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Waking up to the melliflous sounds of birds singing and the beauty of the sun shining over surrounding mountains, one would have a hard time remembering the genocide that brutalized this country 20 years ago. Rwanda, the size of Massachusetts, lost one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the span of 100 days in the most brutal government run killings known to history.

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But the scars are so deep now that they can barely be seen, sitting here looking out at the banana fields and hearing the laughter of children in the street.  It is hard to believe that a few hundred kilometers away ,war rages in the conflict mining zones of  The Democratic Republic of Congo and  many seemingly peaceful countries contribute to that violence.  My week here with SIT will be to remember  the loss and learn about work Rwanda has done to heal, reconcile and rebuild. I also hope to gain a better understanding of the conflicts in neighboring countries that could affect the future here.

“The dead of Rwanda accumulated in nearly three times the rate of the Jewish dead during the Holocaust. It was the most efficient mass killings since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki” US journalist Philip Gourevitch, author of   We wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda”

Now a stable country with a growing economy, Rwanda feels at the moment like a tropical vacation sitting here in my friends Cory and Matt Melaugh screened in home in the beautiful village of Rwinkavu. Cory, a nurse at Mass General Hospital in Boston, MA, has a one year position as a nurse in the local hospital here and Matt is the supervisor in a library built under by Ready for Reading, anorganizationunder Partners in Health started by Betsy Dicky of Greenwich, CT

I was not sure If I could believe Cory’s advice that I did not need to travel with the same full pharmacy in my suitcase and survival gear as our trip deep into South Sudan last year. This, she said, will be a much different experience. I arrived to the paved roads and lit up city of Kigali and the drive to Rwinkavu was smooth and comfortable. Hey, I might even be able to return the nausea bands and other remedies I rushed to get before taking off!

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Before leaving for Rwanda Betsy and I loaded a suitcase with over 80 pounds of donations for the library. Printer cartridges, dry erase markers and dress clothes. I prayed the whole way here that the small photo printer I packed would make the journey. Matt and I planned a project to help the children have a better undertstanding of their own importance in the world through learning about their image. We hoped to take photos of the children in the library so they could see themselves and make their own portraits.IMG_2300

The library staff occupied the children as we prepared for the exuberant participants.

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Six hours, ten groups and 220 photos later……

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everyone had gone home with a self portrait, photo and a smile!

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A huge thank you to Matt’s brother, Brad for orchestrating the photos of the children and printing all of them at the slow pace of 50 seconds a photo!

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When we come out of our “container” sleeping quarters we are hit in the face with 110 degrees of humidity. We have respite when we are back at the camp along the Nile with a hot breeze but at least the air is moving, These residents along the river definitely have the right idea!

People in Juba wear long sleeve fashionable shirts and sport coats all day. Dignity in dressing is very important to them. Cory and I scrambled to find the best of our limited wear to head out to our meetings.  The more we had a chance to speak to both Sudanese residents and Sudenese foreigners the more educated we have become about the situation in Juba and the surrounding communitities and States. Sudenese who live in Sudan are extremely positive about the changes they have seen over the past few years. With paved roads they can now get from town to town when in the past a simple 1 hour ride might have taken a whole day of travel. I had expected the new growing city to be much further along in development but I have already learned that the tiny steps of growth like a tile ceiling or concrete wall in place of a restaurant under a tree is huge progress here. On the contrary, Sudanese foreigners seem a bit fed up with the lack of growth and development they see directly affecting the people outside of Juba.

After breakfast we met with Alaa, Program Coodinator for a maternal and child health training program associated with Mass General Hospital in Boston, where Cory is a nurse. Alla discussed ways in which they train front line health care workers in rural villages to provide emergency care during child birth.

The program works by village elders selecting those in the village most capable of administering the program. Due to the lack of literacy in most of Sudan they have put together a picture icon training booklet that will direct the provider in understanding emergency situations. The trainer is supplied with a package if basic medical equipment that can actually save a life during birth. They have trained 72 master trainers in 10 States in South Sudan who have reached over 700 front line health care workers.

Next we went to Roots center for Women’s Empowerment. Here we had the opporunity to discuss how a program training women to make jewlery has created economic growth within rural villages. The program works mostly within communities close to Juba but hopes to expand to include other States of South Sudan.

It was inspiring to see how the women were stringing beads using bamboo and other local resources. Women are brought to Juba in groups, trained in jewlery making in the workshop, and then sent back to villages with materials to work by themselves.  We will keep this opportunity in mind as we evaluate the business possibilities for the women in Ariang.

Cory and I were happy to support the women by purchasing a few gifts!

In the evening we were treated to dinner on the Nile by Gabriel’s Cousin and Director General for the Ministry of Gender /Child Social Welfare, Santino Majok Deng. Mr. Deng has been overseeing a 4 million dollar womens’empowerment program funded by World Bank since 2009. The program grants $400,000 to each of the 10 states in South Sudan for financing entrepreneurship for women. Groups of women apply for the grants. The women’s businesses range from sewing for school uniforms to agriculture and cultivation. The advancement of women is a huge priority in the newly formed country. Although the funding for this project has ended, Mr. Deng was extremely interested in The Sudan Canvas Project and our business initiative with women in Ariang village.

We also discussed the challenges facing the government, specifically the oil crisis, food shortage, border violence and tribal conflicts. I felt an incredible sense of committment to peace from Mr. Deng.  Although these issues keep them from focusing on the development of important programs, they are committed to peaceful resolutions to these conflicts.

We are so excited to now embark on the most important part of the trip, experiencing life in the village. We are leaving the compound in Juba to board our flight to WAU.  Hope there’s a breeze there!

Every trip starts with one adventure. Ours was Cory almost missing the flight from DC to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was prepared to go it alone and meet her there but she arrived last minute….exasperated…… and we boarded!

The Streets of Kampala Uganda are hot and crowded. Add in the smell of the gasoline and the bumpy roads and you’d wonder why anyone would choose to come. But watching the people lumbering by with incredible loads on their heads, whizzing past on either side with 4 to a motorcylce or seeing the piles of bananas, mangos and pineapples being wheeled down the streets makes the senses come alive.

Look up into a tree on the highway and vulture sized birds sit in their nests above your head and you know you have entered  an entirely different world.


We came to Kampala for the purpose of bringing Aluel, Akook, Adual and Deng to boarding school.  We spent the first day visiting, learning Dinka and of course, some art lessons.

When we arrived to pick the kids up the next day they were excited to show us how they had filled their sketch pads. Each small painting was more colorful then the next with subjects from the New President of South Sudan to the US flag, fashion and flowers. They loved their watercolor gift!

Next we were off to get them ready for school. Checking the packing list, shopping, and lugging…  no different from taking my own kids to school. The only difference was they fit everything required, and I emphasize “REQUIRED”, in a small metal trunk and carried everything up three flights of stairs on their own. One trunk broke so we pulled over to a street vendor, bought a new one, threw it in the van and continued on.

I might also add that these four Sudanese children, who were brought to Uganda for primary education in 2009, live alone in a small apartment to cook, clean and take care of themselves during their one month break. It was humbling to see how much they could do and how little they needed in their lives.

Gabriel left me at the boarding school to “check them in” while he and Cory went to find a lost bag at the airport. I chose that assignment to be with the kids and also avoid smelling fuel for 2 more hours. It took hours to get their  supplies checked in, uniforms ordered, bed selected, and money in the cantene. It was hard seeing their dorm room beds stacked 3 high with barely a mattress and side by side for rows; but observing their smiling faces and embraces with friends I new they were happy to be there and excited to be back at school.

Unfortunately many friends from Sudan did not return from break probably due to inflation and the food crisis at home. Aluel, Adual, Deng and Akook know education will change their lives and they will do anything to stay in school. They also have to stay on top of the class to impress their Uncle Bol who they know is the reason they have this opportunity. It would make a huge difference in America if  every child knew what it is like in a developing country with out opportunity for education. We are soon to get a real taste of it in the village.

After a long, hot, day of errands we retired to the hotel where I crashed hard under the mosquito net and quite necessary breeze from the fan. Wake up call for 5AM, for our flight to Juba, South Sudan.  

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