#High5ives: Havas Lynx returns from Rwanda

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Claire Elliot is the Brand Manager of Havas Lynx, and one of the heads of the LXAmbassadors. LXAmbassadors aim to provide a platform and support to enable social change, globally and locally, powered by the people within Lynx. They do their best to ensure that Havas Lynx remains a positive place to work, that we get a chance to play as hard as we work, do our bit for the local community, and that we continue to collaborate and work as a team. Below Claire talks about the Havas Lynx trip to Rwanda…

Last week I was lucky enough to be part of the Havas Lynx team to visit Rwanda and see first-hand the great work carried out by the charity Born to Thrive. Since our return, we have made a small video detailing the highlights of our trip which you can see here. The soundtrack is written and performed by the Bishop of Hip Hop, whom you can read a little more about below…

To give you a brief update, Havas Lynx has supported Born to Thrive whole heartedly since our Christmas campaign 2014, where we raised £10,610.95, enough for the charity to send 42 children to school who otherwise would not have had chance to receive an education.

I am proud to say that at Havas Lynx, we take every opportunity to change outcomes for the better, not just in the work we do, but in our collective energy, passion and team work; we aim to drive improvements in the wider society. Both locally and globally. We call it #HelpfulChange. It is our mission and ethos, but more than that, it is a promise. I can honestly say that with our efforts for Born to Thrive, we have fully delivered against that promise.

Born to Thrive is a charity based in East Africa dedicated to ensuring people receive the opportunity to develop, educate and empower themselves. The charity supports the physical and mental wellbeing of its beneficiaries, ensuring all have access to healthcare.

Following on from our Christmas campaign, and touched by the stories of the children who desperately wanted a chance, we wanted to help more. A team of Lynxers approached the charity and offered our expertise and free time to help further. Using our skills, we established a long to do list including building a new brand, website, social media strategy and execution, as well as creating a bank of film and photography to help the charity to tell its story.

Upon hearing our plans, the Directors of Havas Lynx generously supported us, and offered to part fund a week-long trip to Rwanda for 10 Lynxers.

That trip was last week and below, I try my best to summarise our trip…

It was inspirational and heart breaking at the same time. We saw the absolute worst and the absolute best a person can be. It was a truly humbling experience and one that I am incredibly grateful for. It will take me a long time to digest everything we saw, and it’s something that will stay with me for life.

The city of Kigali was such a sharp contrast to what I had read about and subsequently imagined. I have read about Kigali in the time of Genocide, and although I knew it had moved on, I couldn’t quite believe how far it had come, considering the absolute devastation witnessed only 20 years ago. Put bluntly, it felt so normal, and without meaning to cause insult, it seemed a pretty regular city. I expected Kigali to be more ‘developing’; I expected it to still be a city in recovery; I expected the people to still be in recovery. I did not expect a city with towering office blocks, established universities and smart shopping centres.

After our first day acclimatising to the city, we went for a drink at Hôtel des Mille Collines. The hotel was part of a luxurious resort with 112 rooms, a bar, a café, three conference rooms, a restaurant, a swimming pool and tennis courts.  It may seem odd to be in a place of such luxury during our charity trip, but once we were settled, it was explained to us that we were sat in Hotel Rwanda; the famous hotel where 1,268 people took refuge during the Genocide. The hotel had witnessed first-hand the tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi people. It was perfect evidence of how far the country has come.

The next day, we were off to the Genocide Memorial Museum, where we learned about the Genocide in graphic detail. We learnt how just 21 years ago, the entire nation was brutalised and traumatised, with over 1 million people killed in just 100 days. Families were ripped apart; neighbours killed neighbours, literally. In the grounds of the Genocide Memorial Museum, there is a mass grave of 250,000 people. It is incomprehensible and devastating.

Sombre and shocked, we left the museum, for an afternoon of stark contrast. We went to the PFR (Prison Fellowship Rwanda) office, a place where the children, some of which we have sponsored, meet up three times a week to get a good meal and check in with the charity. It was evident from their shoes alone (some of which have been gaffa taped onto their feet), that there is still severe poverty in the city and there are many who are very much in need of our help.

That being said, we arrived at the office to a sea of smiling faces. The children put on a welcome show for us, complete with singing, dancing and some pretty incredible gymnastics. We heard the ‘Bishop of Hip Hop’, who himself was once a street kid in Kigali. He discussed the impact that the charity has had on his life, and how the charity has enabled him to escape a life of petty crime and loneliness. The Bishop of Hip Hop then proved why he had his name by performing a song he wrote about his life (which later provided the backing music to our highlights video).

After our introduction, it was play time! In the lead up to the trip, we had asked the people of Havas Lynx and our partners for donations of clothes and toys we could take with us. We were overwhelmed with donations, so much so, that we simply couldn’t carry everything. Luckily, one of our partners generously offered to provide two pallets to ship the remaining items that we couldn’t carry.

The kids were full of fun and it was mayhem. There were Frisbees flying, precarious gymnastics happening over a very hard concrete floor, footballs bouncing around, and an awful lot of requests for pictures to be taken (which might explain why I now have almost 3000 photos). It was overwhelming the amount of pleasure a simple skipping rope could bring. And the fact that upon leaving the office, one child chased after us to give us back the skipping rope, not believing that it was theirs to keep. Heart breaking.

Aware that I have already gone on too long for a short blog post, and aware that I have only just touched upon our first couple of days, I’m going to sign off with the promise to follow up with another blog or two.

In summary, our trip was just incredible. To see first-hand the difference we have made to people’s lives was inspirational. We met the kids who are now in education thanks to our efforts. Put simply, we have changed their lives for the better, and by meeting them, they have done the same for us.

A few words of thanks:

  • To Katy, the founder of Born To Thrive, who put together a packed agenda and took the time to accompany us and guide us round Kigali. We are incredibly grateful for all your help and support throughout.
  • To Guma, at Born To Thrive for helping us with our Visa applications and approvals, and for getting the filming licenses in the nick of time. It wasn’t easy at all but we got there in the end
  • To Havas Lynx, both to the directors and my very generous colleagues who have donated and supported the charity throughout
  • To Concept Initiatives, who donated over 100 school bags, pencils and pens for the children
  • To Compass Display Systems, who donated posters for our ‘creativity’ session with the kids (again to be covered with another blog – it was messy)
  • To the Havas Lynx IT department, who generously donated old IT equipment and their time to prepare it for use by the charity
  • To Alan Harper and Everton Football Club, who donated over 100 football kits (to be covered in another blog)
  • To John McPartland, Designer at Lynx, who has designed an incredible new brand and website
  • To Russell Waite, Software Engineer at Lynx, for building the charity’s new website
  • And to my fellow Lynxers on the trip. Together we laughed, we cried, and we met some amazing people. We worked as a brilliant team, and kept each other going throughout a very hectic and emotional week.  I’m looking forward to continuing to work together supporting our new friends at Born to Thrive. I couldn’t have wished for a better team to work with.

Until the next post, you can find more information, vlogs and pictures on our Facebook feed here

We plan to launch the new brand and website in December, but in the meantime, you can read more about the charity here.

And if you can, please donate here.

It really is a very worthy cause.