As a lifelong learner and long-time supporter of women’s rights, Tricia traveled to Rwanda to learn about the women building a better life for themselves and a more equitable future for their community.
After more than 15 years of sponsoring women in our program and sharing their stories with her children, Tricia passed on her passion for learning and positive change to her daughters - who joined the trip to witness firsthand women’s issues, the impact of the program and their support.
I try to live by the golden rule: Treat others how you want to be treated. The thing that I value most as I raise my three children into adulthood is learning to be empathetic and compassionate towards others. Always try to educate yourself on what’s going on both locally and globally and try to leave the world a better place than you found it.
I’ve been sponsoring women for about 16 years. I like that Women for Women International goes into war-torn, post-conflict places because these people have been wronged. It’s our responsibility to help others, especially when those people want to help themselves. They just might not have the knowledge or access to resources or people to start that process.
My kids have always known about the women that I sponsor. Every time a letter came in, I would share with them the letter, written in a different language then translated into English. I would show them the photo of each woman – if there was one – and tell them about her life story. Look at this woman. She lives in this country. This program is helping her develop life skills to support her family.
When the opportunity to go on a donor trip came up, I was enthusiastic because I’ve been very impressed by the program. I sat down at dinner one night and said to my kids, “Hey, guess what? I’m going to Rwanda with Women for Women International to go and meet women in the program and learn how it works.”
Both of my daughters said, “Can we go with you?” They were interested in learning about what’s going on in the world and how programs like these can make an impact.
We met women of all ages in different stages of the program, including some who had just enrolled. In their social empowerment classes, they were learning health information about washing their hands or preparing nutritious meals. Some were learning number skills, how to count to 10. I also met women who were graduates of the program, who now run successful businesses. Some of them now teach in the program and are spreading the word throughout their community on how women can graduate with skills to support their family and help their neighbors.
Something I found amazing about Rwanda is how it’s been only 25 years since the genocide where a million people were slaughtered, yet the entire country is learning to move forward. The people are incredibly friendly and greet you with a smile. But you know everybody is suffering from the memories of what happened because it affected everybody in the country.
We met a few survivors of the genocide. One woman said to us, “We are a generation who all has PTSD. We are a generation that has had loss. But we are hopeful about the next generation and the generation after that.”
Meeting some of that next generation was incredible. Women for Women International is working on a program with USAID, talking with teenage mothers about family planning and prevention and how to provide for themselves and their children. The girls we met who were part of this program were smiling and giggling – like any teenage girls in any country. After the group photo, they wanted to take selfies with my daughters, to take selfies with each other. They were the same as my daughters.
My daughters and these girls had an incredible connection where they were smiling and giggling together even though they didn’t speak each other’s language.
The other thing that impressed me was listening to women’s stories about their husbands who went through the Men’s Engagement program. Men went from abusing their wives or not even letting them leave the house to understanding that their wives should not only participate in this program but be part of making decisions for the family. They saw that this was a good thing for them, for their children, and for their relationship. It’s incredible to see that there’s a cultural impact from this program, beyond just individuals.
I’ve always been concerned about women’s issues and gender roles in our country. The trip to Rwanda gave me the push to go back to school and pursue a graduate certificate in Gender and Women’s Studies. It encouraged me to say that women’s issues and gender roles are important. They affect every culture and society in the world. I need to learn more and get an education on it, and then apply it.