“We empower communities to rise out of poverty through education, food security projects and economic opportunities. We start by investing in women”. – Maria and Anthony Russo, co-founders of Humanity Unified.
It all began with a trip to Rwanda. In 2014, Maria Russo and her husband Anthony, the creative minds behind the award-wining online media platform for travel and social good, The Culture-ist took a leap of faith and went to Rwanda in search of opportunities to start a non-profit organization. As world-travelers who over the past 12 years have visited over 35 countries, Maria and Anthony both felt compelled to give back and help the amazing people and cultures they had seen.
For a few years prior to going to Rwanda, the pair had been running The Culture-ist, an online media platform for social good that revolves around a community of storytellers, travelers, creatives and change makers who aspire to make the world a better place. Although The Culture-ist has seen extraordinary success, Maria and Anthony yearned to do more. They had tossed around different ideas in their head on what else they could do to make a difference and impact change when they connected with the founder of Kula Project who invited them to go to Rwanda and see the work they are doing. The trip was in three months.
It was in Rwanda where Maria and Anthony met an amazing Rwandan woman named Peace. Peace’s story was heartbreaking and filled with hope. Peace’s family fled to Kenya in the 60’s when civil conflict erupted in Rwanda, and spent several years in Kenya where she opened her home and her heart to women survivors of the Rwandan genocide. Many of the women have suffered unimaginable trauma and are widows or single mothers, illiterate and unskilled, HIV positive, and victims of domestic abuse. The women were poor with little opportunities to support themselves or their children. Peace’s home became a place of support, empowerment and hope for over 300 women.
In 2009, together with Sophie McCann from the non-profit Network for Africa, Peace co-founded Aspire Rwanda, an organization that equips Rwandan women with literacy, vocational skills, and training in sustainable agriculture, health and human rights that helps lift them and their families out of poverty. Aspire’s mission is founded on the belief that the promotion of human dignity and women’s rights will lead to sustainable community development and strong and lasting grassroots reconciliation. Aspire Rwanda also provides counseling, nutrition, family planning services and childcare for young children so the women can attend the 12-month training program. After graduation the women join a cooperative where they work and support themselves, contributing to a self-sustaining and peaceful community. In the last five years, Aspire has helped 450 vulnerable but resilient women rebuild their lives in the aftermath of Rwanda’s genocide.
“Aspire helps to give resilient, hard-working women the skills and confidence to make their own choices, become self-sufficient, and take control of their lives.”
When Maria and Anthony heard Peace’s story, it felt like fate. Aspire Rwanda was the organization that had captured their hearts and was the perfect partner to launch their first project with through their soon-to-be non-profit organization. “We will work together” Peace smiled as she held Maria’s hand. Serendipitously the opportunity that Maria and Anthony had been looking for was right before their eyes.