to the genocide memorial began with a short film narrated by several survivors. Most described losing many, if not all, of their family members.
"It is home here," one man described of the memorial. "I feel whole."
It is impossible for me to imagine living with the memories of the national three-month massacre that tore virtually every family apart, killing a million people and orphaning more than 300,000 children.
In one small room of the memorial, painted a bright orange, giant black and white portraits of children smiled cheerfully. Beneath each photograph was a small description of the child: name, age, favorite food, and name of favorite playmate. At the bottom of the description, it was indicated how each child died.
Hacked by machete in mother's arms.
To have lived that horror, to have survived it, and then to purpose to rebuild ravaged trust: I don't know that any of us would feel up to that task. But this is Rwanda's story. It is also its great courage.
Driving north from Kigali on Tuesday afternoon toward the Virunga mountains (for our gorilla trek on Wednesday), I saw the agricultural ingenuity of the people of this small, densely populated country. Rwanda has been called land a thousand hills, and the scenery is stunning. The cascading hills are sown with mounded rows of millet and beans, potatoes and carrots, protected from erosion by hand-dug drainage holes and ditches. 90% of Rwandans survive by subsistence agriculture.
When we entered a village yesterday, hundreds of children swarmed our vehicle.
"Hello," some of them greeted us.
"How are you?" others asked.
I saw an English primer under the arm of one child.
There's no more time this morning to write as our group leaves soon for a full-day of visits. But I'm glad to have at least given you this small glimpse: of the land of a thousand hills.