In 1994, people of Rwanda suffered horrible atrocities. But here's a ray of hope.

In 1994, a civil war had been raging for four years in the country of Rwanda.

Then, over the course of 100 days, 800,000 people were killed in a mass genocide that drew worldwide attention.

As sometimes happens when things like this go on, rape as a weapon was used extensively to create terror among the population — so much so, that an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 women were raped.


An estimated 20,000 children were born from this indescribable tragedy and the after effects of the war.

Images via Foundation Rwanda and their video on YouTube.

What do the mothers want for these children? An education.

Enter Foundation Rwanda.

Formed in 2007, it has worked with these women ever since. I spoke with Jules Shell, director of Foundation Rwanda, who talked about her experience forming this program.

"When I co-founded FR, we interviewed 30 mothers, all genocide survivors with children born of rape," says Shell. "We asked the same question at the end of each interview: 'If you had the means, what would be your wish in life?' Every mother replied with the same answer: education for their children."

The shocking problem with getting them an education? Even though there are programs for government-sponsored education, these children are not considered "survivors" because they were born after the genocide.

"We created Foundation Rwanda and partnered with local NGOs to respond to their wishes," Shell says. "These children may represent a dark period of history, but they also represent life and the hope for a brighter future."


It will make a difference in their lives that is not even fathomable by our standards.

She continued:

"In Rwanda, you go to school when it is possible, when you can afford the school fees and the cost of transport, shoes, books and uniform, and finishing high school can take twice as long or more for these students in particular than it would in America or Europe. Every child should have the equal right to education no matter the circumstances of their birth."

So far, Foundation Rwanda has raised $1.8 million in donations for education for their children and trauma counseling for the mothers. This has enabled over 850 students to attend secondary school.

In addition this year, each mother has contributed $41 per school term themselves to make up for shortfalls in funding that Foundation Rwanda cannot bear.

Many of these women live on an average of $1.25 a day or less.

Now, Foundation Rwanda must raise another $150,000 by the end of year to pay for an education for each one of these precious children — this will allow every student to graduate and will complete FR's mission.

Here, in their own words, are some of the women who want their kids to succeed.

I wish the world to know that in Rwanda life still goes on even after we lost our dear ones. The program is very valuable because it helped me to know that even my child born from a killer can be like other children. My greatest hope in life is to see my child growing and having a family and children. Without Foundation Rwanda, my child would not be in school. I have no job to pay for her school fees." — Mukanyemazi

Mukanyemazi, second from the left, and Uwumukiza, far right, with some of the other mothers.

I want the world to know our children born of rape are children like others and must be given equal opportunities in the world. My greatest wish is for my daughter to attend a good school and go to university." — Uwumukiza

Claudine, one of the children featured in the video below, has simple yet grand aspirations.

If you want to help, here are some ways:

1. Go directly to the fundraising page on Foundation Rwanda. If you're in a generous mood, you can directly sponsor one of the kids.

2. You can purchase the Foundation Rwanda coloring book. The images are by some of the children, and proceeds from the book go to funding their education.

Some of the mothers with the Foundation Rwanda coloring book, featured in the video below.

3. Change Heroes has a campaign where you can help crowdfund this project by getting friends to give a few bucks per day.

Here's a video on the families, the Foundation Rwanda coloring book, and what it means to them: hope.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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