We started our last day of the CONTACT program in Rwanda with a very interactive visit at Radio LaBene-Valencija where we met with writers, support staff and administrators of the station.  The station uses soap opera programming as a tool for learning and to promote positive change in Rwanda today. Radio Valencia was founded by CEO George Weiss and also has stations in Burundi, DRC and the Nertherlands with furture plans for South Sudan.

Eighty five percent of Rwanda’s population follows the soap opera that sensitizes people towards the origins of violence and how to resolve conflict peacefully. In addition to the radio program, the project sends grassroots coordinators from districts to the smallest villages for dialogue to identify the messages that the soap opera should convey. The scripts are reviewed by an academic team (including our SIT coordinator, Adin Thayer). There are a few cycles of changes and then the program is recorded, edited and aired.

The soap opera is so popular that when the fictional couple from the two conflicted villages in the story are to be married, the nation wanted to attend the wedding. The station could not find a stadium big enough to hold the wedding for the public, so in lieu of actually creating a wedding day, the programmers  asked Rwandans to dress up for the day and confront a person with whom they have conflict and resolve!


Next we visited The Rebecca Davis Dance Company, an organization under UNESCO, that offers therapy through dance to orphaned, street children in Kigali. Rebeccca was a Carl Wilkens Fellow and I had met her doing my work with that program.


IMG_3036She was not in Rwanda at the time but arranged for us to meet with the program director, Eugene Dushime,  and we watched the kids rehearse their leaping, spinning and sliding to the fun beat of African music.


This was one of the most emotional moments of the entire week for me and I could see my classmates cheering with teary eyes as well.



There is nothing like seeing healing through art in action! We then joined the kids in dance, shared chocolate and high fives. What a fantastic way to end the week!


After a wonderful party and closing at Eduard’s home in Kigali, I met up with Cory again and we left to catch the flight to Uganda. Here we met Gabriel Bol Deng and had the chance, after a year, to see his nieces and nephews again in Kampala.


IMG_3902Aluel, Adual, Deng and Akook had been students for the past 4 years in primary school in Uganda.


It was incredible to see their progress since last year. They shared their grades with us and we could see their pride and appreciation for their education.


Akook, the oldest, had just graduated from Primary school and went back to the village in South Sudan for 3 months. We were there for his return to Uganda and we talked about his time in the village.


We stopped by my friend Garang’s home to meet his wife and new child, Wol. This child of 10 months has the longest legs and hugest smile I have ever seen!



Then we took everyone out for a visit to the zoo, Lake Victoria and shopping for school clothes to get them ready for the next semester.


Heading home to the US, I am exhausted but so fulfilled.


I have learned so much from the people of Rwanda and my classmates from around the world. I thank my family at home for understanding and supporting my coursework, my trip, these kids and my desire to see them and learn about the history of African countries. I know they also would be inspired by seeing how the children have advanced here in Uganda. The kids sent letters back to the rest of my family, hoping and praying to meet all of them next time!

The last few days of our program in Rwanda have been inspirational, enlightening  and emotional. Starting with inspirational, we met with the Women’s forum for parliamentarians where we had our own seats in parliament for a question and answer session.  This informative meeting provided an historical overview of the conditions and processes that have resulted in the prominent role that women now play in Rwanda’s political process.  The host and main spokesperson was Forum Chairwoman, Ms. Connie Bwiza Sekamana.  Rwanda leads the world in seats for women in government and although society is culturally male dominant, we witnessed a presentation from the women that showed us men will have to adjust as women continue to play a more critical role in Rwanda’s politics.


Above  Director of SIT program, Adin Thayer with member of women’s Parliamentary forum and My dear friend, Mukhtari in his seat of parliament
Our next  meeting was enlightening, as we visited a catholic school and Parish in Kigali and met with a Pastor Antoine Ritayisire who discussed his approach to community reconciliation. We discussed issues based around the emotional scars of the genocide that have left their mark on Rwanda’s young children and teenagers. Many questions were posed about the psychological problems associated with a country so soon out of conflict and the difficulties of teaching what may not always be reinforced in the home and through existing programs. The Pastor began by recognizing that Rwanda’s past internal strife had –and continues to have – a destabilizing effect in the region.  
The next day we visited the association of Youth Development (AJMD) a Muslim Youth group whose programs include a sustainable gardening to increase the nutrition value for the families and programs for literacy education and capacity building for the organization members.


Here we learned about the role of Muslim leaders during and after the genocide.  The Muslim Youth Leader explained that according to Islam  “if you save one person, it is as if you saved the whole world ” . Many Muslim leaders helped save people during the genocide by providing shelter in homes and mosques. They also particpated in the Gacaca process by offering witness testimony in many cases.
One of the more emotional visits of the week was our visit to the work site of TIG (Travaux D’INteret General), work camps where those who confessed and were convicted of crimes of genocide perform community service. We met with 7 men TIG workers and one women. Watching their faces it was hard not to envision the horrific nature of the crimes they may have committed. Someone from home asked me, “did you feel angry or scared of these people”?  What I learned from understanding TIG and the Gacaca proceess is that those who confessed  and were sentenced to TIG, were painfully remorseful for having participated. The years of arduous work to rebuild their country helps them heal frome the shame of their crimes. Those who did not confess to their crimes in this way are still in jail today. The TIG prisoners were quiet and answered only a few questions but when I approached them to shake their hand and bless them, they lit up with thanks, their eyes teared and you could see their pain and suffering. These people were victims as well. Out of respect for the prisoners, I have no photos of the TIG work or camps. 
Hope you won’t miss my next post of our last day in Rwanda and trip to filled with creative ways to resolve conflict and heal. …On the way to Uganda!


Driving 2 hours south of Kigali to the lush, green city of Butare you can see the country rebuilding at every turn.  Deep in the rolling hills and thick cover of pines trees was Save village in the Huye district where we went to witness a comprehensive reconciliation project.IMG_3840

After the genocide, Rwanda’s prisons were overcrowded and the cases were far too many for the court system to handle. Stemming from ancient customs of problem solving, the Gacaca trial process was established after the genocide to try thousands of accused in the country through the use of village run trials. Gacaca judges were chosen by the villagers based on their honesty and integrity.


This complex process was not perfect but helped to resolve many cases, but true reconciliation did not come from the sentences, but from “real”, heartfelt confessions. Perpetrators confessed to survivors and survivor families decided if they felt the apologies were sincere and from the heart in front of Gacaca judges, who would then pass down sentences of prison or community service.


In this village we met some Gacaca judges who were responsible for many cases as well as ex-combatants, former prisoners and survivors. They all held the common belief that if they could not reconcile what had happened with themselves, they could not reconcile with each other. Since Hutu and Tutsi shared community, neighborhoods and families, they had to learn to forgive and live together as Rwandans.



After  an in depth discussion with many questions, we lightened the mood with some time with the kids (who doesn’t love painting ap on the ipad?), and a stop for ice cream ….(may I take a moment to thank god for ice cream? It can really lift the spirt!) at a little shop opened by a group of female Rwandan drummers. Then we stopped at Rwanda’s national Museum for a bit of ancient Rwandan history.



Although this was a few days ago, I wanted to lighten up the post to share info about this fabulous Rwandan artist Cory and I had visited.  The wonderful art studio of Emmanuel Knuranga boasts many paintings where african fabrics and influences are woven throughout mixed medium, vibrant and textural work.


Emmanuel’s complex and exuberant palette is eye candy as soon as you walk into his studio courtyard. It was a treat to meet Emmanuel and watch some of the artists at work. It has me longing to get back to the art studio….



Maybe even throw some of my empty cans onto the wall and see where they land!


A crazy note…Emmanuel had just exhibited in at the Southport Gallery in Southport, Ct  ten minutes from my house…..but I had to come all the way to Rwanda to see him!

It’s been only 19 years since the genocide in Rwanda and the country continues to work on healing and rebuilding in many ways. Men who grew up during the genocide, when rape and violence towards women was the norm, now need help in understanding the consequences of those events on their lives.

IMG_3794This morning we met with a representative from Rwanda’s Men’s Resource Center, an organization focused on mobilizing men as participants in the process of supporting women and the challenges men face in the changing gender roles in Rwanda today. RWAMREC offers progressive training for men to help understand the importance of partnering and supporting women. The  primary focus in Rwanda after the genocide  has been on women and the environment often leaving men who have been greatly affected to misunderstand the consequences of what they experienced. The goal of RWAMREC is work with men to help promote positive masculine behavior and socialization towards women. There is a long way to go in this effort but we were inspired by theses steps toward progress.


We then met with MEMOS, an organization founded by Issa Higiro, that brings genocide survivors together with those who rescued them. We heard moving stories from both the survivors and the heroes that risked their lives to hide them until liberation, knowing that if caught, they would be killed. The fearless people who put their lives on the line to save many greatly humbled all of us. We asked many questions of our guests and then showed our respect and admiration through Rwandan Dance and Song.


The day ended with a documentary film by our classmate, award winning filmmaker and actor Edouard Bamporiki at his home in Kigali (He’s pictured here with his beautiful wife, Claudine). The subjects from the film who were Tutsi survivors and Hutu who witnessed the genocide then spoke to us from the heart about their experiences of pain, shame and forgiveness.  They were incredible teachers of dignity and perseverance and restored my faith in humanity.


“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart…” Anne Frank


Last night friends from around the world reunited in Kigali, Rwanda to begin our week long program of learning and reflection. From our summer in Brattleboro, Vermont to the hills of Rwanda, students from Nigeria, Palestine, Sudan, Uganda, Congo, Afghanistan, India and US came together once again to study peace and reconcilliation. It  seemed like a miracle, envisioning the planes flying from many continents to this small country in East Africa to bring us back together.


We began the program with a presentation by  Suzanne Ruboneka, Director of the Peace Action Campaign for ProFemmes, an umbrella organization that coordinates a wide range of over 58 NGO’s run by and for women in Rwanda.


It was clear from listening to Suzanne that every Rwandan could write a book about his or her story during the genocide.  After the tragic events of 1994 the country was 70% women. Many were displaced, had been raped and contracted aids, and most were widows. They had many different political affiliations and did not trust one another.  Women had the need to develop their own programs to show their strength and build unity amongst themselves. Profemme began work to help organizations for women develop and through their efforts advocated  to change all laws of discrimination to women in Rwanda as well as reach the rural communities and lift women into positions of empowerment through microfinancing.


ProFemme mobilized women to vote and was instrumental in the development of Rwanda’s quota of 30% representation of women in decision-making positions in government.  Although the quote is 30% women actually hold 56% of the seats in parliament!  Today Rwanda’s President of Parliament, Vice President of Senate, Minister of Justice, Health and Foreign Affiars are all women.

Above, our SIT Director, Adin Thayer,  presents Suzanne with a canvas shopping bag as a gift. There are no plastic bags allowed into the country for Rwanda.


The afternoon was more sombering as we entered Rwanda’s Genocide  Memorial Museum. Pictured above is one of the “Windows of Hope” in the museum by artist Adryn Halter, whose father was a holocaust survivor of Auschwitz. We each walked the museum at our own pace for 2 hours. The only sound I heard was the tears of my good friends. There are no words to describe the heaviness felt after this visit. Many thoughts and emotions were expressed during our peace circle practice that followed. An excercise where we all learned the importance of speaking and listening from the heart and the practice of bearing witness to things as they are “including all forms of joy and suffering in the world”.

Our Coordinator Issa did a wonderful job facilitating our group through this process and left us wuith a wonderful quote….

“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty”- Albert Einstein


On a more uplifitng note… we ended the night with a fantastic dinner at the home of our SIT coordinator from last summer, Jessee Rouette and  his wife, Emily who are living in Rwanda for 2 years with their adorable 2 year old son. I had my fill of cuteness playing with him and kept him occupied sorting bottle caps. Did you know that a can of bottle caps can be used to teach colors, help with counting,  transform into instruments and get a child dancing? Thats what I love about Africa. We seem to find ways to entertain and interact that we may never have engaged in at home.

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.


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!


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.


Six hours, ten groups and 220 photos later……


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


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!


It’s time to bring out the red. It’s so easy to say “yes” to favors for the holidays with the ease of allover designs using a large stencil and the industries largest stencil brush, the WALLBUSTER. This brush expands to 3 inches when in use so you get the greatest amount of coverage with one load of the paint.

The past two years I have supported this wonderful event at the Fairfield, CT  historic Burr Mansion. Each designer creates a holiday vignette  for the Christmas Tree Festival and all the proceeds fro the sale of their items go to local charities. The  local designers, Donna Bonafide and Kim Smith, chose a red and white theme to kick off this holiday party and asked me for something to brighten the feature wall, a challenge when you cannot touch the historic walls! ….But with a some Roc Lon Canvas and clips… it’s easy.

I love reverse stencils because you can go crazy on the background, forgetting lap lines and mistakes. The stencil will cover most of it showing your creation as it peaks through to create the actual design. it’s hard to see here, but I used many different white on white products, including Modern Masters shimmer stone, various glitters and mica powders.  Then stenciled using wallovers’ Maya’s Rose Revers stencil  with Ben Moore 2004-20 mixed with a little Antique Cherry Stain ‘N Seal, my favorite red combination. Once hung, the lights lit up all the sparkle.  So don’t forget to try a reverse  stencil design with a Wallbuster brush the next time you squeeze in philanthropic project!

My son, (Ben Davis, Beats-On-Tap) says I am not a good blogger because I don’t post enough. He’s right. After all, he blogs regularly about music and it is worth checking out! I wait and wait until something really inspires me. Well it hit me tonight as I walked into my studio. My husband and I had just returned from the airport after dropping off our daughter Stephanie to fly to Barcelona, Spain for 3 months.  No… not as part of a college program, or any program…  After Freshman year at Connecticut College, Steph felt she needed to break out and away from the constraints of  art classroom assignments and see what kind of artist she could really become.  Somehow she landed upon a website for Estudio-Nomada. She applied and was accepted to the independent art program in Barcelona. She found a family to live with and after  private lessons of Krav Maga, self defense class by the best in the State at breakthru fitness.… off she went.

For a moment I felt empty walking back into the art studio without her paint brush in action as it had been all summer. She had just completed a large canvas and her palette papers were still there like their own work of art.

Her glass lamp-working table left with glass all about and an empty gas tank.

…but then I found myself sifting through her work table. I had not touched her side of the studio for weeks as she prepared her journals and inspirations for her 3 month art adventure. I admit I was tempted to throw out some scraps and gain some real estate on the 6 foot table but I never did and tonight I could not break away from the table of art books, cuttings of colorful hand-painted paper, mini cards, poems, fabric journals and paintings. With a list of things to accomplish myself, I just sat and let the colors and textures soak into my senses and let the time slip away.

The last thing we had done together at home was sit across from each other on our yoga mats and say a final Namaste. Finding her work left behind was like another ujjayia breath left from her in the room.

I am tempted to photograph every page of her journals and publish them. Don’t worry Steph…. I kept them closed. But seriously. Her writing is Bob Dylanesque and her paintings a mix of Dali, Kandinsky and Matisse wrapped up in one hippy, vibe, mystical, mother-earth-loving imagination. Is that a genre??

Ok, I’m not jealous or anything. I wouldn’t want to spend three months painting with a group of artists from around the world with instructors and the inspiration of an artistic european city. Nooo….Not at all. I always remind myself that her grand mother, Fae Woolf, was a fine artist who only started painting at the age of forty. Her mother, a decorative artist, who started painting at the age of twenty and she began at the age of two and never left the art studio. She started mirroring images, mixing colors and collaging by age five. So what will three months in Barcelona at age nineteen do for her? I hope to chronicle her experience by posting her work here and there over the next three months. I hope you will become a fan of her as well.

It is hard not to get lost in her passion for her work. Her cat is obviously protecting her territory so I guess I will not be cleaning up tonight!

I recently took a trip to the textile museum in Washington, DC.  The museum is small with only a few rooms which I felt couldn’t do justice to all the history and global influences on textile design. I was mostly enthralled with the gift shop with a wonderful selection of books and magazines I found myself sitting on the floor sifting through pages of scrumptious photos.

I love textiles. I just want to look deeply into the stitches and find out how each and every weave is accomplished. I never appreciated work more than my visit to the weaving market in Chinchero, Peru located 13,000 feet above sea level. The air is thin but that does not stop these women from producing. We watched as they dyed alpaca wool and worked looms for hours creating the tightest stiches imaginable.

Shopping in the local market was a feast for the eyes with brilliant colors and patterns stacked like candy.

The difficult part of shopping was choosing just one thing to bring home when every piece was its own work of art.

After a long day in the high altitude, we happily returned to our peaceful chakra garden, mystical surroundings and yoga room at Wilka tiki in the sacred valley of Urabumba.

Driving down 3000 feet in altitude also helped the headaches and breathing, giving us energy for some much needed yoga. In the studio I was keenly aware of the antique carpets and woven mats used making each little bench a unique retreat. Everything at Wilka Tika awakened the senses of the soul.

Have you ever had the “after vacation blues” when you know work is awaiting you and the memories and restful feeling of the trip begins to slip away?  Those blues set in for me on the airplane ride home. To channel the energy from the trip I took out my computer and began drawing the hundreds of small geometric shapes that would create “Batik” by Wallovers, reminding me of the fabrics in the peaceful valley.

“Batik” is a stencil design that once applied to any surface will create the look of hand paintied and dyed fabric.

Remembering the wonderful spaces at Wilka Tika Retreat I realized the space between the walls at home was a perfect spot to fabricate a bench in our own small yoga room. I began by painting a wonderful red and fushia base, hand-brushed to create a an impression of a woven background. I used modern masters metallic Gold Rush paint and some mica powders for the strong contrast of a yellow gold. The base was then made from Terracotta  chimney flues that I painted in a periwinkle blue.

The final touch was the Bench pillows made from the fabrics collected at the markets in Peru and the Chakra Gardens book from Wilka Tika. What a cure for the blues!!!

Proceeds from the book benefit the non-profit Wilka Tika Children’s Fund to support the isolated mountain schools and Andean children in their communities founded by the writer and Wilka Tika owner Carol Cumes.

Being the mom of an incredible budding artist, I had to tell you about this inspiring pair. Tracy Lund has been a loyal Wallovers’ customer for years. When she approached our booth at the Faux Expo in Orlando I thought she had a twin. Then I realized this gorgeous woman was HER MOM.

As I listened to them discuss design, review the stencils, and make decisions I couldn’t help but think….”I hope this is my daughter and me someday”. So…. I thought it would be fitting with Mother’s day approaching this weekend,  to highlight this mother and daughter team in honor of all the mothers and daughters out there who share common passion.

Tracy and her mom Libby started out in the Dental field and ventured off together to take Tracy’s hobby to a more professional level. Tracy founded Tracy Lund creations in 2000. When she became busy with her work she began to call her mom in for help and eventually Libby joined her in business. Together they create custom artwork for designers, homeowners, interior decorators and builders.

“My mother and I have always had a close relationship so it made sense that we would work together on this creative venture”, Says Tracy

Over the years the team has stayed on top of the latest techniques, styles trends by taking classes taught by the best in the faux fnishing industry.

“We keep up with the modern trends in the industry through stenciling. We are able to create modern and old world styles from the stencil and medium we choose.”

Here the team is using Wallovers’ “Twisted” stencil over a colorwash to create an eclectic look. You can learn more about Tracy and Libby at  www.Tracylundcreations.com

From another creative mother and daughter team…Happy Mother’s Day to all!!


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