(Jessica, far right)
According to a World Health Organization global study this year, 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence. This statistic was one of the many facts populating social media on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, acknowledged on the 25th of November. The date marks the 1960 assassination of three Mirabal sisters who were political activists in the Dominican Republic. Their story is one of bravery, so it was more than appropriate to connect with Jessica Markowitz, the founder of Richard’s Rwanda IMPUHWE, on this day as she strives to build her own legacy of fortitude and compassion in Israel. IMPUHWE means compassion in Kinyarwanda and stands for inspire, motivate, powerful, undiscovered, hopeful, women with education. She was recently honored by the 2013 Seattle Met’s Light A Fire Awards as a celebrated individual in the nonprofit community.
A tireless activist, Jessica is spending six months volunteering at a youth village in Yemin Orde and then she’ll study in Jerusalem for a few months before attending New York University next fall. She’s been teaching English to approximately 20 immigrant students, a quarter of them arriving from Darfur.
While her gap year is being spent in Israel, Jessica (18) has actually been involved with human rights counseling since the sixth grade. She was only eleven years old when her parents invited an activist from Rwanda to stay at their home. The stories of the 1994 Hutus genocide that the elder, Richard Kananga, shared reminded her of stories her great uncle recounted about surviving the Holocaust. Jessica felt a connection to Richard and wanted to spread awareness about ethnic cleansing. He set her up with 20 girls in Rwanda and since that day, she’s been traveling to East Africa to bring them school supplies and design their curriculum. By 8th grade, she had nurtured the eponymous non-profit organization, Richard’s Rwanda, so well that she even had boys joining her service-learning trips to help raise money for the club. Now there are even chapters of Richard’s Rwanda IMPUHWE being started by students who want to bring the organization to their respective schools and the organization sponsors 40 girls a year in the village of Nyamata.
“This has been my life for the past six years. I wouldn’t have done anything differently. My priorities have always been to help people and help girls with education. Now I’m still striving to do the same thing but I’m older now, so I have a better idea of how to do that. No more bake sales and car washes.”
Now that Jessica is learning how to host fundraisers more efficiently, she plans to include a Girl Rising screening at her next event. She saw the film last December in her hometown in Seattle and it solidified her dedication to traveling internationally.