Whenever I travel abroad, as I did recently through Africa, I wish that I could take every American-particularly our young people-with me to see the places I visit and the people I meet. I believe Americans would return home, as my companions and I did, more grateful for the blessings of life that we too often take for granted and more aware of the experiences and feelings all human beings share.
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
Talking it Over
April 2, 1997
Of the many memories I will carry with me after two weeks in sub-Saharan Africa, one is of the extraordinary women I met. In country after country, I saw women building the foundations of democracy and civil society, often against great odds. I saw vill age women passing on health care advice in rural Senegal, a teacher providing English training to her students in Soweto, poor women constructing houses for their families outside Capetown, refugees struggling for survival in the aftermath of civil war in Rwanda, government leaders speaking out for women's rights in Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Uganda, and women who led the fight for freedom in Eritrea.
The women I met are paving the way to progress in Africa. And they are reminding us that, no matter where we live, we have a stake in each other's futures as citizens of the world.
One of the greatest challenges to women in Africa is maintaining peace and stability in countries long ravaged by war and civil strife. Women suffer the greatest burdens in such conflicts, and they form the majority of Africa's refugees.
In Arusha, Tanzania, I visited the International Criminal Tribunal investigating the genocide in Rwanda. Because of concerns about its effectiveness, the Tribunal is being reorganized, and a new chief prosecutor, Justice Louise Arbour of Canada, has been appointed. Justice Arbour is focused on prosecuting the crimes of sexual violence against women that marked the wars in both Rwanda and Bosnia.
Although I was unable to go to Rwanda, I met with a delegation of Rwandan women in Kampala, Uganda. In soft-spoken tones, they told me of the horrors they had endured. One young woman described how she attempted to keep her arm intact after it had been nearly severed by a machete. Eventually, because of infection, she had to remove her own arm. As she showed me her wound, I was told that there is a desperate shortage of prosthetic limbs for such victims. I received a photo album of grisly pictures of the results of the violence-bones, skulls, dazed survivors, orphaned children. But my most vivid mental pictures are of the faces of the women I met and their looks of determination to help rebuild their ravaged country.
I thought of those refugees while meeting with the group of Eritrean women who endured a 30-year war for the independence of the youngest nation in Africa. Most had been among the freedom fighters who waged that war. Many had started fighting as teenagers or while in their early 20s. Now, they want to make up for all that time by helping start schools and health clinics, by training other freedom fighters for civilian jobs and by ensuring that the women who helped secure independence are not, in peace, made dependent again.
Although I spent most of my trip meeting with Africans who represent that continent's future, I spent a few hours in one of the world's most important archeological sites, the Olduvai Gorge in northern Tanzania. American and Tanzanian archaeologist, geologists and anthropologists, whose research is supported by the U.S. and Tanzanian governments, are continuing ground-breaking work on human evolution begun by the late Mary Leakey and her husband, Louis. The Leakeys spent decades digging in the gorge and unearthed some of our most important discoveries about the origins of the human species.
To get to the site, we went by Land Rover from the Ngorongoro Crater. We arrived on a hot morning at a place that looks something like a large, dusty quarry. Walking through this archaeological gold mine was nothing short of extraordinary. It seemed that with every step, my guide, Rutgers University professor Robert Blumenschine, pointed out a fossil bone or flakes of quartz that the earliest humans could have used for tools. In the walls of the gorge, we could see layers of geological development, which correspond with biological changes in the development of humankind.
As much as the reservoir of scientific information the gorge is yielding, I was moved by the message of humanity embedded in its walls. The Olduvai Gorge offers a lesson that no mater how different human beings are on the surface, ultimately we come from the same place. We share a common ancestral home. And in the end, no matter our gender, the tone of our skin or the God we believe in-no matter the wide oceans or expanses of land that separate us-we are part of the same human family.
What science is telling us, and what I was reminded of at every stop on my trip, is that we all have a stake in Africa's future, just as we all have a connection to its past.
Reprinted with the permission of Creators Syndicate, Inc.
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's Trip to Africa