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When it’s quiet enough, I can still hear the sounds. The memory will always stand out to me of being at the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, a mostly women-run collective which produces high-end coffee. As the women worked, rotating and sifting coffee on the drying tables, they hummed. Cows mooed in the distance as the wind rustled leaves on nearby coffee trees. It was beautiful.
It was my first visit to Africa. Everything was new to me. I want to remember it all: the lush green hills, the rich red soil, the smell of freshly turned earth and the broad smiles of the people I met. I’ve been a journalist for nearly 20 years and have done a lot of traveling and exploring but had never been to Africa.
Last month, I went to #rwanda with a group of #starbucks partners on an Origin Experience, an annual event where #starbucks partners from various parts of the world travel to meet local farmers and others who grow, pick and dry the coffee sold in the stores. It’s designed to help build connection, so that those selling the coffee understand where it came from and can share stories of the people who worked to grow it.
While the #rwanda Origin Experience is about coffee and learning about production, it also works to shatter stereotypes. Before I went, when I told people I was going to #rwanda some would say, “Oh wait, you’re going there?” All they really knew of the place was what happened in 1994.
That was when one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu extremist in a horrific genocide – that’s mostly what people know about when they think of #rwanda. A lot of the storytelling we see in the U.S. about Africa, which is of course a large continent and very diverse, is conflict-related or social issues-related. Terrible things are often highlighted. But there is so much more there.
On this #rwanda Origin Experience, we were immersed in the beauty and the magic of the place while simultaneously being exposed to the some of the history and some of the challenges. We paid a respectful visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre where two #starbucks leaders, Cliff Burrows and Martin Brok, laid wreathes at a mass grave, the final resting place of some 250,000 people who perished.
I was also able to witness something called Umuganda. It’s the last Saturday of the month, where neighbors in every community across the country come together and work on a community service project. It’s part of Rwanda’s reconciliation and is compulsory – even the president comes out and does it. On that day, residents work alongside their neighbors -- both Hutu and Tutsi.
When the service project for that month is done, they sit down to have a meeting. They discuss their community’s challenges and issues. It’s community building and even democracy — they vote on some things — on a small scale. The one I attended had neighbors talking about respecting women, and a drainage issue. In fact, the meetings are often led by women.
Involvement of women in Rwandan civics and government, accompanied by a post-genocide constitutional rule that mandates 30 percent of legislative seats be occupied by women, has led to #rwanda now having the highest global percentage of women in their legislative branch. Today Rwanda’s legislative body is 60 percent female.
More information on the press release
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