Connecting with Women in Rwanda

A small delegation from Switzerland recently traveled to Rwanda to help launch a Women’s Ministry. The Swiss team was made up of leaders in the Swiss Women’s Breakfast Ministry from both French and German-speaking regions. They travelled to Rwanda with high expectations and a clear plan for sharing ideas and expertise with women in Rwanda.

After filling out the necessary paperwork and making phone calls to the embassy in Kigali, we were so relieved when our visa finally came through – only four days before we were scheduled to leave! The threat of Ebola also cast a long shadow over our preparations, and on more than one occasion, we had to carefully consider the risks involved with travelling to Africa. Based on the number of friends and relatives warning us, we would have preferred to not make the trip at times. Although the health risk loomed large over us before leaving, when we arrived in Rwanda there were no special precautions or problems with the epidemic. It was not an issue at all. Once again, we realized that Africa is much bigger than we tend to think!

Bibiche, the Rwandan women’s ministry leader, met us at the airport with her family. It was a warm welcome and a heartfelt reunion with a good friend. We three Swiss ladies  - Lilian Favarger, leader of the Women’s Breakfast Ministry in French-speaking Switzerland, Fabienne Weber, local ministry leader in her town and Maja Guidon, leader of the Women’s Breakfast Ministry in German-speaking Switzerland - also got to know each other better during our travels! With time, we began to realize how well our personalities and gifts complemented one another. We experienced emotions ranging from great joy with laughter to deep sadness with tears – and we grew closer as friends as a result.

Women’s Conference in Giseny

Our trip took us to Giseny on the shores of Lake Kivu in northwestern Rwanda. With the help of her very willing team, Bibiche had organized a conference. We welcomed 80 women from 26 regions in Rwanda - as well as one guest from Burundi - for three and a half days of training and encouragement. Each of the ladies was a local multiplier in her area, helping expand the women’s ministry there. This very special gathering gave the women a new vision for their work. Generous financial support from Switzerland allowed so many to attend.

The conference included talks on the following topics: identity and self-worth, living your calling, forgiveness and reconciliation as well as principles of child rearing. We also held workshops to allow deeper exploration of each topic. The openness and bravery of the women to share about their difficult lives impressed us. Besides the opportunity to pray with and for these women, just being able to hear their stories and show our genuine interest in their lives was perhaps the most important gift we could give them. Only God can truly heal the wounds left behind following the genocide. He is the source of hope for today and in the future. The life-stories we heard touched us deeply. At the same time, these stories made us wonder how we would deal with this kind of horror and injustice.

Women’s Breakfast

The conference ended with a Women’s Breakfast – something that is near and dear to all of us on the Swiss team! Enjoying such a rich breakfast was something new for many of the women there. Each woman received a Bible in Kinyarwanda, the local language, along with a special scarf, donated by our Women’s Breakfast volunteers in Switzerland. These gifts were a powerful sign of love and appreciation for the recipients.

Goat Project in Ruhengeri

After visiting the goat project on a previous trip, we returned this time to see how local churches continue to distribute goats to widows, for whom the animal becomes an ongoing source of income. The pastors identify the most needy widows to receive an animal.

When we arrived in one of the partner churches located in a very remote area, a crowd of children and widows was already waiting for us, ready to welcome us with songs and dancing, a typical expression of their joy in that culture.

We travelled there to witness the distribution of 44 new goats, who were waiting patiently for their new owner, each tied to a small post. A key element of this project’s success has been the ongoing local supervision to help the women make good use of the goat’s milk and meat for food and dung as fertilizer for their gardens. The first-born goat kid is always given to another widow, but subsequent offspring may be kept.

Visiting a Children’s Home

A visit to a home for orphaned and handicapped children was especially touching for Maja, who had been there before and enjoyed a happy reunion with many of the children. They met Thomas, who suffers from a severe case of Elephantiasis, which causes his limbs to swells to huge proportions; Clarissa, a very bright little girl and Esperance, another girl whose development has stalled in the last three years. Seeing these children is both touching and upsetting. We brought them simple gifts of school material, clothing and financial support to buy essential items locally. Devoted and caring nuns of the order of St. Vincent run the orphanage and care for these, the poorest of the poor.

We returned home with unforgettable images and impressions of Rwanda. We all felt honoured to have met with so many local women and to have taken part in their lives for a short time.

Report prepared by Maja Guidon, Lilian Favarger, Fabienne Weber

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