(Day 3) Elizabeth:
Woke up to a wet and cloudy morning. We visited a longstanding Trust Group who were meeting to make their loan repayments outside a local cafe in a rural area outside Kigali. I was struck by the professionalism of the group and the meeting.
(The Trust Group president, treasurer and secretary. Photo: Anne Grafe-Buckens)
They have a president, treasurer and secretary, all of whom receive special training for their roles by the bank. As it was raining some of the Trust Group members had not yet arrived to make their repayment so one of us asked what happened if they missed the meeting. The answer was a very matter-of-fact “they receive a fine.” Somehow, I don’t think fines are needed often. I then had a very interesting experience of visiting one of the more basic Rwandan “facilities” before our second meeting—one I will remember for some time I’m afraid!
I also had the pleasure of sitting opposite Urwego Opportunity Bank’s CFO at dinner. A lovely Ugandan woman named Sheila who received her accountancy certification and degree from Oxford Brookes University by correspondence. Her husband is currently studying at Loughborough and they have two young children. We spoke about the struggle of balancing career with family, nanny problems and trying to “juggle lots of crystal balls” desperately hoping not to drop any. I felt a real connection with her and realized that although we are worlds apart in some ways, we really are not that different in our personal ambitions and hopes for our families.
(Day 2) Veronique:
Dorthe mentioned the coal lady; I believe her name is Valentina. The image of her posing for our photographs with the young bank staff member will stick in my mind. Her batik wax print, dirty from the coal, contrasting with his smart tailored suit; both under 30, seemingly a world apart; yet, I would like to think that they represent the future of Africa, or at least Rwanda. She is street-smart and a confident entrepreneur who needed the opportunity the university-educated banker provided. It’s great to see it succeeding; inspiring for me and, hopefully, for others.
(Meet the five bloggers from Day 2! Anne, Julie, Dorthe, Elizabeth and me)
Land of thousand hills it is! Green, lush, rich and orderly— hard to think of all the horror that went on here for 100 days 18 years ago. It is the anniversary at the moment and the local press is full of testimonies and acts of remembrance. Hard to grasp.
(Day 2) Anne:
As Dorthe said, we started our morning with the main branch devotions… Back to basics: “Why should we save?” The answer was of course: “For the day when we won’t be able to provide for ourselves.” The whole notion of wealth gets back to this. When we sit and listen to these people, I can’t help thinking of our consumer society… Well, watching them and witnessing their entrepreneurship gets us thinking. Especially when John Magnay (Opportunity’s Senior Agricultural Advisor in Africa) sets the objective at the level of Africa: “Africa should feed itself.” Seeing farmers at work, with plots of land no bigger than 10 by 10 meters, casts a very practical light on the theories we have in the West on the subject. A few hours of conversations can’t really fit here, but we opened our eyes and ears.
(The tailor client I met)
As previously, I end my day truly moved by the energy and self-esteem of Rwanda’s people: they step on a ladder (Urwego—in Urwego Opportunity Bank (UOB)—means “ladder”) and are proud to repay their loans and grow their businesses. I was impressed by the beautiful tailor woman who had employed young men sewing on her four machines, and she had trained some of her employees so that they could start their own businesses. Obviously, it feels good here tonight. A demain.
(Dorthe, me and Elizabeth)
Our party sounds a bit like the start of a good joke—a Belgian, an American, an Aussie, a Frenchman and a Dane walk into a bar…
But we’re not walking into a bar, we’re flying into Rwanda. And it’s not a joke. Over the past few months, in anticipation of this trip, I’ve learned so much about this wonderful African country. I’ve shared some of Rwanda’s story with my children—the story I’ve learned from books, social media, movies, newspapers—all someone else’s perspective. But soon, I will have my own perspective to share, my own story to tell.
Five of us, all women, all living in the UK and all members of the Women’s Opportunity Network (WON), are joining with another four women from the US to experience Rwanda and her people firsthand. We’ll start in Kigali and visit staff and clients of Opportunity International’s implementing member Urwego Opportunity Bank (UOB), spending three days with those impacted by this microfinance institution.
After what are sure to be very full days, within many different communities from rice farmers to market stall owners, we’ll move onto the Musanze district. Here we hope to see gorillas in their natural habitat—quite a hike so I’m hoping my winter fitness is up to it. Finally, we’ll return to Kigali, debrief and then head home, with my own story to tell.
The five of us will be updating a travel blog for the week we’ll be in Rwanda, and then that blog will be no more. We’ll take turns writing a brief report each day, and post loads of photos so friends and family elsewhere in the world can see a bit of our time as it happens.
This piece was posted on the Opportunity-UK travel blog, opportunityinrwanda.wordpress.com, on March 28. Check out the UK WON members’ posts there and we’ll also be cross-posting them here along with posts by US staff and travelers. Some of the travelers are already on their way to Rwanda, and they’ll begin arriving on Sunday. Follow along with their week-long journey.
This post was published on Opportunity-UK’s travel blog at opportunityinrwanda.wordpress.com.