Off to the village I go

Yesterday, October 1st, is, and will always be, a big deal for me as a Rwandan born in exile. In 1980, because of not fault of mine, I was born in a hospital in a sleepy town in Uganda to a father raised in a refugee camp. While I was fortunate enough to not have to be raised in either Nyakivale or Kyaka II, I still was, in all reality, stateless, trying to figure out where I belonged in the world. That all changed back in 1990. All of a sudden, I started caring about a little country in Central Africa and the conflict that was taking place in its borders.  I was just a child then so I couldn’t really understand what the fight was about, but what I did know was that members of my family were fighting on my behalf and it was my duty to help their war effort the best way I could. In 1995, visiting my uncle in Kicukiro, lo behold, I found one of my most prized possessions, which I’d given up in 1992, in his storage room. My Michael Jordan sleeping bag.  To say that it brought a huge smile to my face would be an understatement.

It’s been 21 years since the Kagitumba bridge crossing and I guess it’s normal for all of us to keep looking forward but this weekend, let us remember where each and every one of us have come from. And when we do, thank the young men and women who braved the elements and an army to give us the place that we now call ‘home.

So, why am I going to village? Well, I’ve lived in the big city all my life and it’s been great. The ability to go to a café and enjoy a cup of cappuccino, to visit a bookstore, to take running water and regular electricity for granted are things that I’ve grown to love. And with good reason, these amenities are things that make our daily lives easier and more enjoyable. But over the last couple of months, as I’ve sat in the office looking over various reports and such I started feeling hugely curious about the great unknown, at least for me. Rural Rwanda.

While Kigali is the city of ‘light’, I believe that all the action is actually taking place in our villages, both the good and bad. The village is where more than 60 percent of our citizens live and for Rwanda to achieve its development goals the village needs to move in lock-step with the urban centers. And if one looks at all the programmes that have been put in place to do just that, this is an exciting time. I’m curious to observe firsthand how the one cow per family programme really works. I understand the hows’ and whys ‘of the programme, but I think that it is essential that I talk to the beneficiaries of this programme and see whether it has really changed their lives. Another programme that I’m extremely curious about is the Nine Year Basic Education. Everyone know that it’s essential to give as many Rwandans the chance to go to school but again, I’m curious to see just how people’s lives have transformed because of the chance to go to school.

I’m sure that I will come back with great stories but I’m also sure that I will come back with horror stories. Nothings ever perfect and I’m sure that not every programme is implemented as well as its framers excepted. But for every failure there is a lesson to be learnt. I want to learn those lessons.

Here is a suggestion for those that planned the ‘Ingando’ solidarity camp regime; instead of having the kids stay in camp learning in a classroom maybe have these kids spend a few weeks living with a family in the village. I’m sure they would learn a lot; I’m sure I certainly would.

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