It’s been two months, but suddenly there is a shift and I am making some new connections. This week I met with two people who I have been wanting to link up with since I got here. These two new souls have expanded my world exponentially. They are beautiful, kind, and full of knowledge and experience. And I am eager for the weaving patterns that describe their lives. I first met with Richard Niwenshuti who is Managing Director of Business Council for Peace. His organization helps female entrepreneurs in post-conflict countries to expand their businesses. Richard is working with twenty businesses here in Rwanda.
In my slower days I have been doing tons of reading about aid in Africa. Many people have written recently hypothesizing as to why the millions in aid sent to Africa seems to have done so little for the people who so desperately need it. Writers like William Easterly, author of The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Effort to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good” talk about some of the major mistakes that have caused this money to end up either in the wrong hands or in unsustainable projects. Issues include corrupt governments, bad planning, and our failure to ask the people we are helping what would most benefit them. The most successful projects have been those that include the input of the people we seek to be of service to, and that give them the resources they need to succeed once aid is not as prevalent. Micro-Lending, invented by Muhammad Yunus, has helped the poorest of the poor to get out of debt and grow their businesses. His book, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle against World Poverty, is an excellent read.
Richard’s company, Business Council for Peace, understands the mistakes that have hindered so many well intentioned do-gooders from making real change. They have thoughtfully analized the the programs currently available and found the group they believe will most benefit from the kind of aid they provide. Business Council for Peace is designed with the knowledge that it is the success of small and medium-sized businesses that will revive suffering countries and keep their people employed. They believe “MORE JOBS MEAN LESS VIOLENCE”. And they specifically focus on female entrepreneurs because women are known to pass their skills on to the next generation, creating a legacy of knowledge. Please see the business for peace website at: www.bpeace.org.
I was connected with Richard through Anne Kellett who is the sister-in-law of Marilyn Zeigher who is a pre K assistant at the Jewish Community Center in Tenafly where my mother works as Program Supervisor. Being this far from home, I was eager to pursue any connections, however thin, that I could make out here in Rwanda. The other person I courted with more than a couple emails is Savannah Keith. Savannah is the Country Director in Rwanda for a non-profit called The International Education Exchange (IEE), www.educationexchange.org. One of my yoga students knows Stephen Paletta, the founder of this extraordinary program. He connected me to Savannah.
Savannah is overseeing the program from here in Rwanda. International Education Exchange pairs schools in the U.S. with schools in developing countries. Their mission is to “prepare the next generation for the global community” through these partnerships. The IEE is also helping the Rwandan government to build classrooms, set up high speed internet, and construct athletic fields. In addition, they are erecting libraries and even training teachers. You can read all about what Savannah is doing on her beautiful website, www.savannahkeith.com.
This past week I read a book called Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. It tells a true story of the unbelievable difference that just one person can make. Richard and Savannah present yet another example of what the faith and persistence of a single being can accomplish. They are not superhuman, but rather much like the rest of us. Their only difference is they don’t give up. They are present and energetic in their approach to life and because of that they are able to touch people and make positive and lasting impacts. I hope you will look at their websites and support their missions.
Richard and Savannah, if you are reading this I thank you. This week you shared your time, thoughts, and stories with me. You fed my mind and body as we exchanged ideas over Rwandan buffet. You touched my heart and gave me the boost I needed in order to continue giving to others. I am so glad that our paths have crossed and our stories are now connected.