Arriving in the Land of a Thousand Hills

Posted by: lprinz on 29/01/2016
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Last year Di McCann, mother of Sophie, N4A Executive Director, travelled with N4A founder Becky Tinsley to Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. This blog is about her visit to our projects in Rwanda. Click here to read more about her time on safari in Kenya and here to learn about her visit to our projects in northern Uganda.

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After our safari, we returned to Nairobi and were soon flying over what appeared to be a land of incredibly green, giant molehills – Rwanda is aptly called The Land of A Thousand Hills. Our base was a very comfortable guest house close to the buzzing city centre and our itinerary was four busy days – visiting the Network for Africa projects, seeing the ‘gorillas in the mist’ and of course, learning about the genocide of 1994, having prepared in advance with a reading list suggested by Becky. We were also honoured to meet many young survivors who have had a long connection with the Tinsley Trust.

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My daughter Sophie was already in Kigali too, and it was very interesting to see her in action ‘on the ground’. We visited the very well-attended free medical centre and midwifery ward, built by Becky and her husband Henry’s foundation, followed by a moving tour of several churches and a school, all of which had been sites of violent killings during the genocide. Preserved exactly as they were, with clothes of the victims in dusty piles and their bones respectfully displayed in underground crypts, these memorials are dotted all over Rwanda as a reminder to everyone, Rwandans and visitors alike, of the dreadful things of which humans are capable. We spoke to a young man who, as a small child, had managed to escape the genocide and now works sweeping leaves in the memorial grounds – he was able to tell us of those awful days and how he grew up in a ‘child-headed household’ with other orphaned children. A very moving experience.

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The next day, in our specially hired, huge 4WD all eight of us headed out of townRutunga child into the hills on a red dirt road bumpy with rock-filled washouts to Rutunga, to meet a large group of impoverished women enrolled on a three-year agricultural program set up by Network for Africa, learning to grow various crops for commercial sale on virgin land which had been loaned by the Rwandan government. It had been a steep learning curve to clear the land and begin to grow viable crops – they were about to plant a crop of green beans to contract for a guaranteed French buyer and were very hopeful of success. They certainly deserve it because they work so hard to achieve it – an early morning start with their small children, walking to the nearest of three nursery schools also set up as part of the Network for Africa project, then another several kilometer walk to the fields for a morning’s work, finishing as the midday sun becomes unbearable, then walk back to the schools to collect their children, then back home. The rest of their day would be spent doing their ‘normal’ household and childcare work.

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We dropped in on each of the nursery schools on our way which was an utter delight – they danced and sang and greeted us with a very excited ‘good morning everyone’! They receive a highly nutritious protein meal of a type of porridge every morning – probably their best meal of the day – and were showing very noticeable improvements in health, behavior and social interaction skills as well as the elementary 3Rs!

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gorillaIt was a 4am start next morning for a four-hour drive up to the Volcanoes National Park in the remote north-west, close to the Congolese and Ugandan borders, to see the mountain gorillas. What an amazing day! After a briefing and Rwandan drumming and dancing display, we met our two guides and drove up to the edge of the steep forest zone. After that it was on foot for almost two hours and a bit tricky in parts… although not quite as much machete-hacking through impenetrable rainfoArrrest as I had imagined! When the rain came down we were prepared but we weren’t prepared to suddenly come upon an enormous silverback gorilla sheltering under the bamboo like a huge black furry boulder with a resigned expression on his face as the water streamed off his very hairy eyebrows! Of course we all froze like statues and looked around, gradually making out a family group of three huge females and an assortment of babies, toddlers, children and teenagers – a group of 17 in total. They were just beginning their morning feeding session, rummaging through the undergrowth in search of their favourite shoots and leaves. We followed at a safe distance, often just a few metres, transfixed when not taking photos! They seemed to ignore us, except for a cheeky group of young ones who climbed high into the bamboo and shook it enthusiastically, drenching us yet again – they definitely knew exactly what they were doing! Eventually they found a lovely open patch of comfy bushes to loll about it in, while the adults relaxed and the younger ones played about. Magical!

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Our last morning in Kigali took us to meet the women of the Aspire Co-operative, which Network for Africa has helped establish. The women, all from very poor backgrounds and many of them children of the genocide, come together to learn varied skills to help them become self-sufficient: hairdressing, sewing, bead jewelry, traditional basketry and mud brick making are just some of the skills. The social interaction and friendships made are another important aspect of the groups.

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They sang and danced for us which I found a very emotional experience…and some of us couldn’t help joining in, causing much hilarity! After speeches and buying handicrafts (not mud bricks!) to take home as presents, Sophie and I dashed to catch our flight to Entebbe, Uganda.

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