Our honored speakers at the 2007 Gala were two of our very own Bpeace colleagues: Palwasha and Richard. Their speeches are below.
“Afghan women should know how to fight for their rights”
I remember the first days I came to New York with the other Bpeace Fast Runners. I remember the days that we would go to FIT for trainings. While walking around, going from one place to another, I would always think that how would it be, what difference would it make, if there was a chance for me to come to the United States and study.
I spent almost the entire month that we were in New York dreaming about studying in the United States. I never said it out loud though, because it seemed something impossible for me. I would say to myself, why say something out loud, if it is never going to happen. Why even bother bringing it up. I had some personal problems at that time, so I was very worried about my life in those days. And these dreams of mine were somehow bothering me, but I couldn’t stop it.
One day when were still in New York Maria told me about the making wish waterfall. She told me how there are little water falls, you throw coins, make a wish and your wish comes true. Maria and I kept asking Laurie and Dana to take us to one of those places. And I was so excited for it. I throw a coin, made a wish and my wish came true. Here I am in the United States studying in a very good and beautiful college that I love. My dreams came true. It wasn’t impossible as it seemed to me. One of the big lessons that I learned in my life is that nothing is impossible if you try hard and trust yourself.
I can’t express how lucky I feel I am. I have come out of the cage that I was in. Luckily I had a lot of freedom in Afghanistan compared to most of the other girls there by having a very open minded family, but there were still restrictions that would come on my way and would bother me. I was given all the rights and freedom to make any kind of decisions about my life that I wanted to, but there was the wall of the society in front of me not allowing me to do what I wanted to.
I was allowed to have a job and work by my family, but my society was totally against it. By society I mean my relatives, my cousins, some of my friends etc. In their eyes I was a “bad girl” for working out side of house and not wearing hejab or burka. I even had these tensions from my colleagues that I used to work with. My boss’s partner used to hate me just because I didn’t wear hejab. The black dress that covers to toe. I remember him coming to me and saying it directly to my face to wear hejab. Which I never did. At that time I didn’t have the courage to reply him and defend myself. I knew what I was doing was totally right, but didn’t have the courage to tell him that he doesn’t have any right to tell me these and should stop paying attention to the way I dress. If I was the Palwasha that I am today, I would reply him in a way that he would never dare to ask it again.
I had hundreds and thousands of these tensions in my everyday life. Some days I would go home and tell my mom that I am tired of this kind of life, but she would encourage me and tell me how she has been struggling for her rights and that I am her daughter and should never give up.
Women’s lives have to change in Afghanistan. Afghan women should know how to fight for their rights. They should know that their lives are theirs and they have the right to live it the way they want to. As I know nothing is impossible, so there should be away for it. I know there are a lot of women working towards it and trying to bring a difference. I pray for their success and today, I am announcing that I am joining them. I am going to bring a difference in Afghan women’s lives and inshallah will definitely make some a change.
I am very grateful from Bpeace especially from my mentors Jim and Tara, who gave me this new, bright, and hopeful life. I consider my self very lucky to meet the wonderful Bpeace team and have great mentors like Jim and Tara who made my dreams come true. I am very happy for the success of Bpeace. You are doing a wonderful job. You are making a big difference in Afghan women’s lives and I am with you. Together we would change the Afghan women’s lives and help them take their rights and have freedom.
I want to thank everyone in Bpeace for not letting me feel away from home. You have been like my family to me. I know it would have been very hard for me to adjust here, if I would not have your support. Thank you very very much.”
“It’s my great honor to be participating in this year’s Gala, not only as a Rwandan but also as Rwanda Program Manager. Allow me to extend sincere regards from the 22 Fast Runners in Rwanda to all of you here tonight.
Richard Niwenshuti, Bpeace program manager in Rwanda.
“By supporting these Fast Runners, Bpeace is supporting mothers of the nation”
This year we commemorate the 13th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide with the theme “Remembering our beloved ones by supporting survivors and advocating for justice.” It is on this note that I want to extend my appreciation to the entire Bpeace organization for the contribution they are making in support of the women entrepreneurs in Rwanda. You are fully addressing what needs to be done for a society once torn apart by bad politics, based on segregation, ethnic favoritism and economic injustices.
I won’t go into depth of the whole tragedy, as most of you must have been following the whole situation as it unfolded in Rwanda during 3 months in 1994. It resulted in the gruesome killing of almost a million innocent men, women and children.
What we experienced and how it ended gave us a sense that the most important offer humanity can give us is attention when we need it. We missed attention during 1994. So, can we get it now? I ask you all, what is more important than giving value to our own humanity? There is no common study that shows disunity among Rwandan people prior to the Colonial period. What happened in 1994 was like going into a deep hole, very dark and too isolated. For 13 years we have been trying to recover and I must acknowledge that the Rwandese have achieved much to get to where they are today.
The world is focused on globalization; as a result we will all find ourselves in one small village. Because we don’t want to lag behind while others develop, Rwanda has adopted President Kagame’s Vision 2020, which gives us a sense of direction within the coming 20 years.
Today the Rwandan Government strives to involve all different segments of society to play an active role in development. Among its top initiatives is the empowerment of woman at all levels of administration, in order to give them a bigger voice in decision making bodies. Rwanda’s private sector is under construction and is also being empowered. The understanding is that Governments do not do business, thus there should be a voice for profit making people. Much has been invested in capacity building, in order to create a favorable environment for investors.
However, I must admit that with all these endeavors, the challenges are many. Most men and women who have businesses in Rwanda don’t actually have professional backgrounds in business, and lack creative ideas to expand their minimal industries. The unemployment rate is alarming. The rate of export is lower than import and in order to achieve sustainable development we must reverse it.
It’s on this note that I want to acknowledge that Bpeace’s activities are highly needed. Most women in Africa, and Rwanda in particular, never had a chance to go to school, because of our traditional background. Additionally, in Rwanda there were poor political governments that never valued all segments of the society. Women have been pushed due to dire conditions of life, to do what surely seem to be great achievements.
In relation to this; Bpeace’s Fast Runner model for recruiting and supporting women’s’ business efforts is directly in line with Rwanda’s government’s strategy. By supporting these entrepreneurs Bpeace is supporting mothers of the nation. These are vital actors in laying ground for the future generation that will not look at ethnic differences but economic competitiveness. Women entrepreneurs in Rwanda face a lot of challenges that range from financing, industry specific business knowledge and a skilled labor force. I have no doubt that with the leadership and continued support of Bpeace and its volunteers, we will be positioned to overcome these challenges.
As I visited different areas within the USA, including New York, Washington DC, Connecticut and Vermont, I have met courageous people who inquire about my origin and when I say that I am from Rwanda, the first question they ask me is “Is it safe now?” Given Rwanda’s strategic position on the African continent and the state of security we are enjoying today, I tell them yes and call upon you to visit and enjoy the land of a thousand hills and explore all the different opportunities in support of Rwandese people.
Let me conclude by extending my sincere appreciation to all the people who played a vital role in making my trip a success. I am taking back a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with Rwanda, and hope to have the opportunity to return soon and bring you news of all the progress we have made – which wouldn’t be possible without all of your help.
I THANK YOU ALL. AMAHORO.”
Piqued your interest? Read the entire 2007 Gala blog here.