I read an article yesterday concerning the World Bank’s latest promise to fix Africa through another of its spending sprees. This latest round promises $1 billion to help build peace through development in the Great Lakes region.
Let me begin by saying that development can be a piece of the puzzle and when development projects are responsibly planned and designed to be sustainable; they are a game changer. Health, education and economic development programs are incredibly important components in the building of nations.
A peaceful environment clearly lends itself better to progress and a better overall result. I don’t think that many people would argue against that. Nor, would most people disagree if told that funding is a very important part of many projects success. Development projects are essential and funding matters. But neither of those things creates peace.
I am a believer in two things: peace and dialog. I think that true peace is in fact only possible through dialog, open and honest dialog. So, here is my contribution to the dialog concerning peace building:
Rwandan people have already shown us the way, both to horror and lasting peace. I won’t go into the reasons for, or the details of, the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Not due to a lack of knowledge; but because I want to focus on the “after” instead of the “before”. Some of us know the story of Rwanda before the genocide, most of us know the story during… but here is an aspect of the after that many don’t know.
One of the things that surprised me most when I learned about the work that our partner in Rwanda was doing, when I first connected with them a decade ago, was this: The cooperative members were women who had gotten together to help one another survive the aftermath of the genocide. They were daughters, mothers and grandmothers. They were related to offenders and survivors. They were women who had been raped during those terrible days in April and they were those who took in young children whose parents didn’t survive. Some were orphans with no family; some were women who took in as many as six children who had nowhere else to turn. Some had lost everything and others knew it was because of their family members that others had lost their lives.
But most impressive was the fact that they were working together. They weren’t living with hate and a desire for vengeance. Not to mean that many of these women didn’t have long-lasting and incredibly deep wounds. Let’s face it, regardless of who you were or what your particular story was in Rwanda during that period; you were dealing with severe trauma. There was no one left unaffected. Rwanda was in essence, a nation dealing with collective post-traumatic stress.
What was so incredibly impressive was the spirit with which the women of Rwanda faced their problems: by connecting with other women and working to find solutions together. I cannot begin to express how honored I am to work with the women of Rwanda. Not just because their art is beautiful or because of their ability to overcome such immense challenges; but due to their sincerity and love in helping one another move forward.
THAT my friends, is where peace is built: in the direct relationships with each other. It isn’t created in bureaucracies or even around the table at “peace talks”. True peace is created person to person. It is created in learning that we are connected at our roots. It comes from extending our hand and taking a chance on the other. It comes from sharing and praying and seeing each other through new eyes.
Rwandans had labels like Hutu and Tutsi bastardized during colonialism. Initially forced, they then adopted the new meanings of these words and allowed them to grow in their hearts. They allowed themselves to feel separate, some even hate-filled.
Ultimately though, what it took were women, strong and courageous women. These women decided to link arms with each other, weave baskets together, raise children together, go to counseling together and build a nation based on their identity as mothers, daughters and grandmothers… as Rwandans.
The politicians, NGOs and large international organizations did nothing if not let Rwanda down when it mattered most. That is a historical fact. But what ultimately rebuilt that nation to the point it is now is its women. Women united in love and faith: One basket at a time, one banana fiber card at a time, one prayer at a time and one small gesture of support at a time.
I’d ask that the next time you hear about these billion dollar deals and investments in peace, you remember the women of Rwanda. The next time you hear about a group of men sitting around a table negotiating peace for a nation, you think of the women of Rwanda. The next time you read about women’s rights being stripped away and their lack of inclusion in the peace building process… remember Rwandan women. They have showed us how to create peace. Now it’s up to us to listen and apply the lessons.
Mama Afrika is so incredibly proud to work with true peace builders. Most of all, I am motivated and encouraged by their ability to overcome their own hardships by working with others to overcome theirs.
I am not from Rwanda. But as a woman who highly prizes peace… I too am a Rwandan.