On Monday, I joined 15 women for a meeting of the Chicago Women’s Book Discussion Group in the home of Kim Stephens, a member of Opportunity International‘s Board of Governors. The group, led by my Opportunity colleague, regional director Linda Vander Weele, has been meeting regularly for the past two years to discuss books that touch upon the important issues that face women in the developing world in all walks of life. For Monday’s meeting, we gathered to discuss Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculée Ilibagiza, and we had the special privilege of being joined by international visitor Daniel Ryumugabe, Transformational Impact Manager at Urwego Opportunity Bank (UOB) of Rwanda, who offered his unique perspective as a Rwandan national working in the country to help empower his fellow citizens through microfinance.
Left to Tell is the story of how Immaculée Ilibagiza’s life in Rwanda was upended dramatically one day in 1994 when she and seven other women huddled silently in a cramped bathroom in a local pastor’s home for 91 days to escape the violence of the Rwandan genocide. When it was all over, Ilibagiza had lost most of her family, but she survived to share the miraculous story of her transition into forgiveness and a profound relationship with God. She now works for the United Nations in New York City and has established the Left to Tell Charitable Fund to help others heal from the long-term effects of genocide and war.
The group of women at Monday’s meeting is always eager to participate in an intellectual discussion about a gripping book like Left to Tell. But with Daniel in attendance, his inside knowledge of life in Rwanda today, as well as his daily work with people rebuilding their lives, helped bring the events in the book into tangible relief and put them in historical context.
Together, we explored the meaning and the impact of the events in the book, examining them in light of the post-colonial history of Rwanda since its liberation from Belgium in 1962, including violent military coups and cycles of conflict, culminating in 1994′s genocide. For Ilibagiza, we discussed what helped her survive her ordeal, and the aftermath of her experience, including what she terms “the pain of freedom.” We also spent time exploring the power of forgiveness, and how reconciliation within a nation can contribute to development and ultimately a more stable culture.
Daniel shared that Rwanda has been healing since the genocide through improved economic development, with solutions like microfinance and an emphasis on education for all in order to add to the stability of the country. He shared that Rwandan president Paul Kagame has set a bold goal for Rwanda, striving to graduate from being a developing country, and establish a middle class, by 2020. An ambitious goal given that 90% of the country lives on $2 a day. Kagame is also working to build a national identity that does not focus on fractious labels or disparate groups, but on reconciliation and unity.
Ultimately, Daniel acknowledged the horror and long-term impact of the Rwandan genocide, but he also helped us more deeply understand the journey that the country has been on since then and their collective hopes for the future. What a privilege it was to gain Daniel’s insight on this impactful book, lending our discussion an even greater resonance and richness.
At Opportunity, we’re always looking for our next good read. Do you have suggestions for great books about global development or issues faced by people in the developing world? Tell us about them in the comment field below.