November 22, 2017

Maria Goeth (Germany, 2010- present)

Maria Goeth, Munich, Germany (2010 – present)

Maria Goeth with Jeanne Mwiliriza

I was a volunteer for Tubahumurize in Kigali from November 2010 to March 2011. It was one of the most intense times of my life.

Rwanda touched me for the first time when I was 13. Back then I saw a TV report about child soldiers during the genocide in 1994. I couldn’t believe that children at my age were forced to hack other people to death. I never forgot those pictures. In 2000 I was deeply touched by black and white photographs taken by war photographer James Nachtwey. And there it was again: Rwanda!

In 2010 I decided, at age 29, to quit my job and take a sabbatical before returning to university for a PhD in musicology. Looking for a volunteer job somewhere in Asia or Africa I discovered a small note about Tubahumurize and immediately knew: that’s where I want to go, that’s where I need to go!

When I packed my suitcase in order to travel to Kigali, I had no idea what to expect. As Tubahumurize is a small organization, there wasn’t (at that time) a clear concept of what volunteers were supposed to do there. “Offer something. Bring in your own abilities”, I had been told in advance and I could pretty well understand why they don’t take volunteers under the age of 25.

So I had been planning to found a choir with the girls and women and half my suitcase was packed with scores. But when I arrived there, I saw that the last thing they needed was more music. They were singing and dancing every day.

So I thought about other ways to help. I am good with computers and – as I am a German – good in organizing and structuring. So I helped to restructure, archive and simplify all the association’s paperwork. I created new brochures and helped to apply for huge grants. I reworked the homepage and helped with translations between French, English and German.

And I thought of new ways to improve and sell the products of Tubahumurize’s sewing and embroidery class. What would Europeans like to buy? What sizes are common there for computer bags, bed sheets or table cloths? During my time there, we increased the variety of sewing products tenfold. And I tried to enlarge the selling market. Cooperations with Kigali’s hotel gift shops were initiated, imports to Germany planned, and more.

And in the meantime I had become a daughter of my new African family! I was welcomed so warmly from the beginning that I felt immediately at home. Jeanne, the founder and leader of Tubahumurize, is one of the most impressive women I’ve ever met. As I am also much into writing, I hope to write the book of her life story once. To start telling about her life would go well beyond the scope of this little report. I was also completely stunned by the openness and warmth of the other women and girls. Even though most of them only speak Kinyarwanda, there was an understanding beyond language barriers.

They even invited me to participate in their trauma counseling sessions and gave me the feeling, that I was not an intruder from a fluffy idyllic world but someone they wanted to share their experiences, their history, their sorrows with. Once a woman said “Thank you” to me after a counseling session. I said: “Why do you thank me? I have to thank you for accepting me. For letting me hear all those intimate stories, for your complete confidence”. She said: “No. I thank you so much for travelling all that way to come to our county and listen to our stories. That gives me the feeling that we have not been forgotten. That someone cares. That somebody wants to help us. That we are worth something.” I was deeply touched.

I didn’t travel to Rwanda unprepared. I basically read everything I could find, especially about the genocide, in order to prepare myself for the journey. On my arrival I assumed that I had heard every incredibly cruel and horrific story possible, I had heard about every method to torture or kill someone. But it is so different when you are there, listening to someone’s story, looking into someone’s eyes, and this person has suffered from so many indignities that you can’t even imagine where this person found the energy to continue, to not give up. That’s why “intense” is the best word to describe my experiences in Rwanda.

You will hear stories which make your heart crack into pieces, squeeze your throat until you think you suffocate and will creep into your nightmares not only once – if they let you sleep at all. But you will also see how powerful, beautiful and admirable women can face their history. How they put all their effort into finding a best possible way between not forgetting and still being able to continue, to live, to be positive about their future. It was one of the biggest gifts of my life to have the chance to benefit from this energy, from this optimism. I will never forget what good they did to me and I hope that I am at least able to contribute a bit to their wellbeing the other way round.

My plan had never been to continue after my return to Germany. But I was so impressed, convinced and touched my the work of Tubahumurize that I founded my own association “Ruandahilfe e.V.” when I was back in Germany. Ruandahilfe e.V. is there to support Tubahumurize’s projects and has 26 active members as of today (May 2015).

I am very happy and proud of how Tubahumurize’s idea spread all over the world (other supporters are located in Canada and the US), how it unifies people in the idea of empowering socially and economically marginalized people beyond all borders of nations, religions or ages and promoting peace and freedom.

I hope that Tubahumurize and Ruandahilfe e.V. will grow and flourish and inspire more and more people to join in and share those ideas of freedom, support, friendship and peace!