In an interview with ABC Newspapers last week, Erica spoke about her work in the east Central African Republic. With 23 years of experience as Foreign Service officer in India, Norway and South Africa and having served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; Barks Ruggles began her three-year tour of service in Rwanda in January this year.
“I’m thrilled to be with the foreign service – it’s all about learning, re-educating yourself about the world, its peoples, its cultures. We’re not always in the garden spots of the world. And it doesn’t mean it’s not hard work – dangerous sometimes – but I count it a real privilege to be of service, to see lives improve and to … see what a difference we can do for people,” she said.
In Rwanda, Barks Ruggles said she works to increase agricultural production, presenting projects to the minister of agriculture and establishing partnerships with American companies.
“Culligan was just awarded a contract to put in an entire water system in Kigali, Rwanda,” Barks Ruggles said, “We’re teaching basic care and hygiene skills (to dairy farmers) which results in higher quantities and higher quality of milk. In 18 months, we’ve seen double the quantity of product and double the income of every farmer,” she said.
“That’s part of what’s so fulfilling for me: to see the difference we can make, to help people, to help make those business partnerships, to see Rwandan farmers’ lives improve. That’s just thrilling,” the ambassador said.
While witnessing farmers’ lives and their families’ lives improve, Barks Ruggles said she can imagine the lessons Rwandan children are learning along the way. “You never know how wide that ripple effect will go. We drop the pebble, and you don’t know the wide-ranging effect you’ll have. It’s really exciting to be able to see that and know we helped make that happen,” she said.
Barks Ruggles said she feels her work as ambassador is important and serves to achieve four mandates: to protect Americans overseas, to improve trade, to provide security and counteract global problems, and “to promote the values we cherish as Americans.”
It’s a calling that can be challenging at times. Her husband Taylor Ruggles is also a member of the foreign service and the two have spent three separate three-year tours in “long distance relationship” mode. “We were on different continents,” she said.
In addition to service in India, Norway, South Africa and now Rwanda, Barks Ruggles served as the deputy to the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations, leading the Washington office for Ambassador Susan Rice and serving on the Deputies Committee.
From 1996-1999 she was a director for African affairs at the National Security Council at the White House, where she led the successful effort to pass the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. She has also been a visiting fellow at The Brookings Institution and an international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations studying the economic impacts of HIV/AIDS on businesses in Southern Africa at the height of the AIDS crisis.
“As an ambassador, I feel our work is really in the interest of the world and as long as I’m having fun and making a difference, I want to keep doing it,” she said.