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.
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!