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Thinking about faraway places: Rwanda and Zambia

Sometimes the best way to see the world is through the eyes of someone else.  And it isn’t always pretty.

Recently I read a book about holocaust in Rwanda that opened my eyes to a horrible situation in a small African country and brought back memories of a travel experience.

The powerful  book is called “Left to Tell” and it is written by Immaculee Ilibagiza, a surviver of terrible killing spree that left her family and millions dead.  For 91 days she and seven other women huddled silently together in a cramped bathroom while they were hunted down by machete wielding killers.

It’s an incredible story of the power of the human spirit to over come adversity.  Sounds like a cliché but this book and the story of the incredible emotional strength and determination to survive of one young woman really grabbed me.  Maybe haunting is a better word.

It made me think of some women I met in Zambia a year ago.  While they weren’t being hunted down in the struggle between the Tutsi’s and the Hutu’s, their plight and  many people in Zambia is dire.  The woman on the left in the photo above is a case in point. At the time this photo was taken, her husband had just died of AIDS and she discovered she is HIV positive.  The woman on the right is a volunteer caregiver determined to help both Mom and son who have no means of support or anyone to care for them.

This is but one tiny example of a person struggling in a country where  mind boggling poverty, AIDS, lack of nutriition and little hope for a better life is the daily experience. We saw first hand the staggering and endless poverty of the people  who live in homes with no running water, electricity, books, medicine or in many cases food.

But we also saw things to be hopeful about.

First, the amazing fortitude and spirit of some of the people, determined to live a better life and to create a better life for their children.

We met with a group of 60 widows who had banded together with the help of a wonderful Ex-pat. to take care of themselves. They earn enough to run a school for 300 orphans, providing them with basic education, a hot meal, clean water and hope for the future. They also organized a school to teach sewing in a country where schooling is not an option for most of the young people.

They make and sell  tote bags created from recycled plastic bags, using that money to support themselves and to run a school, to feed the children and provide fresh drinking water.

The other powerful experience was visiting World Bicycle Relief—where we learned first hand the impact of a getting a well-designed bicycle into the hands of people with great needs.  The roads are rough and distances great so having a  sturdy bike that can be easily be repaired on the side of a rutted dirt road with basic tools is critical and making a huge  difference in many lives, enabling people with overwhelming needs to get to medical care, schools and the markets.

The program is well run and effective while transforming lives with appropriately designed bicycles.

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


1 Comment
  1. posted by
    Melissa Witbeck
    Aug 19, 2010 Reply

    I love your blog. What a great story you shared. I will bookmark your site and return as quickly as possible. Thank you for sharing this story.

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