Meet the Youngest Brand Ambassador for Rwanda in India

Meet the Youngest Brand Ambassador for Rwanda in India

I am NeysaSanghavi, the first Indian citizen to have been appointed as the Brand Ambassador for Rwanda in India by the government of Rwanda. Since I received this designation at the age of 17, it makes me the youngest person in the world to be appointed to this position.

I have been entrusted with this official designation by His Excellency, Mr Ernest Rwamucyo, the current High Commissioner for Rwanda in India, for the socio-economic work that I have done for refugees and genocide survivors living in Rwanda. For over two years under my Study Rwanda Project, I have worked very closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Rwandan Ministry for Disaster Management and Refugees (MIDIMAR), and several local organizations to address and improve the cultural, economic and medical needs of the people of Rwanda. I connect investors in India to resources in Rwanda and promote tourism in the country. On a larger scale, I act as a spokesperson to break down preexisting negative stereotypes people have about Rwanda and Africa overall in India and other international communities.

I was just 16 when I first visited Rwanda. The impact that the colonizers had on the world went unnoticed until I landed at the Rwandan airport. I noticed that western literature seems to have two main flaws: The first is the constant reference to Africa as one country. To think of this massive continent as one homologous piece of land, whose people have no distinct identity. The second rose from the inability to understand the diversity of cultures. Here’s a quote from the writing of a London merchant Jon Lok who after describing the black Africans as “beasts who have no houses” he writes, “they are also people without heads, having their mouth and eyes in their breasts.” Now one must acknowledge the imagination of John Lok but must not forget the negative stereotypical views it gave rise too. Views that today make the fundamentals of our society as they now seem to be permanent and widespread. It started a series of stories of people from Sub-Saharan Africa, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, are “half devil, half child.”

Now because of this before even being aware of the Rwandan Genocide, my mind was filled with misconceptions, ideas that were influenced by stories stated above. Some may not believe this, but it almost got to a point where I asked my mom around thirty minutes from the airport if we landed in the right country because I could not see people in red robes, raising their spears, chasing animals. I was so baffled and all my mom could do was laugh.

Another such situation was right before this project started my friends and teachers warned me and I quote “the people are violent, the country is underdeveloped, it isn’t safe.” One remarkable thing this experience did was redefine the meaning of an ‘underdeveloped country’ because Rwanda is simple a country who still hasn’t explored its potential.

While I was in the country, I decided to visit and spend time with a few genocide survivors, mainly widows. Their bodies still had scars from the genocide, and the details of how their children and husbands died were as if the genocide happened yesterday. It didn’t go unnoticed that every single one of them was making a constant effort to move on with their lives and they did this by becoming experts in their hobbies, some at singing, some knitting, and others dancing. It was as if each one of them was trying to rebuild their lost confidence, trust, and love on humanity.

I won’t lie, I was scared to meet them because I wasn’t sure what I could give them. I wasn’t sure what I, a sixteen-year-old outsider who hasn’t gone through half of they have, could do. In the end, I went there with an intention to help them forget. To my surprise, I came across something phenomenon — their pasts made them stronger, it made them value lives and gave each one of them a new perspective to share. It made them powerful, it motivated them to work towards ‘change’, and most of all it made them a source of inspiration in our lives.

We live in a world that everyone knows is interdependent, but insufficient. Profoundly it is unequal (in its distribution of resources), unstable (in threats of terror like this genocide) and unsustainable (like climate changes and habitat destruction). Even in this world with flaws, I believe Rwandans deserve to live a happy life, a life which is fuelled by the power of free will.

While story’s such as those of John Lok’s can break one’s dignity they can also repair dignity. I decided to make an effort to shatter the stereotype by starting the Study Rwanda Project. I hope that in future when someone says “Rwanda”, Genocide isn’t the first word that comes to someone’s mind. Under my Study Rwanda Project, I have worked with several organizations such as AvegaAgahozo, IBUKA, School of Dentistry at the University of Kigali, Chemi&Cotex Rwanda Ltd to bring about economic growth and social transformation to citizens of Rwanda. I have also given several inspirational talks on the resilience of Rwanda’s citizens because I believe that the world must celebrate the spirit of Rwanda as this tiny but fierce nation continues to essay forward towards the status of modern first-world democracy.

Our two nations, India and Rwanda have a lot to offer each other as we learn from each other and work together for the common good of mankind. I will continue to work unflaggingly towards deepening the economic and cultural bonds between the two places that I call home.


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