Last month, I visited a refugee camp in Rwanda, a place I never imagined I would go. It’s called Gihembe.
Rwanda is in East Africa. Geographically, it is smaller than the state of Maryland, but has 12-million people.
It is notorious for its devastating Genocide in 1994, where one million people were killed in 100-days. After the killings, those who committed acts of genocide invaded the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, sending thousands of native Congolese fleeing across the boarder to Rwanda.
And, 20 years later, with the DR Congo still dangerous, Gihembe is where 18,000 Congolese continue to live…with no running water. No electricity. No hope.
At least, that’s what we thought.
Bringing the Confidence Project to Rwanda
We received permission to visit Gihembe while guests of These Numbers Have Faces (TNHF), a Portland based non-profit, working with the next generation of African change-makers. Gihembe is an hour north of Rwanda’s capitol city, Kigali.
Our group piled into a large “Coaster” van with Edward, our steady driver. Inside were TNHF staff, members of the Women’s Leadership Team, and University Scholars majoring in Medicine, Architecture, Engineering, Business and Computer Science.
Rwanda is known as the “Land of a Thousand Hills.” Its gorgeous, rolling landscape is lush with banana trees and terraced farm fields. Every day, farmers, including women with babies wrapped on their backs, climb up and down the steep hills to tend their crops.
After driving on paved roads, enjoying the scenery and the Scholars, we came upon a landscape that anywhere else would provide a “million-dollar view.” As we got closer, we noticed thousands of flat, white roofs. Then, a rusty sign propped-up on wooden poles: Gihembe Refugee Camp.
As the Coaster meandered up the rough, dirt road, hundreds of little kids swarmed the vehicle laughing and shouting, “Mzungu Mzungu”, the affectionate word for foreigners.
Meeting the Future of Africa: Talented Young Scholars
We were invited into the small homes of the Scholars and greeted with warm smiles and hugs. Jaenne’s family welcomed our group into their tiny living area where thirteen of us crouched on three, low wooden benches. In the middle was a rectangular table topped with a clean white cloth. The only light came from the a small square window and the open front doorway.
Jeanne is a TNHF Scholar majoring in Accounting. She is smart, ambitious and got a high score on the National Leaving Exam. What an ironic name. National Leaving Exam.
When Jaenne’s parents were killed, her Aunt Gertride and Uncle Piere adopted her. Through our interpreter, Jackie, they said, “We love her, just like one of our own.” While we were talking, their daughter, Marie, came into the room wearing a lime green hoodie and questioning eyes.
Someone asked Marie, “Will you go to University?”
Marie: “No. I didn’t score high on my exam.”
The room got quiet, frozen in thought, “What will she do for the rest of her life?”
After Marie left the room, we asked Jackie, “Isn’t Marie jealous of Jane because Jane is in college, with a future?”
Jackie: “No. In Africa, we say, “Ubuntu” which means, “Your good is my good.”
What? We were speechless. No jealousy? No comparisons? No, whining that it’s not fair?
Jackie: “No jealousy or comparisons. Jane brings honor to her family. She will do good work with her education. Jane will help her community because of her schooling.”
We Learned That Ubuntu Means “Your Good is My Good”
I wish I had known about “Ubuntu” in the 7th grade when all the boys noticed my best friend, Mary and not me. I was jealous.
Or, in high school when Maureen, Carlisle and Cathy earned “A’s” and I got “C’s.” I compared.
Or, as a news reporter at WBAL-TV in Baltimore when Jayne Miller, the best, hardest-working, investigative reporter in town, landed the lead story and the Assignment Editor yelled across the newsroom, “Tracy, find us a human-interest piece to close out the newscast.” I whined.
Maybe, if I had known about Ubuntu, I would have had a more generous spirit. I hope so.
Let Ubuntu Change the Way You Support Others
For the next 30-days…heck…for the next 30-years, practice Ubuntu.
“Your Good is My Good.”
Imagine a world, pleased for each other’s good. Supporting each other. Accepting each other. Living with an attitude of abundance.
And, remember that part of the story about no hope? Scratch that.
When we asked the Scholars, “What do you want us to take back to America?” Erick said, “Tell people in America that we have hope.” Faustin added, “You can live 4-days without food, but you cannot live 4-seconds without hope. We have hope.”
Happy Holidays. Hope for 2017. Ubuntu.
Thank you for your support of the Confidence Project.
Start 2017 with Confidence
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