By Kirsten Gilardi, DVM
Co-Director, Gorilla Doctors

I had the pleasure of attending Rwanda Cultural Day 2016, held Saturday, September 24 in San Francisco, California. My husband, James, and our friends Dr. Michael Wilkes (UC Davis School of Medicine) and his wife Dr. Maggie Rea, who have lived and worked in Rwanda, joined by perhaps 3,000 members of the Rwandan diaspora to reflect upon the role of culture in their nation’s major achievements, including providing universal education and healthcare to all Rwandans.

Rwanda Cultural Day was also a way to reach out to the Rwanda diaspora and to celebrate what it means to be Rwandan. The day felt like a large happy family reunion! Rwanda’s First Family hosted their fellow citizens from almost every state in the US and Canada, as well as hundreds of “Friends of Rwanda” (those of us who feel Rwanda in our hearts even though we don’t carry Rwandan passports). The Rwanda National Ballet performed (see video clip below), and a distinguished panel of guests discussed Rwandan culture and what it means for those who live inside and outside the country. We heard presentations from Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren, a close friend of the president and author of the The Purpose Driven Life, and the Rwanda Ambassador to the United States, the Honorable Mathilde Mukantabana.

A good friend of Gorilla Doctors, Michael Fairbanks, provided an opportunity to meet His Excellency, President Paul Kagame.

I expressed to the President that it was a privilege for Gorilla Doctors to work in Rwanda, to provide life-saving veterinary care for mountain gorillas, and play a part in Rwanda’s conservation success story. We talked about how the mountain gorilla population is growing, and that Rwanda and the Virungas are the only places in the world where great ape numbers in the wild are increasing, another immense achievement for this small country in the heart of Africa.

His Excellency Mathilde Mukantabana and Dr. Kirsten Gilardi

His Excellency was kind enough to host us in the middle of his jam-packed day, after his daily workout and before he spoke to upwards of 3,000 members of the Rwandan diaspora at Rwanda Cultural Day in San Francisco, California.