Wednesday, 31 August 2011

"Land of a Thousand Hills"


Often referred to as ‘Pays des Mille Collines’, literally, Country of a Thousand Hills, Rwanda is a far cry from the common conception of the arid deserts of Africa. A small country compared with neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda, Rwanda nevertheless boasts a beautiful and varied landscape.

Green trees, rolling hills and rugged mountains stretch as far as the eye can see. Lakes and rivers provide welcome relief from the heat, and lend a luscious aspect to the land, inevitably causing the growth of a variety of shrubbery, trees (including Jacaranda trees) and wild flowers covering the shores of the lakes.  A landlocked country located in Central Africa, on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire), Rwanda is also bordered by Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi.

Rwanda’s capital is Kigali, which is located in the geographical centre of the country. It is a rapidly growing city and boasts significant development over recent years.

The scorching heat that one would expect from a country situated just south of the Equator, is present in some areas, but Rwanda’s high altitude ensures that the weather is more clement than visitors generally anticipate.

The luscious landscape is fed by two rainy seasons, the first beginning sometime in late February and extending until April, and the second spanning early October up to December. The mountainous areas are generally mild and are occasionally susceptible to frost and snow.

Rwanda’s plains and lower slopes mainly consist of agricultural land, with coffee, tea and bananas forming a large proportion of the nation’s permanent crop harvest. In the northern higher slopes, there are active volcanoes which are today visited by tourists on a regular basis. Rwanda is also home to a large number of mountain gorillas, brought to the world’s attention by Dian Fossey’s famous and remarkable work with these primates.

The country’s road system has been greatly improved and extended, travel between major cities and neighbouring countries is far safer and easier than in rprevious years. Over the next few years, several international projects are planned to improve the country’s transport system, including proposals for a new international airport, train line and roads.

In 1994, the genocide that devastated Rwanda claimed the lives of over 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in a 100-day slaughter.  Although it will take decades, the people of Rwanda are determined to rebuild their society.  In 2003, following visits to Britain’s first Holocaust Centre by Rwandan genocide survivors and members of the Rwanda Government, Aegis was invited to build the first national Rwanda Memorial and Education Centre and to advise on rebuilding the community, specifically using commemoration.  The Centre’s groundbreaking programmes challenge divisive ideology in schools and the community, document the genocide and provide practical support for orphans and widow.  Its programmes help to build community cohesion and encourage work experience and employment..

The one-week field trip, led by the Aegis Trust, will provide many opportunities for the whole group, as well as individuals.  It will:

Ø  Engage with leading women in Rwanda – the only country in the world with a majority of women in its Cabinet - and see the explicit role they’re playing in the country’s rebuilding plan;
Ø  Provide a private audience with appropriate levels of the Kigali Institute of Education, Kigali Institute of Technology and Management, and the National University of Rwanda;
Ø  Provide a private audience with the Head of the Rwanda Development Board
Ø  Visit Memorial sites and attend specially organized seminars and workshops examining issues from working with youth to reconciliation and the future of Rwanda;
Ø  Hear from and share experiences with genocide survivors (and perpetrators, where possible);
Ø  Explore exchange/international student learning, and practical business development
Ø  Engage with Rwandan educators and students, and discuss the role they are playing to help shape their country;
Ø  Provide a deeper understanding about the Rwandan genocide and its relevance to community cohesion and integration in British communities today.
This is just a very brief overview of Rwanda and the planned field trip next April.  Over the coming days and weeks l'll post a number of blogs detailing each of the areas mentioned above.  I really look forward to sharing my journey with you.

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