June 29th: Today, our itinerary included visiting 3 of the Kigali co-ops: Cokawi, Abadacogora, and Murindi. The early morning was spent preparing for the day by showering off any remaining jet-lag, indulging in a delicious breakfast buffet, and sorting the rest of the luggage full of gifts and supplies for the co-ops we’d visit today.
We departed Hotel Beausejour at 9:00am, energized and anxious, yearning to finally be with the people we had traveled so far to see…
COKAWI “Wake Up and Improve Yourself”: Our first cooperative of the trip! The drive to Cokawi was short and sweet. Since we arrived late the night before, this morning drive was our first time seeing the hustle and bustle of Rwanda’s capital in the day light. As we turned off the main road onto an unpaved, rough one, Justin gave us our 5 minute warning, and the squirming with excitement began!
We pulled up to a cheering crowd of contagious smiles, all beaming with celebration! We exited the bus and soon found ourselves hugging, jumping, laughing, and clapping along to the joyous songs of welcome!
The Cokawi Cooperative is located in the slums of Kigali, situated on plots of marshland. While there, our main tasks, apart from connecting with the people, were touring the newly expanded chicken coop, spending time with 2 of our sponsored students who happened to be home, visiting the magical looking milk goat (think Billy Goat), and discussing the co-ops farming progress, which had included converting parts of the marshland into farmland.
Each one of us jumped into the experience with a full and open heart, in awe of what these people have been able to accomplish.
Gift and supplies distributed included reusable shopping bags, clothing items, toothbrushes, and menstrual kits for the women.
ABADACOGORA “Those Who Never Give Up”: Most of you are familiar with the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland. Now replace the rock with dirt, and replace the cart tracks with a goat shed and small rooms constructed of mud, and you’ll have a perfect mental image of the geography of this co-op.
After descending down the steep hillside step by step, then back up the other side of an even steeper grade, we were embraced by the courageous people of Abadacogora – and all of their giggling, bright-eyed children. We gathered in their meeting room and were offered bottles of water, mandarin oranges, and bananas. There, the leader named Napoleon, stood before us and spoke to us about their lives, their exceptional progress, and their gratitude to World Dance for Humanity, with Justin flawlessly translating for us.
We discussed their challenges and hopes for the future. Because of their somewhat dangerous living situation, they face the possibility of being declared a High-Risk Zone, thus being forced to relocate. We assured them, through Justin, that no matter what the future holds, we will be there to walk beside them.
MURINDI (name of the region): Our last visit of the day was to the women of the Murindi Cooperative. This cooperative is made up of Genocide survivors who, despite their unimaginably traumatic past, are some of the strongest, bravest, most optimistic women we serve.
We met them at their meeting hall, and for the third time today, were greeted by overwhelming joy and celebration of our arrival. Once seated inside, the women gave us bottles of water. After formal introductions were made, Ann Marie, the leader, delivered a passionate, yet reserved, speech of how much their lives have changed. We were all in tears, to put it simply.
The women brought us hardboiled eggs, delicious nuts, and bottled soda. It was hard to wrap our minds around the fact that these women, who have such meager resources, were the ones treating us to refreshments. These women are beyond extraordinary, in every way.
Chantal headed the distribution of gifts and supplies with included bras (collected by our very own Katrina), menstrual kits, and reusable bags.
Next, we were off to meet the other important members of their co-op: the cows! Due to proximity and time restraint, we were only able to visit Faith (donated by Ken Blanchard of San Diego), Elsie (donated by Sharon Kearin and the San Diego World Dancers), and Elsie’s three-week old calf, who we named Annetta!
We ended this exceptional day with a wonderful dinner at Justin’s wife Alice’s Restaurant, called “Loyalty Zone.”
By 9:00pm, we were back at the hotel, and undoubtedly were fast asleep by 9:30pm.
(More to be updated soon!)