Name: Claudine Uwayisenga
Grade: Just finished Grade 10
Age: 18 years old
School: Buyoga Rulindo Secondary School
Claudine was a strong student. At the end of primary school she did very well in her exams and won a spot to go to a public boarding school with some of the best students in the country. Her parents couldn’t afford it so instead she went to day school where all of the students who don’t do very well attend. It was difficult for her to attend as she knew she belonged in a better school, but she persevered. She finished S3 (Grade 9) and again did very well and was placed at a very good school. Again she couldn’t afford to go and went home.This time there were no other options – her school career had to end. She said she spent weeks crying and frustrated and ended up just sleeping a lot (a BIG sign of depression).
Then one day someone from the district came to her home and told her that she needed to report to the District office and talk to some people about an opportunity to receive a scholarship from an organization called the Komera Project. She literally RAN as fast as she could to the office and met with Esther and was ultimately accepted into the program. She is now flourishing at school and determined to do extremely well.Categories: Blog, Scholar of the Month
Through my work I have had the chance to visit and explore many different cities and countries, but out of all the places I have traveled to only two places have I felt a sense of home, Norway and now Rwanda. Rwanda is a place filled with beautiful and welcoming people, where the landscape takes your breath away with every new view. More than the people or landscape what really caught my eye is the general happiness of the people I met.
Meeting the scholars and talking to them was my favorite part of the trip. I’ve been sponsoring a scholar for the past year and a half and this trip I was able to meet her -it was an absolutely amazing experience. I was able to see where she goes to school, meet her mentor, and her counselor and then talk to them about how she is doing in school-I’m so proud of her!
The feeling of meeting the scholars and feeling theirgratitude made my heart explode! Listening to them talk about what they are studying and what they want to do once they finished was inspirational. They are so grateful for an opportunity for a proper education, you hear it in their voices and see it in their eyes. The first school we went to when the girls went one by one and spoke bringing instant tears to my eyes. It was a deep, happy and sad tear in my heart. I tried to hold back my tears but as I looked around the room at the group that I went with and saw that everyone was crying I realized it wasn’t just me being sappy. Every school we went to the tears came. I’ve never felt that before, it was a wave of joy, appreciation, and respect for the girls. We went there to teach them about empowerment and courage but they ended giving me more courage and strength than I could give them.
When you meet them they are initially shy, and within the next moment they are asking you to, “teach them how to Dougie”. By meeting all of the girls you can see the difference in the ones that have been there the longest. You can see the confidence and knowledge of who they are is building. I’m honored to be a part of the Komera Project and to have gone to Rwanda with them.
Categories: Blog, Stories
Some years ago, I had the great fortune of meeting Executive Director Margaret Butler through my long-time friend David Boehmer, our Komera Board Chair. Her passion for the organization was matched only by the tremendous potential of the girls we support – and I resolved right there to be involved in any way I could in order to advance the work and message of Komera.
Last month I had an opportunity to accompany a wonderful group to Rwanda — my second trip in support of Komera. Despite having a reference point based on the previous trip, I was even more enchanted with the beauty of the country, and even more inspired by the potential of our young scholars. Though I’m not sure a brief article could do justice to the experience, I’ve captured 2 of my favorite pictures here: a moment enjoying time with our Komera scholars while sharing some pictures of my family and friends back in New York City, and a picture with 2 beautiful sisters we met while touring the northern part of the country.
Among many highlights was the opportunity to meet my scholar, Annette, during our visits with the girls. Annette has worked to overcome hardships of many sorts, and has emerged as a bright and sensitive woman who has a smile that can light up a room! This year, many parents came to the Fun Run to support the girls, giving me an opportunity to speak with Annette’s mother as well (pictured). As a board member, I’m particularly pleased to see that the work we do with our Komera scholars – which has immeasurable impact on the girls – is driving change in the community around them as well.
I feel especially grateful to have traveled – on both trips – with exceptionally kind, compassionate individuals who brought unique perspectives to bear. Experiencing the Komera impact first-hand has generated tremendous inspiration and energy around the program – and I look forward to applying both as we continue to build Komera and expand our reach in years to come.
Categories: Blog, Stories
My daughter Sara and I just returned from the most amazing journey through Rwanda with the most impressive group of people from Komera. We visited Kigali, Rwinkwavu, the Northern Province and so much in between. While we witnessed devastation associated with the Rwandan genocide and extreme poverty, we were also overwhelmed and inspired by the country’s recovery and optimism for the future.
We visited homes of several Komera scholars. One visit stands out in my mind because it serves as such a great example of how providing an education for one child is transforming the lives of others. While visiting the IPM secondary school in Kyonza, we met Clenie, a vivacious, successful student with optimism and plans for the future. When she was initially accepted as a Komera scholar several years back, Clenie was withdrawn and depressed. Her mother, a single parent, agonized over her inability to educate her daughter and provide for her family. Both she and her daughter had given up hope. On our recent visit, Clenie’s mother told us that the ability to educate her daughter gave them both hope. Clenie’s mother had started a business buying and selling goats, was using the money to send her other children to school, was saving to purchase an adjacent home as a rental property and, longer term, was planning to use rental income to start up a loan business that would allow others to start up or expand their own businesses the local community. She was also playing an important role in the newly established Parent Association of Komera scholars. Providing an education for Clenie initiated a chain of events that continues to strengthen her family, help them out of poverty, improve the economy in her community, improve community health and develop future leaders such as Clenie and her mother.
We heard other personal stories, many of which were quite disturbing. Some of the Komera scholars are orphans as a result of the genocide. They live with grandparents, siblings or neighbors. One of our drivers was an engaging, warm and genuine young man named Bosco. He was a young teenager visiting Kigali when the violence broke out. He was separated from his family. His father and uncle were massacred. His mother and siblings became refugees in neighboring Burundi.
These and other stories of people we met provided a foundation for our visit to the Kigali Memorial Centre, a museum commemorating the Rwandan genocide. The Centre is a place to learn about the past and grieve for the victims. Symbolic gardens and memorials surround the Centre, including mass graves and a wall of names (which to this date remains incomplete, as Rwanda is still uncovering more victims). Once inside, Rwanda’s history unfolds. We learned about Rwanda before the genocide, what happened during the genocide and why. The Centre has documented and continues to document stories of victims and survivors. These stories are powerful tools of illustration. The stories of the people we met further intensified and personalized our experience at the Centre.
In addition to personal stories of devastation, we also heard inspirational stories of recovery from the people we met. Bosco survived the genocide on the streets of Kigali. Through perseverance, luck and generosity of others he was eventually reconnected with his surviving family. Evelyne, our social worker at Partners in Health, adopted a large number of orphaned children after the violence subsided. Despite the horror of their past, people talk openly about the need for forgiveness. They are resilient and think positively about the future. Even the lyrics of many popular songs focus on the importance of loving and caring for others.
Post-genocide, nationwide systems are being put in place to support recovery. Old practices were formed into legal systems that promote accountability and healing. Victims in local communities are confronting their abusers and participating in sentencing. Though most of the homes we saw in rural areas did not have electricity or running water, we saw evidence of work in progress. Money is being invested in the educational system. We visited the PIH facility in Rwinkwavu, where we saw how Rwanda is establishing nationwide healthcare that is free to those who need it. Once a month, all citizens participate in projects to improve their local community. Rwanda is referred to as the land of a thousands hills. The natural beauty of the country stands out, as does its cleanliness and order. While President Paul Kagame is controversial in many respects, significant improvements in infrastructure, the economy, healthcare and education are evident.
People have asked me if I found the visit to Rwanda depressing or scary. My answer is a resounding no. While I witnessed extreme poverty and devastation, I was overwhelmed by the country’s recovery and by the optimism of the Rwandan people. Komera is helping to support that recovery, one scholar at a time. I am very proud to support the work Komera is doing. While it will take some time to for me to process how my visit to Rwanda will alter the path I take, I look forward to finding more ways to make a difference for Komera and the people of Rwanda.Categories: Blog, Stories
Sara Lev, a rising senior, travelled to Rwanda in June with The Komera Project. She spent a week working with the Komera Scholars and learning about Rwanda.
Going to Rwanda with Margaret and other supporters of the Komera Project was unbelievable. Meeting other supporters, the scholars, learning about Rwandan culture and history as well as seeing the gorgeous rolling hills of Rwanda (Yes, its nickname “Land of 1,000 Hills” is more than correct) left me awe-struck, inspired and definitely changed.
The whole experience has been difficult to express in words. When people ask me, “What was your favorite part?” I find it difficult to give one concrete answer—I am so tempted to say all of it, however, I note that that leaves the person who asked with no sense of what I felt, experienced and saw. There are so many different pieces that made the whole experience so fantastic. One piece that was particularly my favorite was definitely meeting Rwandan people—scholars, their families, and other natives alike. These people are the strongest people I’ve ever met. They’ve survived so much horror, death and tragedy—so many things no human should ever see. Yet they are strong, brave and are able to move on. They do not look for pity and live in their past; rather, they embrace life with such vitality.
While we were in Rwanda, we travelled with three drivers: Innocent, Magezi and Bosco. They pointed out important landmarks (along with ensuring we got a proper view of a giraffe), gave us background on Rwandan history and culture as well as shared their invaluable stories with us. As they told us, they were all part of the genocide—they were kids at the time. They saw so much death, especially within their own families. But the most unbelievable thing is, is that they have all moved on. Their attitude is indicative of the whole of Rwanda. Moving on is an integral piece of their culture—as Magezi pointed out, most of the songs on the radio are about unification, togetherness, love and peace. It aids the process of moving away from the horrible tragedy that was the genocide.
The Rwandan people as a whole are so resilient and absolutely incredible. I also met some other inspiring women: the Komera Scholars. In particular, the scholars Console, Clenie and Janviere’s stories are remarkable in and of themselves—they came from tragedy and difficulty but ultimately turned into vibrant leaders. I also met so many other scholars who had astounding tales, ones of loss, bravery and strength. They all have, in some sense, experienced something tragic stemming from the genocide, yet you’d never know meeting them, as the Rwandan people are constantly friendly and upbeat people. When you meet the scholars, they run up to you and give you a huge hug and welcome you as if you are family. They hold your hand and want to know everything about your life and your family. They love to talk and share stories about their culture, interests and their families as well. In addition, they are so incredibly kind, caring and compassionate. A scholar, Olive, told me “The best gift you could give me is coming back”.
These scholars genuinely value the connection you make with them. I made so many connections with these scholars—I’m in the process of writing letters to them. They all asked for photos of my family, myself, my pets. They sincerely want to know you and connect with you. They are also extremely hard working, both in school and in taking care of their families. These people have changed my outlook on life and have inspired me greatly. This trip was over all an unbelievable experience, but the people I met made it deeper and more enriching in a way that I could have never imagined possible.Categories: Blog, Stories