WORDS BY AMY FLEURIOT
My first impression of Rwanda was flying into Kigali airport. As we glided towards our descent I could see a lush green landscape below dotted with bright blue and silver roofs linked by rich terracotta coloured roads. I felt excited. Gilbert, CEO of Love With Actions, shortened to LWA, greeted me at the airport with his colleague Aimee and both gave me huge welcome hugs. The drive to my hotel was along freshly tarmacked, tree lined roads that reminded me more of the Swiss Alps than other parts of Africa I'd visited. I checked in at The Nest, a lovely little boutique hotel in the Kimihurura area of Rwanda with colourful Kitenge furnishings and views out across the city and decided to take a stroll where I was treated to an enormous glowing orange sun setting over the surrounding hills. Gilbert and Aimee picked me up at 6.30pm and we headed out to a nearby mall for supper. The temperature was perfect and we sat outside to eat and chat about LWA's work and make a plan for the day ahead.
Despite the lovely room I didn’t sleep so well as a mosquito managed to get through my net and my body clock felt all over the place after so much traveling between time zones over the past few days. I decided to get up at 5am and drew out the ‘cheque’ representing the money we’d already donated to Love With Actions to buy a wheelchair for one of their disabled children. Gilbert collected me at 8am sharp and we drove around half an hour out of Kigali, up into the hills where the LWA Headquarters is based. Although the road to the building was just bare earth it was incredibly smooth and well maintained. People walked past balancing tall bunches of bananas, cloths and pots on their heads with practiced ease. I couldn’t help thinking that this was the Africa of children’s storybooks and that a friendly Simba might appear at any moment to sing a cameo in my tale.
The mornings itinerary consisted of being introduced to forty five of the sixty women that receive support from Love with Actions. The women were gathered at the centre for a special family planning event, where they could benefit from free access to contraception including, condoms, the pill, implants and injections all paid for by LWA in addition to on the spot HIV testing. The two nurses that ran the session were incredibly animated and likeable. Gilbert translated for me and I was shocked to find out how few women realised the purpose of family planning, although they were eager to learn.
Many of the mothers supported by LWA have one or more seriously disabled children. Gilbert explained to me that there is a huge stigma regarding disability in Rwanda and mothers are often cast out of their communities and abandoned by their husbands for bringing shame to their family by bearing a disabled child. LWA raises money through the sales of sewn goods and woven baskets that the women make at the site in addition to charitable donations from their patrons in the UK, Netherlands and USA.
Working on treadle Singer sewing machines, I was hugely impressed by the quality of stitched goods made by the mothers group. Backpacks, jewellery pouches, oven gloves and totes all fashioned from bright kitenge fabrics using zero electricity. The scraps are even used to create colourful patchwork bags.
Once the Family Planning talk was over I was taken to meet Aime and his mother. Aime is 13 years old and has been receiving support from LWA since September 2017. Aime was born with spina bifida and clubfoot and although able to get around on crutches his progress is very slow. It is Aime’s dream to attend school but the 1km distance from his house was too far to practically travel every day using crutches. Artisans & Adventurers donated £275 to LWA to buy a wheelchair for Aime so he could fulfil his dream. He will now be able to travel much greater distances by himself and with the help of his old brother who also attends the school. I felt incredibly lucky to witness the direct impact of our support on a child’s life and thank our customers and staff for making our donation possible. Aime is one of many children in Rwanda that need assistance and we will continue to support the charity through the sale of baskets and handicrafts.
To see our full collection of baskets made by women's weavers groups associated with Love With Actions, click here.