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.

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