Life Stories #54: Josh Ruxin

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Life Stories: Josh Ruxin
photo: Adil Bahalim

Life Stories is a podcast series where I talk to memoir writers about their lives and the art of writing memoir. In this episode, you’ll meet Josh Ruxin, an international aid worker who moved to Rwanda eight years ago to set up a community-based program that would be a model for that nation’s economic recovery. The project was supposed to last two years, but he and his wife are still there—in fact, they’ve opened a restaurant that’s become one of the main attractions of the capital city of Kigali. In A Thousand Hills to Heaven, Ruxin tells the story of what drew him to Rwanda. In our conversation, we discussed his motivations for writing a memoir, which include setting down what he’s learned about creating economic aid programs that can lead to true self-sufficiency:

“On one hand, there are those who believe that if we just do more aid, more big aid, it’s going to solve everything in spite of evidence that most big aid actually hasn’t had much impact over the years. Then on the other side, you’ve got people who say all aid is bad and we just shouldn’t be doing it. And I came to realize, working with the government of Rwanda and of course working in the restaurant, that there is this middle ground–that, actually, there’s a lot we could be doing with aid that could be wildly effective and sustainable, and there’s a lot of lessons that can be learned from the private sector that should be applied through aid programs in order to make both public programs [and] the private sector thrive.”

We also talk about, among other things, the ways that contemporary Rwanda bears the memories of the brutal 1994 genocides—and the effort it’s making to become a different, better nation—and how his wife’s original idea for opening a coffee shop became a much bigger operation that either of them had anticipated. For those of you who’ve been listening to Life Stories for a while, if you enjoyed the interview with international relief worker Jessica Alexander, you’ll also appreciate Ruxin’s perspective on relief efforts in Africa—and, I later found out, the two of them actually come from the same town in Connecticut, and although they didn’t cross paths back then due to age differences, their fathers, both doctors, do know each other. Small world!

Listen to Life Stories #54: Josh Ruxin (MP3 file); or download this file by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click). Or subscribe to Life Stories in iTunes, where you can catch up with earlier episodes and be alerted whenever a new one is released. (And if you are an iTunes subscriber, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast!)

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25 November 2013 | life stories |