By Jamie Van Horne

I arrived safe and sound to my little yellow hotel in Kigali, Rwanda. After getting some sleep, I awoke to bright sunshine, singing birds, and the occasional sound of motorbikes screaming by on the dirt road outside my hotel.  After a delicious local breakfast of fruit and an omelet, I met up with Soozi and Shal of the Rwanda Girls’ Initiative (rgi.seeyourimpact.org) to drive out to Gashora where their Girls’ Academy is located.

The roads out of Kigali reveal the daily grind for most locals. Heavy loads of bananas, pineapples, sticks, papayas, water and babies being carried kilometer after kilometer on the side of the road. Those lucky enough to have a bike must push the bike up the hill and hop on to cruise down. Women carry baskets on their heads and babies on their backs and little children run around playing in their bare feet.

We arrived at the Gashora Girls’ Academy to find a beautiful school that is currently home to about 90 young Rwandan women (and 90 more starting next week) who dream of going to college someday.  Gashora, a small town in the Bugesera district of Rwanda, was chosen as the site of the school because it was one of the hardest hit areas of Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. Tutsi’s were rounded up and massacred across the countryside here, and it’s reconstruction and healing has been difficult. RGI has been a source of hope and rebirth, and is giving young women who excel in school amazing opportunities to dream of careers such as being a doctor, engineer, and entrepreneur.

We toured the agriculture projects on site here, which are truly incredible. An irrigation system allows crops to grow even during the dry season thanks to the resource of a nearby lake. Larger than life papayas, zucchini, beets, cabbage, and countless other fruits and vegetables grow throughout the year. The school will soon acquire it’s own cows and chickens as well.

I also was able to observe the girls working hard in class learning chemistry and physics. When I got to speak with them, they were interested in my career and where I was from. They wanted to know what I thought of African people. Pure curiosity, strong work ethic, and incredible hope was evident in my conversations with these young women.

After a lunch of rice, beans, pineapple and avocado at the school cafeteria, we watched the girls run their weekly meeting as a whole group and spoke of current events, sang the national anthem, and made announcements. The most touching part was during the teacher introductions, when the girls’ love for their teachers was evident through their loud cheering for each and every one.

On the way back to Kigali we stopped at a Catholic church in Nyamata (the capital of Bugesera) which is now a memorial to the genocide. In 1992, during a wave of killings, hundreds of people hid in this church and were saved thanks to an Italian nun who called upon the government to spare their lives. In 1994, during the Hutu dominated genocide, 10,000 Tutsi crammed into and around this same church with the hopes of being saved in the same way. But this time there was no mercy to be had, and all 10,000 people were massacred with machetes, clubs, grenades, and machine guns. The church still holds the clothes of all who were killed as a symbol of their presence. It also has many of the remains in the form of a mass grave, which we entered to find skulls and bones stacked against the walls. Needless to say it was a powerful and emotionally draining experience.

We stopped for a drink at the U.S. Ambassador’s house in Kigali, and then went on to dinner at an amazing little restaurant called “Heaven.” The many hills in Rwanda make for beautiful views from almost anywhere. Tired from the trip and the long day, we headed to bed. More to come from Rwanda soon!

Jamie grew up in northern California. She attended Yale University where she earned a B.A. with honors in psychology and captained the Yale women’s basketball team. After Yale, Jamie moved to Madrid, Spain where she spent a year teaching and coaching at the American School before applying to IE.  She is a proud member of the MIR class of 2011. Jamie now lives in Seattle, WA and works for SeeYourImpact.org.


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