Editor’s note: The following pages are Ashley Judd’s journal from a trip to Rwanda in 2008. It could have been retired for being out of date. But we continue to get email about it, from people in various parts of the world, who appreciate it, are moved by it, and enjoy it. So we keep bumping it up again in our line up. Ashley’s writing style in charming, and the conditions she sees and her message are as relevant today as they were five years ago.

Ashley Judd recently traveled to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in her ongoing role as ambassador for YouthAids and PSI.org.

She sent us her diaries as she went so that we could share them with you. Emotional and insightful, they allow us to walk with her through the genocide memorial, the hell that is a women’s clinic in the Congo, and the rebirth of families, communities and a country. Enjoy.

Day One:
Today’s travel has gone off as planned, and as I write, I am watching the African sun begin to set, casting shades of oranges so associated with this continent.

Africa! How is this possible? How did I get here? Where does this life come from? My 40th in the Scottish Highlands with dear friends, roaring with laughter and running a sack race on the front lawn of a castle, to my first appointment in Rwanda this evening with a woman Senator and Zainib Salbi, the founder of Women for Women International, whose amazing book “Between Two Worlds” I finished last night? I called someone back from the Rodham-Clinton campaign last night and when the President heard it was me on the line, he grabbed the phone for a wee chat. That is sort of nerve wracking, to have him spontaneously get on the phone like that…I have to laugh at my life, give thanks, laugh, give thanks.

The African sun is setting with its patented hues of orange and red. The sun looks like this from nowhere else on earth. I can see the thousand hills of Rwanda undulate before me, terraced and graced with lakes. I am grateful to be emotionally sober. My last time to this continent, the original home of us all, I was so overwhelmed with emotion as to be nearly distraught. Everything, but everything, made me cry! My first African tree! My first African bird! My first African friend! I was returning to my cradle and had the heightened emotionality of a seeker’s first pilgrimage. I am far from casual about this journey, far from it, I am simply….simpler. My gratitude, awe, respect, and even my enthusiasm are more subtle.

There is tough work to be done. I begin tomorrow with the Genocide Memorial and a talk afterwards about the progress Rwanda has made since that insanity. I will meet our local staff (Psi.org) and begin to learn more about the burden of poor health that continues to unnecessarily cost Rwandans their children, their own lives, and stifle their economy and progress. Rwanda is the most densely populated African country, and malaria, lack of safe water (only 2.5% of Rwandans have piped water), the great need for family planning, STI’s, HIV, and other preventable diseases and issues keep the entire population subsisting on less than a dollar a day. I will see our programs in action, celebrate what works, and help carry the message of prevention and effective grassroots programs to those who can fund them and help change attitudes and policies for the better.

Gender-based violence will be a core theme of this trip. I have already abdicated my day to see the Silver Back Gorillas in order to go to Goma, a portion of the Democratic Republic of Congo accessible more safely from Rwanda. There are refugee camps filled with masses of women victims of rape. The gorillas, much as I love them, can wait.

I am glad to be here, glad to learn, glad to serve, and am more than a little perplexed as to why me.

more —

From PSI.ORG, an unflinchingly unemotional description of us. It reads dry, but it is anything but on the ground. A further note is that we fill a critical gap between what poor governments can do for their populations and where the private sector is lacking too. Governments often have little if any infrastructure, yet magically those fizzy soda pop drinks are ubiquitous, as are mobile phones. Hence, we use private sector techniques to deliver family planning, safe water, child survival and maternal health, malaria prevention and treatment, and HIV/Aids prevention health programs, which include products, services, and education.

The mission of PSI is to measurably improve the health of poor and vulnerable people in the developing world, principally through social marketing of family planning and health products and services, and health communications. Social marketing engages private sector resources and uses private sector techniques to encourage healthy behavior and make markets work for the poor.

PSI’s Core Values:

The power of markets and market mechanisms to contribute to sustained improvements in the lives of the poor

Results and a strong focus on measurement

Speed and efficiency, with a predisposition to action and an aversion to bureaucracy

Decentralization, empowering our staff at the local level

A long-term commitment to the people we serve

Day one — arrival
Day two — genocide memorial
Day three — the countryside
Day three — the PSI.org offices
Day three — malaria nets
Day four — you go, global girl
Day four — water purification
Day five — world malaria day
Day six — Women for Women International
Day six — Democratic Republic of Congo
Day six — heal Africa
Day seven — Sonrise
Day seven — Dushishoze
Day seven — reflections