Greater Lakes Women Refugee Association in Zambia aka GWRAZ, does not exist to criticize, cause conflict, argue. GWRAZ exists to uplift and cause harmony. Its members have seen the depths of human despair and the lack of light and love that is evil, and they want no part of that. Not ever. They have all been to the lowest part of human existence, and have lost everything material, but have not lost their humanity, their kindliness. When all they had left was love and kindness, they polished it and prized it, and that is the core of GWRAZ.
The 70 women who make up this association, registered in Zambia in 2008, are refugees who sought, and were granted, asylum in Zambia. And are so grateful to Zambia. They have all at least once, some three times, lost everything, except their ability to be kind.
Veronica, refugee in Rwanda from Burundi with her parents in 1992, refugee from Rwanda carrying her firstborn in her arms as she walked to Congo, refugee from Congo to Tanzania in 1996, pregnant, carrying a baby, her toddler on her back, her husband fleeing separately because the men were being murdered first. She told me one harrowing story of miraculous escape after another, from men whose main goal was to kill, but convinced themselves it was a just war by inventing criteria for those they macheted, shot, tossed over cliffs, and those they let pass unharmed. Veronica speaks Swahili, and was able to convince one cold-blooded murderer that she was Congolese. Another, that she was Burundian. Another, that she was not Tutsi. Looking into the eyes of evil, Veronica knew she needed to stay alive, and do everything she could to keep others alive. She laughs that her 3 children were born in three different countries, and that every time she got pregnant, war broke out. She laughs because evil did not win and because she is working to do everything she can to prevent anyone going through what she did.
Living in a refugee camp in Tanzania, Veronica had the wonderful opportunity in 2000 to participate in a conference in South Africa, where she heard Nelson Mandela urge women to join together to create peace. By 2008 she and her husband and 3 children were reunited and living in Zambia, and she had joined with 3 other women, and the company GWRAZ was formed.
Godeberte, who has her own horrific stories of evil and kindness that saved her from a man firing a gun touching her chest, knew Veronica in Burundi since they were both children of families who had fled Burundi. She is the second of the core 4 members.
The third is the GWRAZ spokeswoman, Odile, whose trip to London with the Girl Guides in 1992 led to a half-scholarship to London University to study medicine (my own father was a medical graduate from the University of London). However, in 1993, her world fell apart, her parents vanished and she and her sister fled Burundi for Rwanda with nothing. A year later, they were forced to flee Rwanda for Congo. She married a fellow refugee and was working for a nonprofit in a refugee camp when bombing started and she was forced to flee with her newborn baby; they were saved from being thrown into a pit with dead bodies by a passing policeman who told armed men that he knew her. Odile did not find her husband again for 4 years; they now have 5 children and live in Lusaka.
The fourth founding member, Genevieve also came from Burundi, and had a harrowing escape via Rwanda and Congo, with her husband and 6 children. Genevieve was widowed in Zambia by cardiovascular disease in 2005. She is older than the other 3 by about 20 years, she is closer to my age, and is a strong presence in the lives of other GWRAZ members in Zambia. Her English is better than my French, but not fluent. She came to sit with me the day after I broke my foot, and radiated love and kindness. She was the last person I called to thank before I switched off my phone on the South African Airways plane out of Lusaka.
The GWRAZ women were waiting for me, with a small girl with roses and a speech and a curtsey, when I arrived at Lusaka airport, they took me to the COMESA market to see where local foods are sold, to the agricultural grounds for the annual International Womens Day celebrations, to a wonderful vegan meal in Grace's house afterwards (I had told them I was vegan), to the Department of Home Affairs, to the Commission for Refugee Affairs for permission to travel far up north to the Meheba Refugee Camp, to Solwezi to stay overnight before and after our day trip to Meheba, to the farm where they grow 3 types of bananas, cassava roots and leaves, green beans, eggplant, avocados, maize; to the Roman Catholic Church property where they have built a house using local materials, to the fiefdom where they are planning to build many homes using local materials, plus a Roman Catholic School with its own farm. They stayed with me the 3 days after I broke my leg, and came with me to the airport, all waving me off as I was wheelchaired through customs onto the South African Airways plane.
When all is taken away from you except your ability to love, love gushes, blooms, overflows.