Guest post by Heather Ramsey
Just over 24 hours ago, the TechWomen team and 30 mentors from the San Francisco Bay Area arrived in Rwanda’s beautiful capital city of Kigali to embark upon what is sure to be one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. For the TechWomen community, including mentors, alumnae and staff, the delegation trips to Africa and the Middle East are major highlights that truly bring the program full circle. This trip is our opportunity to learn about Rwandan culture and history, the professional landscape for women in STEM, and to see first-hand the impressive efforts of NGOs, schools, and the local government to provide girls and women in Rwanda access to education and careers in STEM fields. We have been planning this trip alongside the Rwandan TechWomen, Angel, Rita, Diane, Neza, Winnie, and Emma, who have gone above and beyond to make this a meaningful learning experience by sharing with us the extraordinary hospitality and beauty of Rwanda.
Yesterday was our first day. It was incredible. I think it’s safe to say that we each experienced so many emotions—those of joy, awe, and gratitude, as well as deep, deep sadness. We started our day with a city tour by van led by our awesome guides Tarzan and Lynn from Thousand Hills Expeditions tour company. The endless hills of Kigali afford unbelievable views from many vista points. We stopped in the Muslim quarter for photos on a hillside overlooking the city. Muslims make up about 14% of the population—twice as many as before the 1994 genocide. Many Rwandans converted to Islam following the genocide because Muslims had sheltered Hutus and Tutsis, and also because of the role that some Catholic and Protestant priests played in the mass killings that were carried out in churches.
Following our tour, we had a lovely lunch at Shokola and shopped at the Caplaki Traditional Market. In the afternoon, we visited the Kigali Memorial Centre where we placed wreaths of flowers from our delegation on the mass graves holding the remains of more than 250,000 victims of the genocide. The museum provides visitors with insights into the history leading up to Rwanda’s 100-day genocide, which claimed the lives of nearly one million people. It also has an exhibit that tells the stories of several other genocides that have taken place over the last century. The Kigali Memorial Centre handles the subject of genocide with sensitivity and care. Delegation members, including myself, were deeply moved and shaken by what we experienced, saw and heard at the memorial.
Our day concluded with our whole delegation being hosted for dinner at Rita’s home. Our Rwandan hosts surprised us all with traditional dancers, singers and drummers as we arrived. It was festive and welcoming as the group had a chance to unwind, talk and eat a traditional Rwandan dinner in Rita’s garden. The hospitality of our Rwandan TechWomen is truly touching and makes us all realize the depth and longevity of our friendships. We are learning from and about one another. We want and need to understand each other’s experiences. It was only day one here, but speaking for myself, I am forever changed and humbled.
For nearly 20 years Heather has been designing and leading programs focused on NGO capacity building, social entrepreneurship, technology and gender equity in emerging markets and developing countries. Her longtime commitment to the rights, empowerment and welfare of women and girls has been reinforced by her role as a mother to her daughter and stepdaughter. Heather spearheads our efforts to expand our global network by initiating and managing partnerships with key stakeholders dedicated to TechWomen’s mission and IIE’s Center for Women’s Leadership Initiatives in San Francisco. @hramseySF