An especially interesting day

Trip Start Apr 10, 2008
Trip End May 12, 2008

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Flag of Rwanda  ,
Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Today the dental team was at the hospital at 8:00 with eyes at least partially open. The appointment we had been hoping for was confirmed during the morning. We were to be received by the Minister of Health to discuss a humanitarian project that Dr. Swartz is considering, and which would go beyond the framework of the UCG Good Works Project. He is hoping of finding away to facilitate and expedite the delivery of dental equipment and supplied to practitioners in Rwanda. There is a need for this service; at the moment it is complicated to order and receive even the most basic supplies. We hoped that the Minister would agree with the project and lend his backing as Dr. Swartz starts to get it going.
The appointment was set for 11:30 initially then moved back to noon. I came to the hospital in the late morning, took some photos and shot some video of church brethren and their children receiving treatment. At 11:45 Dr. Kamanzi picked up Dr. Swartz, Mr. Mundeli, Flavia Everman, and me and we drove to the ministry building where we were shown to the waiting room. Meetings often go overtime and we were kindly asked to wait a little longer than planned since the previous meeting was running long. Finally about 12:30 the Health Minister, Dr. Jean Damascène Ntawukuliryayo came to greet us and welcomed us into his office. Dr. Swartz had already communicated with him by e-mail and Dr. Kamanzi had put in a good word about the need for the project as well. Dr. Swartz introduced each of us including me as responsible for the work of UCG in French-speaking Africa - explaining that the Church had made possible his current work in Rwanda, Mr. Mundeli as Church pastor for Rwanda, and Flavia who would take notes and possibly help write grant proposals in the future. The discussion was conducted mostly in English with a few side-forays into French and even Kinyarwanda depending on who was speaking or being addressed.
The Minister was very supportive and we discussed how to guide the project through the necessary legal requirements, get government recognition and approval.
A very interesting event occurred when Mr. Mundeli ask for clarification of something that had been mentioned. The Minister fixed his face very carefully, then slowly said: "did you used to teach geography?" Mr. Mundeli replied that he had taught many subjects during his career and that geography had in fact been one of them. They compared notes about years and places, then the Minister exclaimed "you should always pay attention, you never know who you're going to meet!" Of all the interesting coincidences on might imagine, Mr. Mundeli had taught the future Minister Geography when he was about 16 years old and Dr. Ntawukuliryayo had not forgotten. He told our elder "your face has changed over the years, I might not have recognized you, but your voice and your way of speaking, I couldn't forget!" He went on to say that he didn't have pleasant memories of all his teachers from that period, but of Mr. Mundeli he did. As a pupil, he hadn't done well in French or English, but had excelled in Science and Math (and basketball). He reminisced for 15 or 20 minutes about those days, the obstacles he'd had to overcome, how some teachers had helped him and some had tried to trip him up. Mr. Mundeli proudly congratulated him on having done so well, receiving his PhD from a Belgian University, and now serving at the ministerial level in the government of Rwanda. It was truly an unexpectedly joyful moment, even for those of us who had no background in this situation.
After nearly 90 minutes, we had finished. He agreed to have his photo taken with our group, and then escorted us to the door. Before leaving the ministry, we met with a legal advisor for the ministry who gave Dr. Swartz copies of legal process and requirements to get the project going. As we drove back to the hospital we discussed how it appeared clear God's hand was in this. There have been so many striking coincidences and so many details have just fallen into place. I wonder what the future may hold as this project goes forward.
Back at the hospital I took my leave of the others and had Etienne come and pick me up to take me back to Chez Lando, so I could take Dr. Kirkpatrick out to the Ntarama genocide memorial.
I hadn't had lunch and there wouldn't be time, so Dr. K. kindly gave me some been jerky that his wife had packed for him (thanks Mrs. Kirkpatrick!), and we drove the 30 minutes out to Ntarama. A pretty 24 year-old woman, named Dativa, was attending the site. She opened the gate and let us enter, and showed us around the grounds and the Catholic Church, where remains of some of the +/- 5000 people who were killed her are displayed.
We were sobered to view the site and reflect on the suffering that had occurred here. Tutsis had taken refuge in church buildings when the genocide began in 1994, because on previous occasions when such violence had begun, people had been safe on church grounds. So the small church was filled to overflowing with men, women and children (there are always so many children in Africa) frightened for their lives. This time however the "holy ground" was not respected. Men with sledgehammers knocked holes in the walls and hand grenades were thrown in. When the explosions killed and wounded many and stunned the rest, the doors were broken open and the survivors finished off with machetes, clubs; anything at hand.
In a neighboring building, what had been the mud-brick kitchen, other people had been locked inside and burned alive. It was hard to imagine in the middle of what is now a tranquil dusty village. Dr. K. asked Dativa many questions, which she was happy to answer as best she could.  She herself was 10 years-old and was on the grounds when the killing occurred. No, she told us, she wasn't in the church itself but hiding elsewhere. Yes, she had lost many members of her family. Yes, it was hard for her to be here, but she wanted to tell the stories and honor the memories of those who died. No, she didn't think there was still anger and bitterness among survivors, at least she hoped not. Some years back I interviewed other survivors of the killing at Ntarama for our Good News magazine, and I remember one of them concluding her explanation with "I hope we've learned our lesson." Probably all humanity throughout all human history could express the same hope.
We drove back into Kigali and had a brief breather before attending our team hosted for the dental staff at the hospital to thank them for their participation and work while our project ran. The meal was supposed to begin at 7:00 pm, but things ran late at the hospital both for the dental team and for the director, so the time was pushed back to 8:00. Most people had arrived by 8:30 at which time we ordered. Mr. Mundeli introduced himself and the Church and then introduced me to make some welcome comments and to explain the work of the United Church of God and our Good Works Project. I thanked the director and the hospital staff for their support and good will, and explained that we believe we should do good to all men, as the Bible says, especially to those of the household of our faith, but not limited to that, and also according to our means and to opportunity. I said we were happy to have been blessed with the means and the opportunity to help in Rwanda in this small way. We hope we will be able to continue assisting.
The director then responded with comments of appreciation for the work of Dr. Swartz and the support of the Good Works program. He said he hoped our partnership could continue to the benefit of the patients served.
Conversations were being conducted around the table in French, English, Kinyarwanda with a little Kiswahili thrown in.  And finally, at a little after 10:00 pm, the food arrived!  We ate and talked until about 11:00 when we took our leave and went our separate ways. It was an enjoyable evening, even if things went slowly and late. We appreciate the friendships that have been established, and hope that the doors that have opened will lead to more good things in the future both for our Church member and for others that may be helped.
Tomorrow it will be time to move on from Rwanda and head to Kenya, our next destination for a little rest and exploration and for visits with friends.
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