Sunday, 8 July 2018

The impact of an inspiring journey

It was not easy to realize it, my participation, good sense of humor, helping classmates in different courses; no one thought that I could stay home for long without administrative occupation, so did I. Where many calls from classmates was to ask Chantal did u get a job and I would not enjoy even chatting on social media just to reduce those questions. During the day, I could take my laptop check different website and apply for the one that suit me then in night after my casual teaching job; the same sketch spread in my mind telling me list of my mate who got job already. Moreover, I could not forget my lecturer of macroeconomics whilst my undergraduate studies; she said that: “The real world would be very competitive and tricky in a way that it would drive people differently”. Mostly, top performers in class struggle a lot to find job, the lower grade get it easily let me say that is also my experience.

In fact, when I meditated, I realized that making connection was the key to survive but was not good at it. Waking up in morning, walk to the university; teach primary students in their homes and prep in night before sleeping; that was my routine. Anyway, I was an active girl who couldn’t be afraid of talking in front of people due to many practice of debates but to make bond and spend much time with others was really hard as I thought studying hard, getting good grades and believe in God was enough yet it wasn’t. I started getting different calls for interview and many rejections but I kept on even applying for United Nation International Service volunteer. It was 11:00 AM when I received a call from International Service for interview - by the time I was heading to teach children. I celebrated; on actual date I joined interview it was good but felt a bit worried to get new rejection as well. Thankfully, two weeks later I received a call confirming that I was selected - the best time of my life - how i felt! I remember kneeling down and say thank you Lord but then we had to wait for six months to start. I felt a bit discouraged and many people would tell me that volunteerism provides no money but I would say "rimwe riruta zero" literally meaning one is greater than zero. So at least I was going to work with mature people .

Me enjoying the view
Meanwhile, we were supposed to start on 4th July 2017 and I woke up at 4:30 got in car, on our way I checked my e-mail and got disappointed as they postponed to the following day. I went back home feeling discouraged but luckily the following day arrived and I got to the venue as first in-country volunteer; Oh God! I entered dining room which was full of UK volunteers, I took a deep breath and greeted all of them. There was nothing wrong with them but it was my first time finding myself in a meeting like that. I felt safe as we were getting along with my counterpart though the accent was terribly breathtaking. 

My team was made up of volunteers who loved to challenge themselves to change the world; in- country orientation ended and we traveled to western province of Rwanda. Finally, we got to Mushubati a very landmark with interesting view of the Lake Kivu. One of the Uk volunteer Pasha said: “How am I going to survive here” I encouraged her and said “we can make it”. She used to experience homesickness, staying by her side resulted in unbreakable bonding and lingered memories on both side. We both had sense of humor, helping heart, loyal, born in big family, having almost same hobbies like, dancing, initiating a conversations, visiting vulnerable people and kindness; the only difference was a religion belief and practice. Although, we had some differences, we tried to exchange the uniqueness of our culture.

cohort 1
Me, Pasha and our friend

In terms of work, it was a challenging workplace as first cohort to start our work in a very well established coffee co-operative KOPAKAMA which had their own working system. It wasn’t easy as people didn’t figure out what we came to do. They thought UK volunteers came in tourism and recruited translators to help them yet it was totally wrong where we were all one and equal. We met the community members through different events such as, English class and "Umuganda" community work. These helped us get integrated and to a smooth path for the next cohorts, we conducted a baseline survey where 300 people participated including partner members and community to examine their standard of living, understanding of human rights and gender balance. A hilly place with no proper shoes, climbing with skirts, packing food was a big challenge and all of our shoes got tone.  The baseline survey results  revealed the low understanding of human rights and gender balance in community, high rate of stunted growth among under five children. Here the  recommendations  and corrective actions  were carried forward to the next cohorts.I got a chance to attend training of pests and soil management on field with farmers with the aim of harnessing a sustainable agriculture.

Cohort 2
We were wondering how we would track the progress of our recommendations. Fortunately, I came back as team leader. With past memories and fresh ideas - we got oriented in the host families and came to meet the community members. When I was a volunteer I used to assist my team leaders and team to reach our target but when I became team leader, volunteers were waiting for me to guide and assist them.

Challenge yourself to change the world, our moto before these six months I thought may be its to accept living in new place but that wasn’t enough because I was requested to accept any concern and request of volunteers not to order them but just sitting with them in planning of three months and weekly was engaging as we discussed to find a common understanding. 

Ejo heza coffee harvested

The third cohort engaged a lot in raising awareness human rights, worked with Ejo Heza women coffee in harvesting and slashing grasses, building  kitchens and cooking demonstration so my roles was to make budget for the fields, assist and help volunteers, maintain relationship between International service and partner organization (KOPAKAMA) and make sure that volunteers engage fully in community development  activities.

Kitchen garden

After nutrition demonstration

Lastly, due to the phase out of ICS 2 another cohort started, ready to meet new volunteers with new personalities and many expectations. The placement has been interesting in terms of hard work where we reached and exceeded our targets. I knitted sacks, dug the soil and carried manure in the course of  building 6 kitchen gardens to ensure  availability and  access of micro-nutrients to families, it was sweaty in kitchen; cooking porridge, rice, and sauce for 3 nutrition demonstrations where we served children with malnutrition cases and we taught their mothers how the preparation of balanced diet is done practically, delivered customer care training to KOPAKAMA staffs, sessions on family planning and on fighting against unpredictable pregnancies in youth club, importance of education and health insurance, built 4 toilets to families who had nowhere to go, fetched water and made bricks for the poor woman whose her houses had fell down as a result of heavy down pours.

                                                                                                      Roasted Kopakama Coffee

After building toilet

I am very happy that I have been in three cohorts and the goal of contributing towards our 1st cohorts' recommendations were successfully achieved.

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Wednesday, 27 June 2018

The final weeks

United Nations Association International Service, Rwanda Cohort IV. Blog V.

By Emerald Ladjimi and Nancy Iradukunda

The weeks following our mid-term review have been our most successful weeks yet. We are now in the performing stage and this is apparent within our team dynamics and how efficiently we are completing work.  Within these weeks we have completed our final Kitchen Garden, Nutritional Demonstration, made visits to Nursery and Secondary schools, built more toilets and had our cultural trip to Gisenyi. The Football World Cup has also started (which we are all very excited about) and has given a sense of camaraderie to the team.

Kitchen Garden

During the last week we managed to build our sixth and final kitchen garden. This was definitely the most challenging - despite our enthusiasm - as the dry season is finally upon us, making the ground dry, difficult to hoe, and nearly impossible to find nutritious soil. However, with all our collected efforts we managed to complete it in good time. As with previous kitchen gardens, we took time afterwards to speak with the local families to educate them on the nutritional value of the vegetables planted and their role in a balanced diet, ensuring maximum impact. We highlighted that although we have built the kitchen garden it is now the responsibility of the local community to maintain and take care of it.
Building the Kitchen Gardens has been a great experience for us and we are delighted to have given something of such value to the local community.  Working alongside the local community while building has been such a pleasure and has given us a greater insight into exactly who it will be benefiting.

School visits

Visiting the children at the Nursery school was quite an experience and they certainly kept us on our toes! The biggest challenge for us was to see just how many children were in one class, the teacher to student ratio seemed almost impossible to handle but nevertheless the teacher was superbly efficient at keeping them all engaged. We taught the alphabet and numbers in a fun and interactive way which instantly captured their attention.
We also visited the local secondary school, in which we were warmly welcomed by a chorus of song and smiling faces. I led a talk on the topic of anti-drugs and gender based violence, and how that correlates with human rights. It was very insightful to hear and discuss their thoughts and ideas on these matters. We also led a talk on public speaking and a debate which the students eagerly participated in.

Nutrition demonstration

Our most recent nutrition demonstration found us battling through the challenges of a smoky kitchen, blunt peeling knives and damp fire wood. However, despite all of this we are all so proud of our efforts as once again we managed to prepare some very delicious and nutritious food for 73 children and 60 mothers. We even had enough to share with some older, very malnourished children, which was very rewarding for us. This means the running total of children reached in our efforts to combat malnourishment and growth stunting is 320!
Having now completed 4 nutrition demonstrations in our time so far in Mushubati we have managed in total to feed over 320 children and their mothers within the Rutsiro district. As this is the 5th worst region in Rwanda for malnutrition and growth stunting, this work was paramount in combating these issues. It is quite an achievement that we have reached so many people and not only given them a balanced meal but also thoroughly educated mothers on the importance of balanced diets, the role of food groups, hygiene and sanitation, and health care for their children.

Cultural trip

An early rise brought the excitement of our cultural trip, our project partners KOPAKAMA staff accompanied us. Our first port of call was sightseeing the tea leaves hills that are infamous in this region. Further into our journey we visited the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Next, we paid a visit to the geothermic hot springs of Gisenyi known as Amashyuza.  This is one of only two zones in Rwanda where geothermic energy can be found. The average temperature of the water is 85 degrees Celsius, although some areas are at boiling point. It is thought that the water within this hot spring possesses medicinal qualities such as curing headaches, muscular pains and aiding blood flow in the veins. We ended our day with a visit to the famous beach of Gisenyi to watch the sunset over Lake Kivu, with the Congolese mountains in the background. It was truly breathtaking, and the perfect end to the perfect day.

The final weeks are looming over us and we are determined to make our remaining time the most successful yet. The coming weeks will bring new challenges, but we are ready for them as our team is stronger than ever. With only limited time remaining in Mushubati, Rutsiro District, we - as the final cohort - are very eager to leave a long-lasting, positive, impression upon the community and fulfil all our planned endeavours.

Monday, 11 June 2018

The Halfway Point.

United Nations Association International Service, Rwanda Cohort IV. Blog IV.
The Halfway Point.

  By Michael Lawrenson

Lake Kivu

We’re halfway into our placement and we are making steady progress initiating positive change in terms of human rights and sustainable development. Over the past few weeks the team has found a strong working dynamic, not only meeting but far exceeding the targets we set in week one. We are motivated by our position as the final Rutsiro team and all appreciate the responsibility we have to entrench our own successes, in addition to the work of the previous cohorts to ensure that the projects are truly sustainable. Our recent work has consisted of: expanding the capacity of our primary partner, KOPAKAMA Coffee Cooperative; focusing on nutrition through food demonstrations and the construction of community kitchen gardens; meeting coffee farmers to engage them in human rights workshops; spending our weekends working with street children to engage them in civic participation and teaching them the importance of education. Although this programme requires our attention seven days a week, the extremely rewarding nature of the work we are doing inspires our continued commitment.

The highlight of our recent work, in regards to expanding the capacity of KOPAKAMA Coffee Cooperative, was undoubtedly the visit from United Nations agencies World Food Programme (WFP) and The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The agencies work to achieve greater national and regional market access for smallholder farmers and meeting their representatives enlightened us to the challenges KOPAKAMA and the field of International Development faces. As an agricultural cooperative located in rural Rwanda, working with agencies such as WFP and IFAD is vital for improving KOPAKAMA’s efficiency and expanding their capacity. The significance of the visit was compounded by the presence of the mayor of Rutsiro district Emérence Ayinkamiye. We assisted KOPAKAMA staff in giving a warm welcome to their distinguished guests, performing part of the music we had been producing as part of our work on brand promotion. This is part of a continued effort to build upon the vital work KOPAKAMA’s partner companies, Misozi and Joint Marketing Initiative (JMI), do in promoting the brand internationally. I speak for the whole team in that by now we all feel affiliated to the cooperative, both in terms of the professional relationships we’ve made and our collective efforts advancing sustainable developments and human rights. 

Visit from WFP and IFAD

Concerning nutrition, we have continued our efforts towards tackling malnutrition which is prevalent in the Rutsiro area. As of this week we have built six community kitchen gardens which provide a sustainable means for local communities to provide themselves with a balanced diet. These gardens are complimented by separate food demonstrations which consist of providing model means to around one hundred beneficiaries. Each meal is perfectly balanced to demonstrate the correct portions of each food category. In addition to this, we lecture groups about the importance of nutrition particularly for their children, many of whom are malnourished. Their swollen bellies are a persistent reminder of the importance of our work.

Nutrition Demonstration
In terms of human rights, we have continued our focus on education, gender equality, domestic abuse, health, sanitation and medical insurance. We cover these factors through human rights workshops aimed at KOPAKAMA’s farmers. These are supported through handouts which are translated into both English and Kinyarwanda to enhance their educational value. The biggest issue we seem to come across, is a lack of awareness rather than a lack of willing; this is reflected by the positive responses we get from the cooperative’s farmers, who always relish opportunities to engage in activities which foster personal development.

Human Rights Session

We are also making steady progress with our weekend projects which predominantly focus on
working with street children through Rutsiro’s youth club. The main drive of our work is to engage the children in civic participation, giving them vital education regarding unpredicted pregnancies, drug consumption and the importance of staying in school. We have already succeeded in ensuring four of the youths are committed to full-time education; whilst this number may appear nominal, we have found great satisfaction in knowing that we have enabled four children, who would have otherwise spent a life on the streets, to fulfil their potential through the platform of education.

Community Health Worker overlooking Lake Kivu

Reflecting upon the past few weeks has been an extremely rewarding process considering the successes myself and the team have made. Although the next five weeks will undoubtedly be challenging with a plethora of projects still to complete, we relish the opportunity to continue working towards positive change. As the final cohort, we all accept our responsibility to ensure the sustainability of the Rutsiro projects and this fact will continue to motivate us to entrench our own successes, in addition to the work of the previous cohorts.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Big challenges, bigger results

United Nations Association International Service. Rwanda Cohort IV. Blog lll.
Big challenges, bigger results

By Ramona Roca & Gitego Kizito Samantha

What a busy and exciting week we have had;

v Nutrition demonstration
v Building a new drainage system
v Building toilets

We are here to give our support and contribution as volunteers and as part of the community (this is not a holiday indeed!)
The 4th week started in the best of ways - a delicious breakfast made by our host family which was composed of tea, fruits porridge and bread - we were ready to kick it!

The task everyone was most excited about was the Nutrition demonstration in the local district of Sure, Rutsiro, as malnutrition is one of the main issues for many families. We cooked meals for around 80 families, which consisted of carbohydrates (rice, potatoes), proteins (beans, boiled eggs, nuts), vegetables (spinach, carrots, peppers, egg plant) and fruits (bananas). The aim of this was to show local mothers what a balanced diet is. Half of our team (along with some of the local community) started by peeling and cutting vegetables, while the other half (the chefs) prepared porridge for the children. While the adventurous chefs - surrounded by smoke - were preparing the delicious lunch, we went to have a talk with the families about what a regular and balanced diet should be. We also gave some interesting tips; the importance of porridge for babies (contains many nutrients) and the restriction of avocadoes to pregnant woman and children under 2 years old as it contains fat components that are hard to break down.

Potatoes peeled by the volunteers
We challenged ourselves by doing things we are not used to (peeling with blunt knives, lighting stoves with firewood and ikibiriti (box matches) and preparing food for 80 people but in the end everything went well, everyone got served and it was a day well spent with those families and the whole team. The day was long and tiring however, it was very rewarding at the same time. Afterwards, we all enjoyed some Rwandan music with a cold Fanta Citron and the view of one thousand hills (literally). There was no time for chilling too much though as new challenges were waiting!

Balance diet lesson

Rainy season; such a big problem!
It lasts for an average of 5 months throughout the year, damages many things and in particular, it has damaged the main street of our village. One rainy night whilst walking home, we noticed that people couldn’t get home safely and were struggling to walk up the hill through the rocky wet street. So, eureka! An idea came to our mind - building a new drainage system (water channels)! We were very excited about the idea and we started interviewing the community straight away; we made a project brief ready to present it to the sector Leader.
Digging for the water drainage
On Monday morning we got an appointment with him; we were anxious, nervous, but positive and after 30 minutes in his office we could happily say that we had done it – he had accepted our plan so the work could start. The work started after one week, during Umuganda - where the community meets on the last Saturday of every month to voluntarily work fr a common need - we had our shovels ready and started to dig. An average of 70 people came together for our project, working for 6 hours under the hot sun but our/their passion was undeniable. Within three days the project was complete and the community was visibly happy and thankful for the change we had helped to make, they even rewarded us with a Fanta citron!
Community and volunteers on the final day
Our exciting week ended by building a toilet from the foundations up to the roof with our own hands. The toilet was for a lady called Nyirabahizi, who is a single mother with three children and who have been without a toilet for the past three years.  This gave us a real insight into true poverty, something that none of us were prepared for. We will never forget the look of happiness and how grateful Nyirabahizi was when we had finished; it was a fantastic way to end our busy week.
Stay tuned for next week’s blog!
Volunteers with the built toilet
Nyirabahizi with her new toilet

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Coffee to Kitchen Gardens

United Nations Association International Service. Rwanda Cohort IV. Blog II.
Coffee to Kitchen Gardens

By Jamie Tristram & Lucy Holmes

Week two of our Rutsiro adventure! We are now into the full swing of things and are getting use to the Rwandan way of life. Our mornings are kickstarted with a personal alarm clock from the cockerel’s, followed by a seven o’clock yoga class outside the office where we are rewarded with stunning views of Lake Kivu and the surrounding hills. The scenery never fails to amaze us and its clear to see why Rwanda is known as ‘The Land of a Thousand Hills’. We can’t think of a better way to start the day and are all hoping it will help to tackle the delicious yet carb heavy diet. It is then a walk home for a “nice” cold bucket shower (which is exactly as it sounds) before we head off to work.

Our alarm clock and morning view

Our work week started with a trip to the local Kopakama Coffee Dry Mill, designed to give us volunteers an insight into how Kopakama processes its beans. The first process is for the coffee beans to have their outer and inner shells removed before being separated according to grade and size. Once sorted, the beans are moved next door where a team of women, ranging from 200-700 (dependant upon demand) are waiting to sort the beans by hand – this is to ensure only the best quality is put forward. A small selection is taken to the testing room where the beans are roasted, ground, brewed and go through a tasting process similar to that of wine tasting. Upon being given the green light, the beans are shipped worldwide after which they are roasted in country. From seeing the beans on the trees through to tasting a freshly brewed cup, we all have a better understanding and insight into the coffee making process. The highlight of the trip was getting the chance to roast and grind our own coffee. However, neither of us like the taste of coffee (still working on that) and will therefore be bringing ours back to the UK for everyone else to taste our hard work!

Coffee roasting & Grinding                                                                Tasting our hard work            

Upon meeting the all-female sorting team at the Dry Mill, we spoke to one of the workers – Cyimpaye Liberetha. (Pictured below) Despite our best efforts at speaking Kinyarwanda –  Mwaramutse (good morning) and Mwiriwe (good afternoon) - did not quite suffice in holding a conversation. Luckily, our helpful team leader - Donald - was on hand to help translate. Cyimpaye told us how working for a fair-trade cooperative (Kopakama) has benefitted her in many ways. She has a strong and stable wage and is able to provide her family with health insurance, give her two children a decent education and even save some money for the future. She loves working with the beans and is excited to start working with Organic coffee, as Kopakama is currently going through the process of being certified as Organic. Working amongst the smell of fresh coffee is an added bonus and Cyimpaye loves the odd cheeky coffee.

Meeting Cyimpaye at the Coffee Dry Mill

We got our hands dirty on Tuesday and Thursday by starting our project of building kitchen gardens for the local community. Kitchen gardens are simply made from sacks, soil, manure and seeds, however, don’t let that deceive you; they require hard manual labour from the whole team. The kitchen gardens we build will help the community fight malnutrition by providing families with the means of a balanced diet. Our morale and determination was increased when the local community - who will directly benefit - came along to give a helping hand. We are now more determined than ever to build as many as we can in the coming weeks. Team Rutsiro really came together by the end of the day. It was great to see that by Thursday we had perfected our building technique having reduced the time taken to build from four hours down to just two.

First Kitchen garden down, many more to go!

Keep your eyes peeled for our blog next week to keep updated with our adventures!

Friday, 11 May 2018

Kigali to Rutsiro. The Final Cohort.

United Nations Association International Service. Rwanda Cohort IV.

By Michael Lawrenson and Bertrand Kwibuka.

The Land of a Thousand Hills.

We’ve finally made it to Rwanda, ‘The Land of a Thousand Hills’, after a gruelling 17 hour journey which felt like it lasted a lifetime. The downsides of the journey, however, were quickly forgotten as the pleasant climate and beautiful rolling hills of Kigali more than made up for the lengthy journey. The city is a sprawling mass of energy which extends as far as the eye can see across a picturesque, undulating landscape. Kigali is undoubtedly the greenest city any of us have experienced which is reflective of the progressive environmental policies that would put many more ‘developed’ nations to shame. A government ban on plastic bags in addition to strict litter fines means that the streets are spotless; a designated ‘car free day’ occurs twice a month which encourages citizens to walk or cycle to their destinations; what we found most impressive, though, was Kigali’s commitment to tree planting throughout the capital which accounts for its ubiquitous green character.                                    

We soon joined the In Country Volunteers that we would be working with for the next 10-weeks. After a few pleasant days in Kigali which consisted of In-Country Orientation, meeting our respective counterparts and enjoying a plethora of Rwandan cuisine, it was time to depart to our respective placements. Kigali was an absolute pleasure. We were sad to leave the capital and our friends heading to the alternative placement in Huye; however, the project training and the experiences we had there made the Rutsiro team even more excited to start working towards positive change.

Cohort IV, Rutsiro Team.

Upon arrival at our host homes, we were welcomed by a warm embrace from our host parents, a charming Rwandan welcome which embodied the excellent hospitality typical of Rwandan culture. The warm welcome was complimented by authentic Rwandan dishes, which for all of us demonstrated the joy the families felt in hosting us.

In the morning, the whole village woke to the sound of roosters which was an appropriate reminder of our rural setting. Parting our bedroom curtains revealed an incredible view of Lake Kivu which spans the length of the country. After a typical Rwandan breakfast organised by our host parents, we were ready to take on the challenges of the day. The next action was to put on our ICS T-shirts which are appropriately labelled ‘Challenge yourself to change the world’. The quote is an inspiring reminder for the team that we all set out on the same journey to empower positive change. 

Our place of work was atop one of Rwanda’s many hills and the first challenge was the uphill walk to the office. KOPAKAMA (Coffee Production Cooperative) is going to be our main working partner and we were rewarded with an enlightening tour of the coffee farm. This, coupled with the morning commute to the top of the hill where the farm is situated, energised the team who were all keen to start work as soon as possible. After the tour, we met the KOPAKAMA staff who highlighted the different projects we would be cooperating with them on; human rights, sustainable development, civic participation, health and nutrition, livelihoods and environmental management.

KOPAKAMA Coffee Cooperative overlooking Lake Kivu.

After work, we headed to one of the host homes for some evening entertainment, which consisted of coffee and live music, as well as reflections on the work that lay ahead. The next day, after planning our schedule for the next 9 weeks, we had a chance to walk to the KIRURI waterfall set in the beautiful rolling hills of Rutsiro. This was not only extremely rewarding in terms of experiencing the picturesque landscape firsthand, it also gave us the opportunity to examine the environmental issues prevalent in Rutsiro District. This gave us a chance to research potential solutions to the ever present threat of landslides and flooding, which are common during the rainy season.

One Team.

We will keep you up to date with our progress and the changes we are making in Rutsiro district over the next 9 weeks. We are an ambitious team, hoping to make positive changes to Kopakama and the surrounding areas. Keep your eyes on our blog!