Global Grassroots 2011 Year-End Magazine - Page 30

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Global Grassroots 2011

The Community Vocational Training School (CVTS) is built of exposed, cracking mud bricks. It has a high ceiling and five rooms. All of them are impossibly dark, as if the tin roofing has sucked all light upwards. Vertical iron bars brace the few, scattered square windows.

CVTS, a sewing school for widows, orphans, and former prostitutes, is the Global Grassroots project site where Caitlin and I have been teaching a basic English class to increase students’ employability as seamstresses. To get to class we take motorcycle taxis across Kigali: through Kibagabaga to Gisozi and down a steep, red dirt path between yellowed banana trees.

Most students study and work in the wide, roofed area just outside the front door. The sounds: sewing machines, chatter in Kinyarwanda, the laughter of girls and women. “To say that I enjoy the time here spent with the other students, it’s not lying,” one woman – an eager participant in our English classes – tells us. “Because I really do feel good and enjoy it.”

Let’s call this woman Rahema. She’s in her thirties and has two children. Rahema grew up in Cyangugu, across the river from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Today she wears

The Pieces Fit Together:

A Conversation with

Beneficiaries of CVTS*

By Christina Hueschen

a wrap skirt of blue fabric that bursts with stylized, dirty white blossoms. On her white t-shirt, President Paul Kagame’s image nods sternly just below her left breast.

Rahema is one of thirty women currently studying at CVTS. She and her classmate Isabelle have volunteered to tell us their stories this afternoon, and Global Grassroots Senior Program Officer Gyslaine is seated beside me to translate the interview. I want to know more about their beginnings: their childhood homes, neighborhoods, and dreams. Rwanda’s conversational taboos are wildly different from the U.S.’s, however, and include questions about parents or family. So much of the population carries the burden of terrific loss – fathers and mothers slaughtered in the genocide, brothers in prison for complicity, daughters lost during the flight into Congo in ’94 or to a recent, untreated bout of malaria.

Rahema is one such orphan. She and her brothers maintained close relationships and helped each other financially after losing their parents.

“Do you have one brother with whom you’re especially close?” I ask her.

photo by Laya Madsen