In 1994 Rwanda experienced one of the world’s most swift and brutal genocides. It is estimated that there could have been somewhere in the region of a million people killed in a period of 100 days. It is hard to believe that the ‘land of a thousand hills’, with its lush vegetation and abundance of terrace farms on volcanic slopes, has recovered from such an atrocity. We visited the Genocide Memorial in Kigali, the largest of many memorials in the country, and were very honoured to lay a wreath on the grave of an estimated 250,000 people killed in the genocide. There was a minute of silence and we were given time to reflect. Standing in the rain beside a flower-covered pergola, in a humble courtyard, the sounds of the capital city buzzing all around, time seemed to stand still for a few seconds. We came to realise the scale of what had happened and what lay beneath our feet. This was one of those times that I am sure none of us will ever forget.
The Rwandan people whom we met throughout our journey were warm and welcoming, constructive and determined. It seemed the concentration of energy in the country was on building a positive future through togetherness and reconciliation and developing sustainable solutions for a better life at home. It was one of these solutions—delivered by the Government of Rwanda and UNICEF and supported by donations from the IKEA Foundation Soft Toys for Education campaign—that we saw in action, improving lives for families across Rwanda.
It was clear from our trip that the families we had helped were very grateful and that the support had improved their lives immeasurably. The arrival of clean water and sanitation, education around handwashing and general hygiene, the structure of education, and the world that this learning has opened, is making life safer, healthier and more optimistic.
There is a very real sense of pride and positivity for what has been put in place and what is being achieved through our support. A father at the Early Childhood Development and Family Centre in Nyabihu District told us that with the support of the staff at the centre he had learned how to grow a nutritious variety of vegetables in his kitchen garden and that he was now at a point that he was able to sell some to generate an income for his family.
As we know in IKEA, ‘most things remain to be done’ and this was certainly still the case in this village and the surrounding area. The village President reminded us that many people in the immediate area still do not have an accessible water supply and are walking up to four kilometres to gather water before the arduous walk back, laden down with jerry cans, often with a child strapped to their backs.
Overwhelmingly I felt great hope from the people that we met, hope for an easier and more positive future. A wish to share their learnings and set up good sustainable practices. I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to spend time in Rwanda and I hope to return someday to see how we have further helped to improve life at home. My wish is that each and every IKEA co-worker understands that every Euro donated is totally life-changing and desperately required. Rwanda has stolen a piece of my heart and I hope to return very soon.