On Monday, May 18, a handful of upper school students gathered in the Orvis Theater to hear the amazing story of Grace Umutesi, a young student born two days before the Rwandan Genocide. Grace was in the United States to receive a World of Children Award for Richard’s Rwanda IMPUHWE, an organization which helped Grace and was started by Jessica Markowitz, while she was at Seattle Girl’s School. Richard’s Rwanda IMPUHWE is an organization which helps young girls get access to education in Rwanda. In Kinyarwanda, the word impuhwe means compassion. The World of Children Award is an international foundation which aims to aid children in need globally, as well as supports those who are actively doing the same. Jessica Markowitz was one of the three honorees this year.
In the first part of her talk, Grace described the underlying social and political turmoil which caused the Rwandan Genocide, citing colonization attempts by non-Rwandans as a central factor in the tension which sprang up between Rwanda’s two cultural groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis. Grace’s family was part of the Tutsi class, which meant they made a living off farming cattle and were typically viewed as the higher social class, although most Rwandans pre-genocide had both Hutus and Tutsi ancestry. Due to their Tutsi background, Grace’s family was heavily targeted in the new, pro-genocide Rwandan regime. Her mother and aunt fled to Uganda, where Grace’s mother gave birth only two days before the official killings began, and died of weakness and exhaustion.
Grace was raised solely by her aunt, but life after the genocide was nearly impossible. The two had no home, no money, and struggled to find food or clean water. The aftermath from the Genocide was still rolling in, and the streets and rivers were often lined with bodies. As a child Grace said she wanted to attend school, but was unable to pay the mandatory fee of USD $1.50. After being physically chased off the school grounds, Grace continued to try to go, and her aunt even spoke to the headmaster about arranging a compromise to pay the fees. Eventually, Grace was forced to drop out entirely.
All that changed when Grace tried once more to attend school and learned that Jessica Markowitz and Richard’s Rwanda IMPUHWE had offered to sponsor Grace’s entire education. After several years of hard work, Grace was accepted into a top school, which she attended thanks to the help of Richard’s Rwanda IMPUHWE. Nine years later, Grace said she will attend college soon, and hopes to become a doctor.
Grace’s story is a testament not only to her own bravery in the face of poverty and desperation, but to the kindness of strangers, in the form of Jessica and Richard’s Rwanda IMPUHWE. Hearing about the Rwandan Genocide from Grace herself was a rare opportunity to learn the real story from someone who lived it. Ultimately, the lessons those of us in the audience learned was the power of human interaction, and how the ideas and compassion, or impuhwe, of one person can change the life of another halfway around the world. So thank you to Rick Dupree, who organized the event, and thank you to Jessica Markowitz for creating Richard’s Rwanda IMPUHWE. And a huge thank you to Grace Umutesi, for sharing her strength and story with us and for showing us that education is a gift we sometimes take for granted. Most importantly, Grace taught us all that a little impuhwe goes a long way.
For more info on Richard’s Rwanda IMPUHWE, click this link: http://www.seattlegirlsschool.org/rri/
For the video Grace showed on the Rwandan Genocide, click this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfbXZ_uo0no&feature=youtu.be