We’re In The News: Grace Rwanda featured in The Province

April 20, 2011  |  Articles, General

Amazing Grace Rwanda
Fri Apr 15 2011
Section: B.C.
By Elaine O’Connor

Elizabeth M. Johnson in Rwanda copy

As a Tutsi woman living in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, Elizabeth Mujawamaliya Johnson lost almost all of her family under horrific circumstances.

It’s the kind of experience that could turn a person bitter. But instead, Johnson drew on her tragic past to create a bright future for the next generation of Rwandans, Hutu and Tutsi alike. She found an inner amazing grace and established an educational charity called Grace Rwanda.

The 44-year-old Langley woman co-founded the charity with fellow Rwandan Marie Louise Kaligirwa, another genocide survivor who lost the majority of her family. Johnson worked for CARE Australia and World Vision in Rwanda before immigrating to Canada in 1999 and Kaligirwa was an accountant working for the U.S. Embassy before moving to Canada in 1998.

The two long-lost school friends immigrated to Canada separately and reconnected in the early 2000s by chance – an acquaintance who knew that Kaligirwa wanted to move from Calgary to Vancouver gave her Johnson’s number.

“I didn’t know she was alive,” Johnson recalled. “We all were just screaming and in tears. It was really like a miracle.”

Once joyfully reunited, the pair began thinking about ways to help rebuild their country.

“We remembered the time it took to go to school every morning in Rwanda. I had to walk almost three hours. When I remembered how hard it was at that time for me, we realized we had to do something because we lived it, we knew the situation our school was in. We were sitting on the ground and in the dust with no windows or doors, walking for hours carrying only one book,” Johnson recalled.

So in 2009 they created Grace Rwanda and began fundraising to build a new school in Johnson’s old hometown of Rwinkwavu, in the eastern province near the border with Tanzania, by donating cement and steel girders to hold up the new roof. Canadian donors assisted in the building of two new classroom buildings, replacing a cramped and crumbling adobe mud brick building, and the building of new latrines, where formerly 1,400 students shared eight stalls.

Since then, they have been fundraising to build a kitchen, dining hall and a library at the school.

Read the full article in The Province

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