August 5 is a day of celebration and sharing in Rwanda. It is the day Umiganura, or Harvest Day, is celebrated. The holiday is a time of unification with family, village and country. Historically, Umiganura was a day in which all people — rich, poor and from all social classes — came together to share with one another as a form of promoting Rwandan cultural values. Twenty-two years after the 1994 genocide that devastated Rwanda, Umiganura has evolved to become a day to honor the values of unification and reconciliation that are foundational to the Rwanda culture.
Southern Methodist University’s Embrey Human Rights program helped to make this year’s celebration of Umiganura a meaningful one for the women and children who call the Nelson Mandela Center “home.” Established as a refuge for women who survived rape and sexual violence during the genocide and whose children, husbands and families were all brutally murdered, the Nelson Mandela Center is a community of women who shelter and care for one another, as well as children who have been orphaned as a result of violence, HIV and poverty. Along with soccer balls, frisbees and schools supplies for the children, the Embrey Human Rights program gifted the women with 20 goats to support the women at the center who are most in need.
There is perhaps no greater testament to resiliency of the human spirit than to witness the joy expressed by those who have lost everything and yet continue to have so much love and kindness to share. We were welcomed by the women and children with hugs so genuine and heartfelt that one was immediately reminded that what unites us as humans is so much more powerful than what separates us. The children gave us their gift of music, reminding us that even in the most dire of circumstances, we can always give of ourselves.
The need to be known, recognized, cared for and treated with dignity and respect is core to our human experience. Love, kindness and joy was shared this Umiganura. And we are all richer for having had the experience.
An international speaker, peace-building trainer and mediator, Robyn works with individuals, corporations and nonprofit organizations in discovering the root causes of their conflicts, so they may transform their relationships and create new and productive paths forward individually and as teams. She also works with community leaders and political and governmental leaders to develop grassroots efforts for building sustainable peace in areas of historic conflict. In this capacity, she has been featured in news outlets internationally.