Catching up, now, to project updates I would have wished to make earlier in the year. There’s no time like the present! Starting with the trip to Rwanda.
In January, 2020, I traveled to Rwanda with TCU colleagues, friends and students to honor Godelieve Mukasarasi and SEVOTA as the community celebrated the 25th anniversary of SEVOTA and re-affirmed the work of the organization by breaking ground for the SEVOTA Peace Institute. SEVOTA has been instrumental in facilitating peace and reconciliation, healing and economic development at both micro and community levels in 11 provinces in Rwanda. At TCU, we are supporting SEVOTA by working to create promotional materials to use in fundraising for the newly created SEVOTA Peace Institute and educational materials to share internationally. Our commitment is long-term; we intend to work with and through generations of students to sustain this relationship.
Godelieve working with the mason to prepare the cornerstone of the SEVOTA Peace Institute.
Our group included six students –Elisabeth, Lauren, Caroline, and Kira from the School for Classical & Contemporary Dance and Cameron and Shelby from the Department of Social Work. Professor Sh’Niqua Alford from SOWO and photographer Fabiana Van Lente joined our original team – Adam McKinney, John Singleton, Suzanne Garrison and me.
Godelieve planned several opportunities for us to meet and interact with the SEVOTA communities. Our first experience was a peace celebration high atop a mountain in rural Rwanda – Ngamba. This was Godelieve’s childhood home and, as she put it, the site of her personal tragedy. There we took part in a ceremony that included dance, song and theatrical re-enactments of ways in which SEVOTA serves in this village. There were also gifts made – neighbors to neighbors gifting livestock, for example. When SEVOTA provides a family with chickens, pigs or goats, and those animals produce offspring, the family gives the offspring to a neighbor: productivity is shared amongst the community.
Over the next two days we helped prepare the site for the SEVOTA Peace Institute. It is high on a hill in the Kamonyi District, reminding us all of the Rwandan proverb “If you see far you will go far.” By “preparing the site” I mean leveling it with hoes and planting trees. Doing so, we had the opportunity to meet and interact with women and teenagers from SEVOTA.
On Wednesday morning, the day of the groundbreaking, we woke to a steady downpour of rain. The festivities had been scheduled to begin around 11:30am and were delayed by a few hours. By the time we arrived in Kamonyi around 1:30pm, the sun was starting to make an appearance. The celebration was lively – much dancing and singing and storytelling – and it was attended by both local and national government officials as well as SEVOTA leaders and members.
This was the day of the groundbreaking. We made a small inaugural gift to the SEVOTA community on behalf of TCU: a hand-blown glass image that echos a cow’s horns. And, as cows are sacred to Rwandan economy and agricultural identity, this image long ago entered traditional Rwandan dances in the way that women hold their arms overhead.
SEVOTA Community – impossible to photograph the entire field of attendees present that day!
The photos I have are ones that Godelieve sent to me later. They were taken by Eric Nzabirinda of The Light, a Rwandan publication. We had suggested to all in our group that they live in the experience, and not try to document it. Thus, none of us came away with many of our own photos. We did, however, come away with a vivid experience of the impact of SEVOTA’s work over these past 25 years and humbled – yet again – by what we learn from Godelieve every time we are with her.
Dance is our common denominator.