Lights On In Rwanda
Electricity, Economics, Education, and the Promise of New Tomorrow
These Numbers Have Faces founder, Justin Zoradi, shares some of his thoughts from his recent trip to Rwanda.
I’ve never truly valued the brilliance of Thomas Edison until my trip to Rwanda. In a country of 7 million, only 10% of Rwandans currently have electricity, but Edison’s genius is changing lives every day.
As I walked through the rural village of Bugesera, government subsidized electricity companies were connecting power lines to makeshift bars and corner markets. While such a simple luxury in the West, electricity will revolutionize this community.
Rather than life shutting down at sunset, now there is light to study later, work harder, charge a mobile phone, or watch a newscast.
With a simple flick of a light switch, electricity fights poverty.
The Rwandan leap into electricity is a microcosm of a country that has the potential to be a model for Africa. Eighteen years after the genocide that killed one million people in 90 days, Rwanda is on the path of economic growth, security, and prosperity.
In the capital city of Kigali, I’m struck most by how clean the streets are alongside the shocking number of heavily armed policemen. On paper, Rwanda meets the criteria for a police state with its intolerance to free speech and extensive military presence. But in response to its tragic history, the benevolent dictatorship of President Paul Kagame seems to be working.
Rwanda has created a culture so committed to fighting corruption they swiftly throw high ranking officials in jail for petty bribes. New roads and buildings are planned, approved, and built in a matter of weeks. The last Saturday of every month is a local service day, where all Rwandans commit to sweeping and cleaning their community.
As modern amenities take hold and the economy booms, education leads the charge.
At the end of the 1994 genocide, there was one university in Rwanda. Now there are fourteen.
English has become the symbol for higher education and more students than ever are enrolled and graduating from university.
The highlight of my trip was meeting and connecting with university students through our friends at Africa New Life. I spent substantial time with eleven amazing young women who were motivated, thoughtful, and committed to each other and to their country. Yet their ambition doesn’t come without heartache.
Nearly all of the girls are orphans affected by the genocide, poverty, and their refugee status.
One of my last nights was spent over an amazing dinner with the young women at their home. We ate traditional Rwandan food, and I shared about my life in Portland, my wife, my pets, and my obsession with soccer. We watched videos of our TNHF students in South Africa. We laughed, prayed, and dreamed together of the amazing leaders these young women will become for Rwanda.
It was a short but magical trip, and while the jet lag still lingering, it was a week full of hope and opportunity for the possibility of These Numbers Have Faces in Rwanda.