It was not long ago, when I was a young refugee from Rwanda, that many of my accomplishments seemed unattainable. College, graduate school, and now, the peace fellowship I am about to embark upon, were accomplishments I could only dream about.
Growing up in refugee camps in multiple countries shaped me into the person I am today and fueled my ambitions. I remember those miserable times sleeping in tents and often going hungry. But I also remember volunteers who brought us food, clothing, and medicine.Although I was very young, I was inspired by the relief workers who had left their families and countries to help us endure our misfortune. They risked their lives facing the violence and diseases that decimated the refugee camps. I made a promise to myself that if I survived these hardships, I would help others as my family and I had been helped. It seemed impossible to me at that time, but I have come to recognize that I have always had this motivation. Today, my chance to fulfill my promise has arrived.
This summer, I will head to Mali to work with women at Sini Sunaman, a Malian advocacy group for women’s rights. These women, like me, have had the misfortune of experiencing first-hand armed conflict, which has robbed many of their very existence. These women have further experienced the horrors of armed sexual violence that destroy the bond of love existing among women and their families and replaces it with dishonor, degradation, and humiliation. The end result for these women: there is no place for them within society.
This journey that I will commence within a couple of weeks will allow me to help tell their story; a story that is often buried in the myriad of other stories of armed violence. The Malian women are a living proof of how rape and sexual violence have become a weapon in many wars fought today including ethnic wars and the war on terror. These wars have contributed to the destruction of the social fabric in which women play a major role. Through my fellowship, I hope to raise awareness in Mali but also here in the United States of war crimes against women as well as the broader implications of these types of crimes and their impact on society as a whole. However, in order to effectively help these women, I need to better understand the skills necessary to become a successful advocate.
I participated in training this week, which was very challenging as it required digesting a variety of information, focusing intently for a long period of time, and quickly learning new skills such as website programming. Nonetheless, the training not only provided me with information, tools, and necessary skills but also provided me with insight regarding the many challenges and frustrations that I may come across during my fellowship in Mali.
Through photos, videos, and social media workshops, I learned that a photo is worth a thousand words and it has a story to tell. The story held within such pictures goes beyond a mere snapshot but, rather, includes a number of techniques and elements such as “the rule of third, exposure” on the subject whose message one yearns to share unerringly.
I have always used social media, but this week I also learned the impact that platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can have on raising awareness or advocating for a cause. This week of training has also helped me redefine my goals and strategies for my peace fellowship that I will use to help Malian women survivors of armed sexual violence reintegrate back into their communities.
My aspiration is to use the knowledge I gained in this training to increase the sales of soaps, quilts, and other products produced by these women this summer. In addition, I hope to further use this knowledge to assist the organization in opening a second center and increasing the number of beneficiaries by the end of my stay. I also hope to help the organization become self-sustainable by teaching the staff the same skills that I have learned in my training.
Not long ago, I was in need of these services; now, I am able to provide help to those in need. By the end of this summer, I want to make an impact on the lives of these women. Furthermore, I want my experiences to solidify my goal of becoming a leader in the international aid community so that I may make an impact on an even bigger group. I invite all of you reading this blog to help me achieve these goals by simply sharing my blog with others.
Posted By Rose Twagirumukiza
Posted May 27th, 2016