* BASKETS FOR HOPE – by Lois W. Stern
Bread Basket – LOVE
WATERFALL FINDING THE WAY AFTER BEING LOST
Many of you may recall the horrors wrought by the 1994 Rwandan civil war. During that one hundred day war, over one million Tutsi men, women and children were brutally slaughtered. When the civil war ended, the country was left in ruins with its population of approximately 11 million people in abject poverty. Prostitution became a way of life for many young girls and women, simply as a means of sustenance. HIV/AIDS was a common affliction for the entire population.
During the genocide, Michel Kayiranga, a young man born and raised in Gitarama, a rural area of Rwanda, was luckier than most.
In the days after 9/11, Michel felt a calling to join the military and fight for freedom against the terrorists who had attacked the United States, even though the U.S. had done nothing to help his country during the genocide that killed his family. He served in the US navy, later moving to Seattle to work as an engineer for GE. When the uprisings began, he was outside the country studying at Kenya University. Unable to return to his country until after the war, when he finally reentered Rwanda, he discovered a country in utter chaos. Although his mother had survived, his father and sister were not so lucky. They had been slaughtered along with many other close family members and friends. Armed with an engineering degree and a winning lottery ticket, Michel received a green card and an airline ticket to the US. He found employment as an engineer in Los Angeles and began to settle down. But his life felt incomplete.
Meanwhile, in 2004 a non-profit organization known as Rwanda Partners (RP) was founded as a fair trade organization committed to fighting poverty in East Africa and restoring hope to the poor and marginalized. Through projects in both education and job creation, Rwanda Partners dedicates itself to a further goal – the healing and reconciliation among the Rwandan people and the greater region of East Africa. Through the formation of income-generating projects such as basket weaving, beading and sewing cooperatives, RP has succeeded in establishing working relationships between these former enemies.
At some point Greg Stone, Executive Director of Rwanda Partners, asked Michel if he would be willing to go back to Rwanda to serve as country director of the Rwanda Partners project. Although Michel thought he had left that part of his life behind, this offer ignited a second calling in him. The stories of how he has impacted on the basket weavers’ lives is one you are likely to remember for a very long time.
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