Sorry, Grandpa!

I can’t believe I am saying this but I think it’s finally time to change. In 1976 when I became 18 and registered to vote, there was no decision to be made on what would be my choice for political party affiliation. My grandfather, Harold O. Wilson, was devoted to the Republican Party much like many are devoted to their faith. He BELIEVED in everything the GOP stood for. He spent his last two years of service in the State of California as then Governor Reagan’s cabinet as Secretary of Education. He supported Ron (they were on first name basis…) in everything he did. Over the years in retirement, he bemoaned everything Democrat and literally cursed the “damn liberals and Democrats”, but I wonder what he would think now? BVl0OXZCUAAU3JL

I like to think he would be as disillusioned as me. The “win at all cost” approach is less than productive and only serves to make the gap between political parties deeper. Why are “collaboration” and “cooperation” dirty words to GOP leadership?

The perspective of traveling to a place where more than 50% of the population exists with subsistence living, it is even more absurd to see the infighting of our political leaders. Seriously, folks, this is NOT what is important! Get over yourselves and start working together. Foster creative solutions rather than “my way or nothing.” Isn’t anyone else weary of these ridiculous battles that put real people in a place where they may suffer needlessly?

Love the quote by Kathleen Reardon today, “When winning or disruption is all that matters, then all other values must take a back seat. The rational course then is more a matter of achieving your priorities than adherence to ethics, truthfulness, accepted rules or common practice.”

Read more of her post here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kathleen-reardon/are-the-republicans-crazy_b_4030629.html

Nyamata Church…Day 3

Monday started with our inspiring visit to Beata and continued as we drove to Nyamata Church in the Bugasera Region near Kigali. Can anyone really be ready to see the physical results of a massacre? I urge you to read the story of Nyamata Church via this link: http://www.genocidearchiverwanda.org.rw/index.php?title=Nyamata

Entrance to Nyamata Church

Entrance to Nyamata Church

You hear “Seeing is believing”, but that does not come close to how it feels to be in a place where such horror and atrocities occured.

I have never visited WWII Holocaust sites, but seen pictures, like most of us. Being there is another thing entirely. One day I will write about my grandfather John Wells, who was a OSS Officer in WWII. My grandfather never talked about it, and in fact I knew nothing about his experiences until after he died. He was part of an US Intelligence group just behind troops that liberated a death camp in Poland. We only knew because we found slides from photos he had taken. After this visit, I have an idea of how he must have felt, as this church has been preserved to show exactly what happened to these souls.

Walking into Nyamata Church is like stepping back in time. There are piles of clothes all around the main church, on every bench….so many. Mass graves hold the remains of what they could find and of those discovered since 1994. Seeing the destruction first hand is horrifying and breaks your hear. And the world didn’t….no, the world wouldn’t hear the alarms that were sent. It is appalling as an American to know that our country is included in this group. Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the U.N. refused to hear the cries of help coming from General Dallaire, leader of the U.N. “Peace Keeping” force, and remains unapologetic to this day. While Bill Clinton, then President of the U.S., also refused to help, he has since come to Rwanda and publicly apologized. And that brings me to the most important part of this story. The Rwandan people WANT to forgive. Anyone either directly or indirectly who accepts responsibility and apologizes will be forgiven. While they will not forget, the leadership in Rwanda knew that was the only way to bring any possibility of harmony.

Sr. Tonia Locatelli

Sr. Tonia Locatelli

There were people who did try to help, like Sr. Tonia Locatelli, but that did not stop the “Interahamwe”, Hutus and Rwandan Army from killing her and then slaughtering more than 10,000 trapped inside Nyamata Church.

As we have driven around the countryside we have been accompanied by Charles. He has spent much time explaining and sharing his life experience. And that is one of the pieces of this puzzle that makes everything fit. You see, he was one of the displaced Rwandans who came back to Rwanda in 1990 and fought to free Rwanda from the Hutu dictator. He lived and fought in the guerilla forces that helped free Rwanda and brought people together. It is astonishing how forgiving and happy he is. He is the one that says “We will forgive, but we must not forget”. I am grateful to know him and happy to call him friend.

The Curse of Complacency

Coming to Africa was not a place I expected to visit anytime in my immediate future. Thanks to an amazing gift from CAbi (http://lindawilsonslo.cabionline.com), here I am in Kigali, Rwanda. There is no doubt that this would be a life changing experience but I had no idea how deep it would be.

Beata's Shop

Beata’s Shop


Visiting Beata today was eye-opening, uplifting and verification that programs to create self-sufficiency in developing countries, one person at a time, works. Beata, a survivor of the genocide, is an incredible woman. Starting with a small loan from a Trust Group with Opportunity International (http://opportunity.org), she has built a business that has provided for her children and built a real home. And to top that off she now employs other women to make her goods. She is loving and was very open with us as she shared her story. Then we got to participate by shopping all the items she creates. Jewelry, bags, aprons, small bags, large bags….so many beautiful things!

We were a group of 11 women and when we were done it was a case of now you see it, now you don’t!IMG_1448IMG_1473

Yes, it’s true! Our shoppers emptied her display of aprons. She has worked so hard and achieved so much, and is now mentoring other women to help them on the path to self-sufficiency.

Driving around Kigali and Kamembe, it is clear that Rwanda has made spectacular progress in less than 20 years since the country was torn apart, against all predictions from the West. Even so, the number of people living in extreme poverty is very high – more than 50%. This kind of poverty cannot be compared to the poor in developed countries. The poorest in the US would be considered stable compared to conditions in Rwanda. We, as Americans, are incredibly complacent in our comfort. We have no idea what it is to struggle to feed our families and give proper shelter, clothing, education. Our social programs create a safety net so our poorest are taken care of.

What can we do? It’s really quite simple and doesn’t need to be a large amount of money, which of course is always nice, but small is good, too. When contributing to micro-finance, it’s all about getting started. We can ALL do something. We need to step out of our comfort and complacency. I am so blessed and changed by this experience already. And it’s only the third day. And I am still here!

I guess the question is, what will YOU do?

Kigali, Rwanda Day 1

I apologize right from the top that this may be a long post – today has been so full! Starting at SLO Airport, 8:45 am on Thursday Sept 12

Heading down the ramp to board the little plane for my first leg of journey to Kigali, Rwanda

Heading down the ramp to board the little plane for my first leg of journey to Kigali, Rwanda

and ending in Kigali, Rwanda at the Serena Kigali Hotel on Friday, 11:31 pm, it has gone from great to ….how can I top this? My flight from SLO to LAX was uneventful and during my wait in LA, met Tracy. She was on the same flight to Amsterdam and is now in Kenya at a private orphanage. Wonderful woman and was nice to have someone to talk to. Just love that about traveling alone!

Luckily slept a little on the 9 hour flight and arrived in Amsterdam in good shape. Found my gate but was so curious to know who the other women were that were also heading to Kigali for the Opportunity International (OI) trip. Met two women from Monterey, CA that were headed to Entebbe, Uganda, also going to a private orphanage. They were so nice and as we were talking, a woman saw my OI luggage tag and approached me. And that brought me to meeting the women from Chicago and Ohio who I was joining on the next leg.

View from my window heading out from Schipol, Amsterdam....first seat assignment!

Leaving Schipol, Amsterdam…first seat assignment!

My first seat was actually nice and I was with a woman returning to Uganda to her home. But sweet Rita intervened and helped move Mary (OI Staff) and me to the Economy “Comfort” area. Great for two reasons – more leg room and we got to sit together! Mary and I had a great flight as we talked and then slept, and the did it all over again. By the time we landed in Kigali, we both felt pretty refreshed and so happy that we had met and bonded.

The Serena Kigali is all that is it supposed to be. A five star hotel, fabulous room and live music tonight. This pic is from my room overlooking the pool and patio. The band was so cool! Live from Kigali…. Wonderful time getting to know everyone on the dining patio,IMG_1275 sharing a little J. Lohr Chardonnay from my neighborhood, and now off to bed to start again in the morning. Tomorrow begins the real process to learn about Rwanda. The Genocide Museum is up first. Both looking forward to that and at the same time know that it will be a powerful experience. Thank you CAbi, for this. Hard to believe this is me right now.

Ready to Go!

Super close to leaving and I can’t believe it’s here!  We just got an updated itinerary for some changes that had to be made but all is good.  I am along for the ride and looking forward to getting on the airplane and relax.  Today was my day to do all the last minute necessary things, like start taking the malaria prevention medicine, make sure I have snacks to take on the plane and have for the trip, call my cell phone provider and give them my itinerary and find out about using wifi while in Africa.  And finish packing, make a nice dinner so we can sit down as a family before I go. Still need to take Dan out to the garden beds and make sure he knows what needs to be done so the newly planted vegetables and flowers don’t die while I am gone!

My wonderful friend Wendy came over yesterday and while we had lunch, shared her information with me.  Her sister just moved back the to U.S. after spending a year in Rwanda, living in Kigali, so she was an amazing resource.  Great information and ideas and so grateful to her!

filename-img-6250-jpgOne of the first things we will do in Kigali is visit the Genocide Museum.  There is a plaque there that reads “If you must remember, remember this.  The Nazi’s did not kill 6 million Jews….nor the Interahamwe kill a million Tutsis, they killed one and then another, and then another…  Genocide is not a single act of murder, it is millions of acts of murder.”  So hard to imagine living through a time and place that is just impossible to comprehend.  This picture is from the Museum and is a mass grave from the murders in 1994. Looking forward to the experience and will share photos of my own soon.

As it turns out, Monday will be a Holiday in Rwanda for Voting.  This was just declared and it is expected to be an exciting day.  Just what that means…..have NO idea, but will be interesting, no doubt!

So, tomorrow morning, off I go.  Excited, nervous, ready to just be GONE! 

Update!

Crazy week! Hard to believe that 4 weeks from today I will be in Kigali, Rwanda…..Africa! I wish there was more time to organize something to make it truly worthwhile. Like a donation drive, especially for women’s products. Did you know those are very expensive in Africa? The girls who are 12-13 years old start their periods, and then what? If they don’t have supplies, they end up staying home from school and eventually drop out – because they just cannot go at that time of the month! I heard about a washable menstrual pad recently and look what I found: http://africabags.org/id95.html. Check it out! There are other companies that make similar products, including organic cotton. So worth checking out. Since my trip is sponsored by The Heart of CAbi Foundation and specifically to experience our relationship with Opportunity International (http://lindawilsonslo.cabionline.com/foundation/), click through to see what we do and how OI makes a difference. So please, take action! You can donate directly to Africa Bags or to Opportunity International. Need help? Let me know and let’s figure it out together.

And just to give you an sneak peek at one of the places I will go, take a look: Nyungweevening

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These are taken at the Nyungwe Forest Lodge!

The Best Laid Plans of Mice & Men….

It has been IMPOSSIBLE to post entries!  This year I took on Social Media for Canzona Women’s Ensemble, Central Coast Women In Business and The Monday Club, San Luis Obispo. Good grief…..what was I thinking! Love doing it but need to be better organized, but that’s what HootSuite is all about! Getting better but have a ways to go!

And then I got sick. Who knew how hard Pneumonia would be to get over? Not me, that’s for sure. What began the first of March was still lingering at the end of June. July was gradually better, and after my broken ribs (from coughing) are finally healed, I discovered how sick I had been. Though it is likely my lungs will be compromised for the rest of my life, the lesson learned is how much I value my health. Do NOT want to take that for granted!

A lot is happening now, and it will be all I can do to keep it all together. The big news is that I won an Insight Trip with Opportunity International from The Heart of CAbi Foundation. Through the Spring, the choices I made were either cancelled or postponed. My original dates were May, but the pneumonia meant there was no way I could go. When that trip was cancelled it was a blessing but then it kept happening with the others I selected. It was looking like it would have to wait until 2014, but lo and behold, today it all came together! The trip is set and airline tickets will be booked tomorrow. I CANNOT believe I am going to Rwanda in 5 weeks! So excited and know this will be a life changing adventure. And looking forward to sharing all about the adventure here!