An Inspiring Trip to Rwanda and Ethiopia

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(taken from an email sent last week)

Hello friends & family – It’s been a busy week in Rwanda and Ethiopia. Both new countries for me, I’ve been blown away. I’ve been really moved and wanted to share.

In Rwanda, it was almost disturbing how easily everyone I met spoke about friends and family they had lost in the 1994 genocide. Over a million people were killed so it makes unfortunate sense that this is a common story there. The Rwandese government has made incredible progress over the last 20 years, modeling themselves on Singapore. There are sidewalks, organized roads and everywhere you go it’s clean and safe. They call Rwanda the land of a thousand hills and it’s true. You’re constantly driving from peak to valley and every square inch is jam packed with productive agriculture. Rice paddies are the latest innovation. The people are super friendly and going out for a run, I had small kids running after me shouting “white man!” In Kinyarwanda (the national language).

Ethiopia, by contrast is CHAOTIC. Slums and make shift huts are scattered between modern buildings. No matter what side of the road you’re on, you’ve got traffic coming at you from every angle. The population here is one third Christian Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish which adds so many layers to everything you see and experience.

Yesterday, we visited two schools and then did some home visits and I can tell you, having seen the poverty these amazing young people live in, none of us have any problems at all. I was so moved by the experience, I sent a note to the senior management team and as you can see below, Reeta decided to send it to our Board of Directors.

Mum and Dad – I reference Sosina’s story below. What I didn’t say in my email was that I bought a large basket that her mother has been trying to sell for two years. Her mother, if she’s lucky, makes $1-1.50 a day doing hard labour in the fields. I bought the basket for $50 (800 Ethiopian Birr) They were dumbfounded when I asked if I could purchase it. I told Sosina I wanted to send it to my mother and that I would tell her story to you both. 

You should receive it on Monday or Tuesday. It would be great if you could take a picture with the basket and perhaps write her a simple card (her English is a bit rough). If you send it to me, I’ve arranged with our partner to get it to them so they can pass it on to her.

Visiting Fuad was even more moving. I’ve never seen anyone living in these conditions. Yet, like Sosina, Fuad is cheery and optimistic about the future. When I get back, I’m going to buy him a new hat, a soccer ball for him and his brother to share with other kids in the village, and some coloring books and crayons for his little sisters. 

So there you go. An amazing experience which I was dying to share with you all.

Be well and speak to you soon. I’m flying back tonight and land back in Toronto late afternoon. Half marathon Sunday morning, DC overnight mid week and then off to Senegal on the weekend.

Love – Jason

Begin forwarded message:

Subject: MasterCard Foundation Secondary Scholars in Ethiopia

Dear Directors – I thought you’d appreciate reading this note and photos from Jason Reindorp.   Jason and Kim Kerr, who is the deputy director for our Education and Learning Program, are in Ethiopia to officially launch The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program with the Ministry of Education and our partner, FAWE (Federation of African Women Educationalists).  Over the coming years, the program will educate and develop leadership talents of 800 secondary school students, about 70 percent will be girls.  The photos tell the story of the level of poverty we are reaching.  

Reeta Roy | President & CEO | The MasterCard Foundation

Hi everyone – today FAWE took us to two secondary schools that are participating in the Scholars program in Ethiopia. We met with 25 Scholars and had a fantastic conversation with them, their teachers and school administrators. 

Unlike me at that age, everyone seemed to like math, science, chemistry and physics – it was incredible. Many of them want to be engineers, astronomers, chemists. And leaders – it came out loud and clear that they see themselves as leaders who can help other students, their families and communities. No prompting from FAWE…completely genuine. 

In the afternoon, we did two home visits and I’ve attached pictures. I’ve done home visits before but this afternoon was magical. 

First, we visited Sosina and I was humbled to be invited into her home. Sosina’s father died when she was 2-3 years old. Family conflict meant that her father’s family abandoned them but her uncle bought the two room house they’ve lived in all is Sosina’s life. Her mother is a day laborer in nearby fields and makes about US$1-1.50/day. She also makes beautiful baskets to sell in the market but it sometimes takes literally years to sell one of them. Sosina has decided she wants to be a doctor who specializes in kidney health and dialysis because there’s a shortage of specialists in the country. 

Then there’s Fuad who wants to be a chemist.  He wears a hat because he has bad burn scars on his scalp. Fuad moved to live with his Aunt (who you can see in the picture) so he could go to a better school. His sister (seen in the foreground) is 7 years old and already in the top ten in her school. His brother (not shown) is already number one in his class – clearly a very talented family. More Scholars in the making. 

Our van couldn’t make it along the road to Fuad’s village so we walked in, gathering large crowds of children along the way. We walked past an enormous line of people waiting all day to fill their water jugs at the one tap for the village. Fuad, his aunt, his two siblings and cousin all live in a tiny one room house (about the size of a walk-in closet). His auntie wanted to serve us all coffee. Her hospitality was unmatched. 

Today was amazing and inspiring. Fuad and Sosina are happy, bright and focused on changing the world. They know they have to work hard to succeed and they’re doing it everyday. Every Scholar we met today had that fire, that spark. It’s one thing to see that in Scholars who have already made it to the university level. To see it at the secondary school level was truly moving. 

On to our press launch tomorrow, followed by another group press meeting in the afternoon. 

All the best – Jason

 

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One thought on “An Inspiring Trip to Rwanda and Ethiopia

  1. Oh Jason… thank you for sharing this. I was incredibly moved… I still remember hearing about the genocide in middle school and being horrified about it then, as I am still now. It’s amazing to think that the people of Rwanda see it as a part of every day life…. then again, perhaps it shows how strong they are for moving forward and trying to implement positive steps of change. Sosina’s story was amazing, I would have done the same (bought her basket), I mean… how can you not? Anyways, I’m jealous of your experience so do continue to post about them. I like opening up my inbox and seeing what new posts the bald Candaian has to offer. 🙂 hugs and much love! L

    Date: Thu, 5 Mar 2015 01:32:10 +0000 To: lluvia.ellison@hotmail.com

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