By Clytie Bunyan
Published: May 24, 2009
Darcie Harris just returned from Rwanda, and as she tells it, she did not want to leave.
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” she said. Lin Weigel, who also accompanied Harris on the trip, described the African country as “a paradise, almost like Hawaii minus the ocean. ”A country that just 15 years ago was trying to emerge from the ravages of genocide, Rwanda is a developing country focused on the population being one people — instead of individual tribes — and trying to carve a path to economic success.And with the help of an institute founded here, an increasing number of women are a part of that economic story.
The post-genocide government has recognized that women, who head nearly 50 percent of families there, can play a crucial role in rebuilding the country. Harris, president of EWF International, Weigel, director of program development with the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women, and Mary Melon, Journal Record publisher, spent seven days visiting with a group of businesswomen whose mentors were other women who last year were in Oklahoma learning how make their businesses successful.
“These are women who aren’t being defined by the pain and violence of their past,” Harris said. “There’s something almost indescribable about them — an innate quality of gentleness and graciousness, and they’re so hungry for knowledge. ”Rwandan women in the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Wo-men’s program intentionally chose a business idea that allows them to determine how many more women they can employ, she said. The Oklahomans’ visit was to see first-hand the types of businesses those coming to the U.S. this year operate, to better determine who their mentors here should be. They met also with potential partners, including government officials, to foster partnerships to help the institute’s efforts. “There’s an overwhelming sense of optimism that’s infectious, so I want women in Oklahoma to meet and learn from them, even as they’re learning from us,” Weigel said.