These days, I spend a lot of my time traveling. Fundraising, speaking, sure — but the best kind of travel is visiting Vittana youth in countries all around the world.
I always ask what we’re doing right, how we’ve screwed up, and whether we’re living up to their hopes and dreams. Trust me, they don’t hold back — I’ve gotten an earful a few times!
In the past several months, I’ve been through Rwanda, Jordan and the Philippines. They always remind me of growing up in India — countries of deep contradiction, with pockets of very real opportunity amidst extreme, palpable poverty.
Take Rwanda for instance. What do you think of first when you hear Rwanda? The genocide, right?
It’s been 18 years. And that’s such a symbolic number. The babies being born in those tragic moments are today finishing basic schooling and yearning for more. It’s a new generation of hope — nearly 80% of Rwandan youth are literate.
Tourism is booming. People from all over the world visit Rwanda for its amazing safaris and gorilla treks. Hotels abound in Kigali — little hostels, 5-star luxury resorts charging $500 a night. Marriott is opening its first hotel in all of Africa in Rwanda.
And yet, 90% of Rwandan youth and their families still live on subsistence farming.
What’s holding them back? One year of education. The difference between a girl who knows how to read and write and one who knows how to write a few lines of HTML? It’s night and day.
Option A: It’s a girl sitting in a thatched hut on her family’s one-acre farm, boiling cassava for her little brother so he can eat when he gets home from the fields.
Option B: It’s a girl who’s learned a livelihood, found a job that triples her earning power — maybe as Marriott’s new webmaster — and developed a sense of herself in the world.
The contradiction is sometimes simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring — so far ahead, yet so close.
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