Turning a New Leaf: Behind the Scenes with Sanjay

On the gentle slope of the green hill upon which I stand, there occurred atrocities too horrible for most people to imagine. On this hill, perhaps even this exact spot, children were killed by children, fathers by fathers. Here on the hill, a thousand more like it rolling into the horizon, I try to imagine the helplessness, the terror, the pitiless violence, and I find that it is impossible to do. Because on the gentle slope of the green hill upon which I stand, pineapples are growing, women are laughing, and children are playing in the grass. The breeze is warm and it carries the sweet smell of fruit, and, though I know it happened, and only twenty years ago, I can’t imagine how a place this beautiful was ever ravaged by genocide.

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But in April of 1994, genocide did ravage the small country of Rwanda, proving to the world how centuries of systemic inequality and oppression can destroy not only lives, but identities, cultures, and the earth itself. In just three short and terrible months, nearly every square mile of Rwanda was burnt, razed, and soaked in blood.

It is true that great tragedy occurred here, but while many people continue to stir the muddy waters of the past in search of meaning, too few acknowledge the miracle of Rwanda’s present. One of the secrets to their success is evident in every province of the country: community cooperatives.

Mariam is one of countless people who have emerged from the horror of genocide to help rebuild Rwanda and unify Rwandans. Along with her local pineapple co-op, she is nurturing the earth, selling the fruit of her labor, and dividing the profits among her agrarian colleagues, regardless of ethnicity. With these profits, the members of the co-op can afford to buy more seeds and land, invest in better technology and training, and provide a stable and peaceful life for the next generation, all from the bounty of a few acres.

Pineapples

Mariam and her partners are just one example of this grassroots movement that is redefining Rwanda from the bottom up. Elina is a founding member of a beekeeping co-op that collects and sells honey, a precious commodity that can bring more than $300 per bucket. Like Mariam, Elina understands that to leave an ugly past, you must envision a beautiful future.

Honey

In the wake of genocide, it became apparent that sustainable change would not come from the many international agencies flooding the country, but from the people themselves, so ADRA reevaluated the paradigm of international relief and began to envision a beautiful future, too. In this future, young adults are not idly waiting for handouts; they are actively working for a livelihood. So ADRA got busy, interacting with the people, learning of their success and their need, and helping them reach the goals set by Rwandans, for Rwandans.

ADRA continues to work with people like Mariam and Elina, whose vision for the future corresponds with ADRA’s model of sustainable change. Together, they are rebuilding Rwanda seed by seed, bee by bee, and human by human.