Friday, December 12, 2014

Country Overview: Rwanda

Rwanda was a whirlwind. I touched down a mere 6 days ago and I'm already back at the airport, heading to my next destination. I really do regret not spending far more time here. I thought since I was only connected with one organization, I didn't need to stick around too long. That was definitely a faulty assumption. Rwanda is a fascinating country, and I feel as if I haven't even submerged my big toe into its culture and history. Immersion certainly didn't happen.

I suppose that just means I need to come back. I wouldn't mind that at all if I get to have a view like this again every evening. This fellowship would not be possible without the generosity of people like the expat family who hosted me this past week.

Unfortunately, Rwanda has a big problem with child sexual abuse. Read on to find out more.


The Basics

The population of Rwanda numbers about 12 million, and it's capital city is Kigali. The official languages are Kinyarwanda, French, and English. Most well-educated people speak all three with proficiency. That made it very easy to get around for me. The currency in Rwanda is the Rwandan franc, which once again made me feel pretty rich when I was spending thousands on lunch. Christianity is the predominant religion in the country and three main ethnic groups make up the population: Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa.

Most people know Rwanda for the genocide that occured in 1994. I plan to discuss this in more detail in a later post, but for now I want to say that this calamity still echoes in the country, but not in the way you would expect. In fact, the reaction of the government and most people is to strive to become as Western as possible, to separate themselves from the violent image that many people have for the country. For this reason, the capital city is fairly well developed in some areas and growing more so at a rapid rate.

Rwanda and My Project

Sexual abuse against children is a huge problem in Rwanda; some say a growing one at that. As in the case of Ethiopia, not a great deal of data exists on the actual extent of the problem. However, the organizations in the country working to combat this problem are overrun with cases. That's not a good sign.

I had the incredible opportunity to work with IJM while in Rwanda. Their office focuses on child sexual assault cases and provides top-notch aftercare to the victims. My time in the country overlapped with the offices end of the year celebration for clients who have completed the therapy program. The stories I heard (though they were only sparsely translated) touched me very deeply. I hope to share with you a story of hope from my time there soon, but I want to be very careful to protect the victims identity and dignity in the sharing of her story. Thank you for your patience in this.

As I mentioned in my post about Ethiopia, I will be sharing an overview of child sexual abuse in Eastern Africa. For that reason, I won't say much more about my observations here.

I want to add one side note. Trafficking of women is also a problem in Rwanda. I had a chance to meet with a senior officer at the U.S. embassy who works on this issue. Rwanda is a Tier 2 Watch List country, meaning drastic changes need to be made if the country is to avoid dropping to Tier 3 in the coming years. Unfortunately, though, the government has been very slow to acknowledge the problem. The crime is largely still hidden to even NGO's and government actors.

First Impressions

Well the very first thing I noticed was the heat. The fact that I have a lobster-red shoulder just does not compute for me with the fact that Christmas is approaching. I guess it is my first time south of the Equator, so it makes sense that I'm confused.

My next impression was what I've already mentioned, the obviously recent development that has occurred in the country. However, I had a chance to also get to the outskirts of the city, where life is a little slower. Unfortunately, there is also more hand to mouth living there as well.

Thanks for learning more about Rwanda! I know this post included a lot of my way-too-typical "I'll post about this later" statements, but I want to really process some of my observations so that they can be reflections... maybe even some actual conclusions.

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