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Rebuilding Rwanda, One Woman at a Time

“To me, Akilah means family. It’s a place where you can find yourself, discover your potential, a place where you can know your responsibilities and discover how to be responsible in your future.” -Irene Ingabire, Akilah Student

Akilah presentation by Elizabeth and students, Allen and Noella

This personal account is one of many shared by the young women whose lives have forever changed as a result of the Akilah Institute located in Kigali, Rwanda. The Akilah Institute for Women was founded in 2009 with the vision to help young women in East Africa transform their lives by giving them the skills, knowledge, and confidence to become leaders and entrepreneurs.

In an event held at the Harvard Kennedy School on Wednesday, November 2nd hosted by the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations and the Women’s Forum@the United Nations Association of Greater Boston, guests had the opportunity to hear from Elizabeth Dearborn Davis, Akilah’s Co-founder and CEO, and also current students Noella Abijuru and Allen Kazarwa who are touring the United States on a Metropolitan Safari for the first time to meet supporters and share their life-changing experiences at Akilah.

Dearborn Davis, inspired by the resilience of the Rwandan people after the devastating 1994 genocide, decided after finishing her education in the United States that she wanted to move to Rwanda and be a part of the reconciliation. On this journey, she found herself working to build a new model of education for young women. During Wednesday’s event she spoke about her passion to help women find meaningful career paths to lift themselves and their families from poverty. Her testimony was a powerful reminder that a moment of inspiration and selfless dedication can lead to life-changing results.

The Akilah Institute offers women a unique learning environment that fosters innovation and confidence. Currently Akilah offers a 2-year diploma in Hospitality Management and hopes to begin offering a Business Management and Entrepreneurship (BME) in 2012. At Akilah students develop their English language proficiency and gain the confidence to speak in front of others. Students learn how to become leaders in Rwanda’s booming hospitality industry while also developing their own individual strengths. Students express that Akilah is especially rare because it is not just a school, it is a family.

Noella spoke to guests about her experience with Akilah and her hope for Rwanda

The Akilah students grew up as survivors, many without the guidance of elders or mentors. Today, in addition to attending school, many are also the providers for their households. These women have forged their own paths and overcome tremendous obstacles. Guests witnessed firsthand the influence Akilah has had when current students Noella and Allen captivated the room with their confidence and optimism for the future. They each briefly spoke of the struggles they have experienced but quickly changed the focus to the future and their responsibility to reclaim their country. They emphasized that Akilah has transformed their lives by empowering them with the ability to find meaningful employment, serve as leaders in their communities, and instill a powerful sense of pride.

The work that Akilah is doing directly addresses UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) #2 which aim to provide universal education opportunities, regardless of gender, and and #3, which focuses on gender equality and empowerment. Although the UN has stated in a new report that Africa’s overall progress toward achieving the internationally agreed targets to eradicate extreme poverty and accelerate social development has been slow and insufficient to meet the 2015 deadline. According to the report, the continent’s efforts to achieve the MDGs have been mixed and characterized by substantial variations in access to basic social services across sub-regions and countries. Yet, while overall progress is slow, programs like Akilah show us that results are possible and are what give us hope for scalable, sustainable change.

Akilah with the team from the Hauser Center, the UNA-GB Women's Forum and guests

As Dearborn Davis spoke, she became especially excited as she shared her goals for the future of Akilah which include moving to a new campus, largely increasing the incoming classes of women, growing their social enterprise and earned income initiatives, closing the gender gap of entrepreneurs in Rwanda, and also plans to replicate the model of Akilah to reach more of Rwanda and other African countries.

It is safe to say that this event was inspiring to all who were able to attend and hear the testimonies of these courageous women. UNA-GB’s Women’s Forum would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the team at the Hauser Center for their partnership and especially to the women of Akilah who took the time to share their stories with us.

If you would like to donate to the Akilah Institute or learn about other ways you can support thier mission please do so! Remember each one of us has the ability to make a big change!  I also encourage you to learn more about the Women’s Forum at UNA-GB and ways to get involved here.

-Katie Miles, UNA-GB Women’s Forum

A Historical Moment For Genocide

Our newest blog series is about to start–Get Educated, One Topic At A Time!  Learn about a variety of global issues and countries around the world as we highlight each week the work of one of our Education Department Interns , who are hard at work creating Topic Guides covering everything from Child Poverty to Foreign Direct Investment for our classroom-based Model UN program.  Check out the first post below and check back each Monday for the next post in the series.

While the International Criminal Court (ICC) is making headlines today for issuing an arrest warrant for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, international law and justice reached another milestone recently. On Friday, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda issued the first conviction of a woman on the charge of genocide under international law.

The woman, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, served as family minister for the Rwandan government during the Rwandan Genocideof 1994. Nyiramasuhuko directed and aided militia groups in attacking members of Rwanda’s Tutsi minority.

The genocide, which the Rwandan government covertly supported at the time, took place over the course of 100 days in 1994 (April-July) and resulted in the deaths of about 800,000 individuals. The relationship between Rwanda’s two ethnic groups – the Hutu and the Tutsi – had been violent and contentious for decades. Prior to European involvement in sub-Saharan Africa, the minority Tutsi population dominated the Rwandan elite and established a monarchy. The Germans and Belgians, who administered Rwanda before and after World War I respectively, preserved this system and limited the opportunities available to the majority Hutu population for decades.

However, after World War II and the beginning of decolonization, the Belgians pushed for reform in Rwanda but faced resistance from the Tutsi. By the late 1950’s, the Belgians had called for elections in Rwanda, which led to the rise to power of the majority Hutu. Following independence from Belgium in 1962, the dynamic between the two groups reversed as the Hutu dominated the political elite via their huge majority. Under Hutu rule, Tutsis were required to carry identification cards (eerily reminiscent of the Nazi policy of Jewish identification), were limited to a small percentage of public sector jobs, and faced widespread discrimination in the private sector.

From the 1960’s to the 1990’s, anti-Tutsi violence routinely broke out in Rwanda, resulting in thousands of deaths and a massive flow of Tutsi refugees to Rwanda’s neighboring countries. Although the Rwandan government officially condemned this violence, evidence suggests that it actually supported it in some cases. By the 1990’s, evidence suggests that the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government began covertly training and arming Hutu militias (known as the Interahamwe, “those who stand together”) to attack Tutsis inside Rwanda. The anti-Tutsi Rwandan Genocide in 1994 was largely carried out by such groups and it is these groups that Nyiramasuhuko has been convicted of aiding.

The United Nations faced enormous criticism regarding its response to the genocide. Despite the fact that the UN had 2,500 armed peacekeepers in Rwanda in 1994, they did not intervene to stop the violence. In fact, members of the UN Security Council (including the United States) actually voted to reduce the number of UN troops in Rwanda in response to the violence. The resulting devastation marked what is quite possibly the UN’s greatest failure. Today, a Tutsi leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which fought the Rwandan government and ended the genocide, is President of Rwanda. He has controversially banned the use of the terms “Hutu” and “Tutsi” in any official capacity to avoid inflaming past tensions.

Ever since, the UN has gone to great lengths to learn from its mistakes in Rwanda rather than hide from them. International intervention since Rwanda has been more frequent and more effective. Most recently, the UN Security Council approved measures to protect civilians from government-led massacres in Libya, which NATO has taken responsibility for carrying out. In addition, the UN created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which has convicted over two dozen individuals for their roles in the genocide. Nyiramasuhuko is the latest Rwandan official to be convicted. The ICTR demonstrated that international tribunals can be effective, and influenced the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has jurisdiction over all its member states to convict individuals for crimes against humanity, in 2002. Although the United States is not a member of the ICC, it did support a UN resolution that referred Moammar Gadhafi to the ICC, which has since indicted him.

Although the Rwandan Genocide will forever live on as a painful stain on history, its legacy serves as a constant reminder of the tragedy of genocide and how the international community should respond to prevent them in the future. Next year, the UNA-GB will help further the UN’s mission to educate the public about genocide with a simulation of the crisis leading up to the Rwandan Genocide at our annual Regional Model United Nations conference.

– Nicholas Blake, Education Intern