Dear Rwandan friends,
My name is Maureen Ruettgers. I have the honour of being the first Chair of Friends of Imbuto Foundation, an organization established in Boston, Massachusetts, with a mission to support the vision of Imbuto Foundation through networking and fundraising initiatives.
With the 15-year anniversary in full swing, I am excited to reflect on how my family and I became interested in Rwanda, this little country lodged in the heart of Africa, and involved with Imbuto Foundation a few years into its launchby Her Excellency, the First Lady of Rwanda, Mrs. Jeannette Kagame.
From the onset, like so many others, our family knew Rwandans just simply, as special people. Committed, resilient, visionary and dignified, even while facing the immense and daunting task of nation-building. I still vividly remember my first encounter with Rwandan women in 2001, at a Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government forum called Women Waging Peace. A short few years only after the genocide, the extent of their responsibilities and range of expertise, were impressive – Girl Scout leader, hotel owner, health worker, Minister of Gender, journalist, judge and Mayor. In ensuing years, I would reach the same conclusion when working with the Rwandan First Lady and her team.
On her end, my daughter Polly Ruettgers Fields also echoed these thoughts. She had been working in Rwanda with the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative and Partners in Health, in collaboration with the Government of Rwanda and the First Lady’s Protection and Care of Families against HIV/AIDS program. Polly often marvelled at Rwanda’s vision and vanguard touch in leading such a comprehensive family health approach, which saved countless lives from the AIDS epidemic.
The beginning of our family’s more than a decade long friendship with the First Lady and Imbuto Foundation, started when she hosted the first meeting of the Organization of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) many years ago. As a founding member and then President, her Excellency worked diligently to mobilize resources and gain consensus on priorities.
At the same time, OAFLA’s continental campaign “Treat every child as your own” had picked up momentum, and the First Lady was advocating for countries to have it customized to their national contexts. As a family, we embraced this initiative and saw an opportunity to support a cause that resonated with us. This opened the door to an enduring and warm relationship that quickly extended to other Imbuto and Rwandan initiatives.
Frequently, I have been asked, “What is Jeannette Kagame really like?” My answer has always been the same: “she is first and foremost a thoughtful and terrific wife and mother. And she never relents on her intent to value the importance of respecting and supporting each and every child as your very own.”
These 15 years are a testament to the unwavering leadership of Mrs Jeannette Kagame. In her role as First Lady, she has shown not only to her country but the world, at large, that she is an exemplary leader. As the Chairperson of Imbuto Foundation, she has marked her organization with a spirit of dedication and excellence, which set the tone for the strong and fruitful relationship Imbuto Foundation and Friends of Imbuto have enjoyed over the past few years. As a matter of fact, last year Friends of Imbuto was excited to fund more than 300 scholarships and equip 40 houses built by AVEGA Agahozo for widows and families survivors of the genocide.
The work of Imbuto spans a variety of needs: health, youth empowerment, and the promotion of education, which has become the trademark of Imbuto Foundation and holds a special place in my heart. Over time, more than 6,000 secondary school students have benefited from scholarships and over 4,000 girls have been awarded for doing exceedingly well in national examinations. In this month where we celebrate women worldwide, I find it particularly fitting to praise these young girls and Imbuto Foundation’s annual campaigns that value and reward their achievements.
With this message, I wish all of the Imbuto team a happy anniversary for 15 years of incredibly meaningful work.
Partnerships and a community of support are critical for Imbuto to meet its goals and continue to expand its mission and reach, so we are happy to have been part of its journey. As a family, we are proud of Imbuto’s role in building a brighter future for Rwanda. It has been a terrific investment and it is my hope that others will be inspired to lend support. We all have the power to initiate positive change.
And on to another wonderful 15 years!
The writer is the Chair of Friends of Imbuto, the non-profit organisation set up in the United States to support the vision of Imbuto Foundation.