It was another early morning in Rwanda for the Hamline students. We departed the Musanze hotel at about 6:30 am to head to Huye. The drive was pretty long, but the rolling, green mountains made the three hours pass relatively quickly.
Once we got to Huye, we met up with several of the directors of the Avega Agahozo organization (Association of Genocide Widows). Avega Agahozo is a nonprofit organization that works to improve the lives of widows and orphans from the genocide. Their main office is located in Kigali, but they have several branches across the country. One of Avega's main missions is to provide the resources the women need to lift themselves out of poverty. This includes providing plots of land, livestock, and other resources. One of the directors told us that jobs and education help to keep the survivors busy and keep their minds off of the genocide.
Avega also plays a large role in helping survivors dealing with mental illness due to the horrors they've witnessed during the genocide. Many survivors have a difficult time reintegrating back into society because things that were once normal to them can now trigger severe distress. For example, some survivors can't return to their homes or use the tools required for farm work. Avega provides counseling and resources for these people with the goal that they will find some peace and healing. One thing that was really cool is that Avega provides these services free of charge.
Our first stop with the directors was to one of the villages that Avega has sponsored. We saw a plot of land provided by the organization that is now used to plant bananas. However, the best part of that visit was getting to interact with the local women and children. They were so happy to see us and very curious. However, they quickly warmed up to us and we showed them how to do the hokey pokey and the chicken dance! It was such a joyful moment and it's so encouraging to see the love and life that is still in Rwanda.
We ended the day with a visit to the Zirakamwa Meza dairy factory (translated to "my cows give good milk"), which is run by one of the widows of the genocide. Throughout the genocide, she lost her husband, her friends, and all of her belongings. Amazingly, after the genocide the woman took in multiple children who had been orphaned by the genocide despite her desperate financial situation. With the help of Avega, she was able to build the dairy factory from the ground up and lift herself out of poverty. Her resilience and strength was unbelievable. Even in unthinkable circumstances, she did not give up because she knew she had to take care of the orphans. They actually became her family and she told us that one has recently gotten married. Her testimony of the power of a second chance was so inspiring and can make you reevaluate your perspective of life's challenges.