Nov 8

This is my first foray into the world of blogging. And while I certainly don’t have the ability to express myself as eloquently as the journalism students here, I hope that I can provide some interesting insights nonetheless.

 

It surprised me to find that no other interns have written extensively about Umuganda, which I find such a useful, albeit not a recent, phenomenon that is contributing to rebuilding the country. Essntially, Umuganda is obligatory community service that occurs the morning of the last Saturday of each month. Because Rwanda is such a highly organized society (5 provinces devided down a couple of times, ending in “cells” which contain, what I understand to be, about 20 households).

 

 On those Saturday mornings, from 8h00 until just before noon, public life basically comes to a complete halt. Looking out at the city, not a single bus, car or moto can be seen, businesses are closed and the capital of a million people can look entirely deserted. This is because it is basically illegal not to participate. Individuals working in the tourism and security sectors are exempt from this rule, to ensure to physical and economic well-being of the country. Foreign residents are also exempt from the community service. Some typical activities include planting trees, building schools and cleaning the streets.

The last weekend of September - our first exposure to Umuganda - the mandatory community service presented itself as inconvenience to us. Since everyone participates, and everyone knows when it happens, no publicity is needed. Having only been reminded about Umuganda the day before our planned trip to l’Espérance Orphanage, one hour outside of Kibuye on Lake Kivu, we had to arrange our plans accordingly.

So much for an early start.

But this month, I decided to see if I could participate. I dragged myself out of bed last Saturday morning, still working to convince myself that this early morning labouring was a good idea.

Christelle, our day security guard who converses well in French, advised me that I needed to bring some kind of tool with me. I’m not sure why this hadn’t previously occurred to me. She pointed to a type of machete ending with a curved blade, which is used to “cut,” or rather slice at, grass.

“Coupe-coupe.”

I was definitely not initially unexcited about wielding a tool with such a negative connotation, at least in the minds of many foreigners, reflecting on the weapon that mercilessly killed so many fifteen years ago in Rwanda.

I asked her if we had any other tools around the house. She started walking to the side of the house, and I obediently followed suit, eager to find a more docile alternative.

She pulled out giant pruning shears. I liked this option better. So I left our house with machete and shears in hand, looking for someone to ask about what I could do to help.

After introducing myself to a group of men next door, I asked if they knew who I could talk to about working. They tell me to wait, so I stand with them as they also wait for the administrator of the area - who assigns tasks - to make his rounds. After about ten minutes, a friendly-looking older man wearing large black rubber boots came over to inform us that this Umuganda would involve doing work around our own house.

Great. The one time I can participate and I can’t have the “full” Umuganda experience of working together as a community.

There are four men still with me, and together they have one shovel. Needless to say there was ample supervision of our work. I showed them my tools and they showed my how to cut branches from the tree between our two properties.

I soon realized that academic smarts don’t really translate well into domestic skills. But I managed to wield the shears, sweep the cut brush underneath the hanging branches, and use the shovel to remove weeds from the area. By this time I had become quite the attraction.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself and feeling more energized despite my (relatively) early start. About two hours in, the men informed me that it was time for a beer.

While that ended my spontaneous Umuganda lesson, I still wanted to complete the morning by doing something to clean around our house. With Christelle’s help perfecting my technique, I successfully “cut” a patch of grass in our backyard with the coupe-coupe. There really was something satisfying about slashing away and watching the blades of grass fly out in every direction. After about half an hour, I decided to call it a day.

Reflecting on the day, it seems clear that Umuganda contributes to a sense of community and shared responsibility that is not found anywhere in North America or Europe.

And while I suppose I didn’t get the full Umuganda experience, I did meet some interesting people, learned some domestic skills and I feel like I gained a little more understanding about what makes Rwanda tick.Showing the grass who's boss


Oct 15

For the three interns currently in Kigali, we’ve had the chance to experience something the summer interns never witnessed: Rwanda’s rainy season.

Actually, Rwanda has two rainy seasons. The shorter one, the one we’re currently undergoing, lasts for just October and November — though we had a couple impressive storms in September. This is followed by a dry season, before the real rain comes in February or March.

The rainy season is usually not a big deal for Rwandans; it’s just part of life here. This year, however, El Nino has brought stronger rains than is usually expected, and suddenly the rain is a subject of conversation (or at least that’s the case in my newsroom.)

That’s of course because heavy rains can lead to flooding. From what I understand, the government has set up a special task force for helping people cope with heavy rains and flooding. The Northern province is expected to be hit especially hard.

But apart from the serious consequences, the rainy season has been on my mind for another reason. That’s because when the skies open up and offer their daily rainshower, life in Kigali comes to a standstill. If you’re outside you seek shelter. If you’re inside, you stay put. Have a meeting across town? Consider it cancelled, or at least postponed.

I mentioned this phenomenon to a friend in Winnipeg, whose husband grew up in Nicaragua. “They don’t stop for rain during their rainy season!” she laughed.

Now I was really curious.

About a week ago,while waiting for an interview, I struck up a conversation with the receptionist. When I told her I was from Canada, she hugged her arms to her chest, indicating it was too cold for her.This lead to a discussion on weather, and I brought up my observation about the rain and people’s reluctance to move.

In her opinion, it’s a matter of transportation. The most popular (and cheapest) way of getting around is by bus (and by bus, I mean passenger vans). While there are buses traveling all around Kigali, the routes are not as intricate as they would be in Canada — usually you still have to walk a while to get to your destination, unless you live on a main road, and while walking you will likely get soaked. Buses still run, technically, they’re just sort of void of passengers when it’s raining.

Another popular form of transportation is motorcycle taxis (we just call them motos). If you’re on a moto and it starts raining, you’re going to get wet and probably charged more than the price you originally agreed. If it’s already raining, good luck convincing a moto driver to take you anywhere. (I’ve tried).

That answered part of my question, but I still didn’t understand why people were so averse to getting wet. The receptionist had two suggestions.

First, appearances are very important in Kigali. People take huge pride in their clothing and accessories (I’ve noticed more than one person glaring disapprovingly at my shoes). Getting wet can look unprofessional, she said, so people avoid it.

But for me, her more convincing answer was that getting wet just isn’t worth it. Time means something different in Rwanda than it does in Canada. People move slowly here: this isn’t a criticism, just a fact. People walk at a very casual pace  to avoid getting heat exhaustion. And if you say you’re going to meet your friends at 8 p.m. that should be considered a negotiable deadline. Everything will get done in its own time; that seems to be the general consensus.

So, the receptionist asked me, why bother getting wet — and then maybe cold, or sick — for the sake of arriving somewhere on time? I though back to rainstorm s in Canada, people rushing to their destinations with umbrellas firmly in hand, the hems of their pants darkening as they dip into the puddles in the street; the miserable feeling of arriving home with damp clothing and desperately needing a cup of tea. I honestly didn’t know what to say.

And to be honest, for someone like me who is always so highstrung and anxious, sometimes it’s good to be forced to take a breath, sit back, and wait for the end of the storm.


Sep 21

 

andreanne_blog Andréanne Baribeau

In an attempt to curb the abusive and expensive use of pesticides in Musanze, potato farmers are taking part in a new agricultural program, recently introduced in Rwanda. These farmers are learning the “Integrated Pest Management” techniques through hands-on workshops that take place right in the fields.

I met some of these farmers and prepared this documentary (in French), which was broadcasted on Radio 10 in Rwanda a few weeks ago.


Sep 4

 

wanda_blog Wanda O’Brien

From the idea to the final story. Read about my adventure navigating Kigali with a link to the final article below.

It started, as all articles do, with a story idea and it ended with me not only learning more about a subject, but getting more geographically acquainted with Kigali as well.

Thursday morning – exactly one week into my internship. I have a few stories on the go, am waiting for contacts to call me back, and am setting up interviews for the following day and next week. But what about today? No one seems able to meet with me today thus far and I’m itching to get out and talk to people. One of the challenges of working in a new environment is being able to identify what is newsworthy in a place you’re just getting to know. Hence I’m sitting at my computer fishing for ideas. I have two press releases for different conferences open. I’ve called both and have yet to hear back. One meeting is taking place outside of Kigali, but the second one is at some hotel called the Sportsview…

One of the die-hard rules of j-school is that conference journalism is a huge negative. The event isn`t news, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find a good story. I call again. The Great Lakes Initiative on AIDS (GLIA) has organized the conference and representatives from six countries are meeting during the week in the last of a series of workshops spanning two years. During each conference one of the six countries hosts the delegates. Rwanda was the final stop.

Someone picks up. “Hi there, my name is Wanda and I’m working for the Rwanda News Agency.” The group is going on a field visit this afternoon to a truck stop. Sorry, a truck stop?

“Could I join?” No problem.

The field trip is in the afternoon and is leaving from a hotel in eastern Kigali. Around midday I get directions on which bus to take to the Remera area and then to tell a moto driver the hotel’s name, since I don’t know where it is.

I’m standing at the edge of a bus shelter. A woman who speaks limited English points at my face and the sun and gestures for me to come into the shade. “UV rays,” she tells me. I sit down beside her.

Shortly thereafter a bus pulls up and determining it’s going to Remera I clamber in, sans nice lady I was sitting beside.

I arrived in Remera without incident. There were several motos waiting at the bus stop. I walked straight past them. I can find this place myself, I reasoned, I’m tired of depending on moto drivers. I walk. I cross a street. I ask someone.

“Do you know where the Sportsview is? A hotel? Sportsview?”

I ask multiple someones. I cross another street. I cross back. “Sportsview?” I walk down a different street. “Hotel?”

A man hears my enquiry.

“Where are you going?”

“I want to go to the Sportview Hotel. Do you know which way?”

“I’ll get you a moto,” he says. At least I tried?

He kindly tells me to wait so he can fix the price with the moto driver as my presence entails an automatic barter session.

Price settled, the moto driver hands me my helmet and just before I put it on a group of giggling school girls pass behind me and one gently squeezes the bun at the back of my head. They giggle walking away. I laugh at their giggling and the fact that someone just honked my hair like a clown’s nose.

Seven moto minutes later I’m dropped off at the Sportsview. Thank my driver kindly. Made it. I walk in and go to the reception desk.

“Hi, I’m here for the GLIA conference, Great Lakes Initiative on Aids. Do you know where that is?”

A blank stare. Not the best sign. I explain who I’m looking to speak with and drop the name I was told.

“I’ll show you,” the receptionist tells me. We walk through a dining room, down stairs, past a pool. He points inside a room and leaves me. I enter.

Two men are sitting at a table. This does not look like a conference. I inquire if one of them is who I’m looking for. Both have no idea. But there’s some type of conference happening in the room on the other side of the pool. Did I try there?

Again, thank kindly, this time with apologizes for disturbing. Cross the courtyard. Enter said room. Many people. I see recorders. I see notepads. There are interviews going on all around me. Sigh of relief.

A man approaches me. “Can I help you?”

I tell the man who I’m looking for. Don’t I mean someone with the same last name, different first name? No, unless I’m mistaken. This is the Great Lakes Initiative conference, right?

No, no it’s not. Back to the drawing board, or rather diving board, as I pass the pool again, retracing my steps by the room with the two men. I peer in, now there are three. So sorry, I say, but that wasn’t the conference I was looking for. No idea where the GLIA one is?

No idea.

Right, thanks.

I hang around. Rock on my toes. Decide to explore the hotel. Up stairs. Down a hallway. A meeting room with voices. The door is open. I peer through the doorway. Is that creepy?

There are hand-written posters on the wall. A few dozen people are standing in a crowded circle and seem to be sorting out ideas. I hear what I think is Swahili, and Kinyirwanda, and English and French. I walk in. I stand, hands behind my back, backpack on, smiling awkwardly, looking for a person not involved in the circle. Ah, someone sees me.

“Is this the GLIA conference?”

“Yes.”

I’m told what the discussion is about. I learn about what is happening that day, what’s been happening all week, and what’s been going on for the past two years.

And it’s “no problem” for me to join the field trip to the truck centre. Off to another sector of Kigali.

Countering HIV/Aids using those most at risk

Safe Stops are places where truck drivers can park their trucks and find some R & R, along with a testing facility for HIV

Safe Stops are places where truck drivers can park their trucks and find some R & R, along with a testing facility for HIV

By Wanda O’Brien
Friday, 17 July 2009
Kigali: A truck stop in Gikondo-MAGERWA, suburb of Kigali, was transformed into a discussion forum on HIV/AIDS this week. Truck drivers, sex workers, and members from the community exchanged ideas with HIV/AIDS representatives from across the great lakes region.

 

To read the rest of the story click on the headline above.

Representatives from the HIV community in six East African countries visited the Safe Stop to exchage ideas with people at the centre.

Representatives from the HIV community in six East African countries visited the Safe Stop to exchage ideas with people at the centre.

The centre oversees a truck yard where drivers can park. But not only drivers use the centre. Out of roughly 100 people filtering through daily, 40 are drivers.

The centre oversees a truck yard where drivers can park. But not only drivers use the centre. Out of roughly 100 people filtering through daily, 40 are drivers.

The truck stop is a centre that provides testing for sexual transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, education on the subject, condoms, and shower facilities. It also provides recreational activities, such as a pool table and movies.

The truck stop is a centre that provides testing for sexual transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, education on the subject, condoms, and shower facilities. It also provides recreational activities, such as a pool table and movies.


Sep 1

 

yolande_blog Yolande Cole

The moto‘s engine cuts out on the gravelly slope we are traveling from Kibuye, and in the sudden silence all that’s left are the velvety green fields of banana plants, the startling blue of Lake Kivu and the dusty, windy path we are coasting down.

After a summer in Kigali, I’m so used to the constant soundtrack of the motorcycle hum that I’m taken aback by this moment of muted travel. I lift up my scratched visor, realizing that I’ve also spent the last few weeks observing a city through the dusty film of a clunky green helmet.

After leaving Rwanda, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about the things that I will miss about living in Kigali. Zipping around this modern East African city on a motorcycle is one of them.

As our main mode of transportation, most of us Rwanda Initiative interns became accustomed to the daily drone of these two-wheeled taxi engines. To get around town, we would flag down a passing green or blue-vested driver, agree on a price and climb on, sporting the styling green helmet that passengers are required to wear. We’d then zoom towards our destination, humming around immacutely-paved roundabouts, passing florescent-vested traffic cops, and buzzing by the zebra-marked crosswalks in the downtown.

Thanks to strictly enforced traffic regulations and the excellent quality of the major roads, the transportation system of Kigali is very well-developed. While some moto rides made me hold on a little tighter, I felt a lot safer traveling around this city than in some of the other East African cities I passed through on my way to Rwanda.

Kigali roundabout

In Kampala, my motorcycle taxi rides involved terrifying dips into person-sized craters, constant weaving through oncoming and exhaust-spitting traffic, and drivers with a penchant to drive really, really fast.

So in Kigali, the newly paved roads, helmets, law-abiding moto drivers and pedestrian-yielding traffic came as a pretty nice surprise. It’s just one aspect of this city that is strikingly modern and developed.

The impressive quality of the roads also makes bus travel outside the city pretty simple, apart from all those hilly highways. As soon as I crossed the border into Rwanda, I immediately noticed both the absence of pothole-ridden highways and the more moderate speed at which the bus was traveling.

On a bus headed from Kampala up to northern Uganda a few weeks ago, my friend and I sat sandwiched next to a local woman as we waited for the bus to depart. We were feeling nervous about the ride after hearing dubious reports of bus journeys in the region. Our seat companion soon assured us that not to worry, the buses were driven “recklessly, but steady.”

After providing us with these comforting words, she proceeded to load a week’s worth of shopping into our already crowded bus bench. Items she bought or considered purchasing from lurking vendors included two loaves of bread, a soccer ball and a stack of cotton underwear. By the end of the journey, she had bananas, meat sticks and a bushel of large bulbous mushrooms protruding from her handbag. It was more amusing than unsafe – we got to our destination just fine. But the reputation of some bus drivers was enough to make us nervous.

In Rwanda, about the worst reputation the drivers seem to have is of cranking the music to unreasonable and somewhat deafening volumes. For the most part, things don’t seem to run that much differently from back in Canada. Except all the bus passengers are speaking Kinyarwanda, the driver sometimes stops for a wheel of cheese at the local fromaggier, and the radio’s blasting the Rwandan call-in show of the hour.

There’s also a whole lot less personal space. But this isn’t such a bad thing. Bus journeys almost always spark interesting conversations between us and our seat neighbours, who are welcoming and curious to know why a group of Canadians are living in Kigali.

Coasting down the hill towards an orphanage we are visiting south of Kibuye, looking at the seemingly endless hills jut like teeth into the lake, it strikes me that the journeys have been one of the best parts of my internship in Rwanda. Whether it’s starting up conversations with friendly strangers on long distance buses, or accidental adventures on our daily motorcycle commutes around the city, I will miss these moments of travel through the very suitably-pseudonymed “Pays de Milles Collines”.

And after crossing the border to neighbouring roads, I’m definitely gripping on a little tighter.


Aug 28

 

chloe_blog Chloé Fedio

With a 20kg sack balanced on her head, Juliene Njirantibankundiye walks 4km up and down Rwanda’s hilly countryside to deliver her freshly-picked coffee cherries to the washing station in Rushashi. She’s part of the Abakundakawa cooperative, an organization of 1700 smallholder coffee farmers established in 2004. The cooperative produces some of Rwanda’s foremost coffee in the country’s growing specialty coffee market.

Juliene Njirantibankundiye weighs her bag of cherries after sorting out the ones with defects. It comes in at 20 kilos.

Juliene Njirantibankundiye weighs her bag of cherries after sorting out the ones with defects. It comes in at 20 kilos.

Less than a decade ago, most farmers worked independently and processed their coffee at home. Their beans were only semi-washed and not attractive to the international market. But a movement sponsored by the Rwandan government and a host of international organizations has helped organize farmers into cooperatives, giving them access to loans to buy equipment to better process their coffee. The number of washing stations in the country has exploded. Together, farmers are refining how they sort, wash and dry their coffee, creating a higher quality product that they sell in larger quantities to international buyers.

But while coffee washing stations help improve the quality of coffee, farmers are still faced with a tremendous amount of work. And with so many steps from crop to cup, it’s not a foolproof system. It takes a minimum of three years before an Arabica coffee tree — the variety grown in Rwanda — will produce its first batch of cherries. Most farmers, like Njirantibankundiye, have to travel several kilometres to reach a washing station, either carrying the sack of cherries on their heads or strapping it to a bicycle. If the cherries are not processed the same day that they are picked, the quality of the coffee produced goes down.

Once at the station, the cherries are sorted by hand. Those with defects are picked out. They are considered low-grade and sold in local markets for next to nothing. The best cherries are soaked in giant vats and sorted again. Those that float to the top are picked out, while those that sink to the bottom are passed through a de-pulping machine. Each cherry gives two beans.

coffee-treesortingtossing

The beans are then washed and fermented to bring out the flavours. Finally they are dried on giant outdoor racks, which can take up to 15 days depending on the humidity in the air. The beans are separated into lots, based on the day they were processed at the station. At this point they are white — still covered with parchment.

Even after all that work, it’s not guaranteed that the coffee will be sold in the specialty market. A sample of each lot is sent to cuppers for quality testing. They remove the parchment revealing the green bean. Defective beans are removed and the rest are sorted by size to ensure consistent roasting. Roasted beans from each lot are measured evenly into at least three cups and then ground.

The aroma test is done in two parts: first the dry grounds, then the wet grounds. There are 700 discernable aromas in coffee. Chocolate, nut, fruit and floral aromas are some of the best while potato, earth and metal are some of the worst.

After the dry aroma test, boiling water is added. The grinds rise to the top of the cup, forming a thick crust. The crust is broken with a spoon, and cuppers slurp the coffee — sucking in as much air as possible along with it to bring out the flavours. The entire process is graded on a sheet and the final marks are calculated. The grade each lot receives helps determine its price — or in some cases if it’s even good enough to be considered specialty coffee.

Aleco Chigounis is a coffee buyer from the Portland-based Stumptown. While some buyers rely on local cuppers, Chigounis takes part in the process before making any purchase.

Aleco Chigounis is a coffee buyer from the Portland-based Stumptown. While some buyers rely on local cuppers, Chigounis takes part in the process before making any purchase.

Coffee production is a detailed and lengthy process. But it’s easy to take for granted when you’re living in a city with a coffee shop on almost every corner. During a visit with some cuppers in Maraba, I met Aleco Chigounis, an American coffee buyer for Stumptown. He told me he didn’t really appreciate the complexity of the coffee industry until he worked at a coffee plantation in Costa Rica in his college years.

“That really changed my perception of what exactly it takes to create and outstanding cup of coffee and how many hands touch your coffee before you get it in your cup,” he said. “There’s literally a story in every cup of coffee.”


Aug 20

 

adam_blog Adam Chen

As I walk down the driveway of the Kigali Memorial Centre (where I am currently doing my internship) alongside my friend and fellow coworker Serge, I immediately begin to think to myself — why are we holding hands?

A second thought runs through my mind — why shouldn’t we?

We linger at the entrance to my office for a few seconds, still clasping one another’s fingers. He wishes me a good morning at work as he heads down to the centre to start his day (He works as a tour guide for the centre). I pause to think a bit about what just happened, then snap back to reality and continue on with my workday.

Before any whistleblowers begin to cry out “I knew it!”, I assure you all that no inner closet of mine has been breached. Rather, it seems my relaxed and easy-going demeanor has encouraged Rwandan male friends and coworkers to exhibit physical acts of affection towards me.

In Rwanda, as in many other non-American countries, affection between males is not limited to back-patting and high fives. Indeed, as I have experienced so far in my month and a half in Africa, gentle touching, hand holding, and whole-hearted embrace are also conventional gestures of friendship.

I’m sure many would agree that in a North American context, men holding hands in public might indicate the presence of a homosexual relationship or just plain mockery. One begins to wonder why this mentality has not yet been adopted by Rwandans, a people who often consume American pop culture and music.

In a conversation between myself, fellow RI Intern Amy Dempsey and another good friend of mine from Rwanda (who asked not to be named), I began to find some insight into the situation. According to my friend, homosexuality is a very taboo subject in this highly Christian society. In fact, its existence is often flat-out denied. For many, including homosexuals themselves, homosexuality is beyond comprehension. Homosexual men here usually marry and have families, forcing them to develop their same-sex relationships in highly secret liaisons. It is therefore not surprising that the concept of homosexuality does not figure in the minds of men here when they engage in physical acts of affection and comraderie.

When Amy began to discuss the issue of bringing up homosexuality in Rwanda, our Rwandan friend told us to exercise extreme caution. He predicted that public responses are often highly negative, possibly even violent. He explained that now was not the time in Rwanda, or even in Africa, to worry about these types of social movements. The challenges faced by Rwanda today include corruption, poverty, economic development, and disease-prevention, just to name a few. The last thing needed is a potentially polarizing emergence of gay-rights issues in public discourse.

However, the women’s movement in Rwanda stands in high contrast with this mentality. Rwanda recently held a conference for group of female politicians from Sierra Leone, who came to learn why the majority of elected officials in the Rwandan parliament are women. I predict it has something to do with the constitutional requirement for at least 30% of decision making positions be held by females. Thus, this particular movement gained momentum despite the economic, political, and cultural barriers it faced.

I understand the sensitivity and contrasting views on the topic of homosexuality, and it’s place in society, even in Canada. It is not a question of when Rwanda will join Canada in the legalization of same-sex marriage. It’s a question of when is the appropriate time to begin acknowledging it’s existence, and for civil society to take it up as an issue to be debated.

Simply, when and how does homosexuality enter into reality?


Aug 15

 

yolande_blog Yolande Cole

The five hundred dollars, the hour-long scramble through stinging nettle, sinking brush and sharp branches, and the 4 a.m. wake up call were all completely worth it for the moment when we sat two metres away from Guhonda, the silverback of the Sabyinyo gorilla tribe.

The animal sat silently, staring directly into our camera lenses as our guide called out in gorilla language to the burly animal. In between the shutter clicks and elbows clambering for the best photo op spot, the sense of awe at being so close to the creature was palpable.

It’s this kind of moment that prompts 14,000 visitors a year to fork out hundreds of dollars to visit this lush green national park made famous in part by Dian Fossey’s Gorillas in the Mist.

Guhonda

But while most tourists experience this brief encounter with their genetic cousins, many do not stick around the country to see what else the Land of a Thousand Hills has to offer.

This is what is driving the Rwanda government and several tour agencies to launch community-based tourism projects in the Volcanoes National Park region, and across the country, to entice visitors to spend more time and money in Rwanda. For example, the park employs former poachers as porters to carry backpacks for hikers. In exchange for employment, the porters are educated in conservation practices and encouraged to help protect the park from potential poachers.

Several tour companies in Rwanda are now operating on the model of responsible or community-based tourism, which encourages locals to use their traditional skills to build sustainable businesses. It’s seen as a way to give back to the residents who call these natural areas home, and to encourage environmental conservation on the part of the people who live around the national parks.

As part of this recent story for Rwanda Focus newspaper on the community tourism trend, I visited two cultural villages at the foot of the Virunga Mountains and learned about the friendly, welcoming and talented people involved in some of these projects.

Here are a few photos that I took during my visit.

Leonidas Barora

Charismatic Leonidas Barora was a gorilla poacher in Volcanoes National Park until two years ago. Now he teaches community members and visitors traditional dancing and archery at Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village, run by Eco-Tours.

Dancers

The cultural village, located at the foot of Mount Sabyinyo, employs local community members to provide dancing, drumming, traditional healing and other cultural demonstrations to visitors.
Drummers

Dancer, cultural village

The Kinigi Cultural Village, also located just below Mount Sabyinyo, has only been operating as a community tourism project for about a year. When we arrived, they hadn’t seen visitors in a few months, but the locals were very friendly. After welcoming us to their community with music and dance, some of them told us about growing up in the forest and what their lives are like in the village.

Kinigi Cultural Village

Through their share of government-allocated tourism revenues, the community has been able to make some basic repairs to their homes, buy animals and improve health, education and water facilities.

Now they are hoping that by sharing their traditional culture with visitors, their community will continue to grow.

Song, Kinigi Cultural Village


Aug 12

 

chloe_blog Chloé Fedio

I found a little piece of my hometown in Rwanda today.

Ubuntu Edmonton is a non-profit organization that operates in Kimironko, a community on the outskirts of Kigali. It supports orphans, widows and their children in the Umudugudu Imena, a settlement established by the government for those left homeless or displaced by the genocide.

centre-cesar

The Centre César is a community centre for the 750 people that live in the neighbourhood. It has a food bank and clinic, but it is also a place of work for 60 seamstresses and artisans. Their products are sold online, and in some shops in Edmonton and Montreal.

claudine

Claudine Mushimiyimana is one of 19 seamstresses employed by Ubuntu Edmonton. The seamstresses receive a weekly salary while the artisans are paid based on the sales of their crafts.

scrubs

The seamstresses make a variety of items, including scrubs for nurses.

The organization also runs a day care just down the hill from the community centre. A group of 31 kids, aged 2 to 6, attend. I visited them over lunch. Despite the distraction of food, their eyes lit up when I started taking pictures. Some were more interested in performing for the camera than others.

kid-1

kid-2

kid-3


Aug 11

 

zahra_blog Laxmi Parthasarathy

As I was driven further away from the centre of town to an area of Kigali called Ndera I heard the swooshing noise of landing airplanes become louder. The car pulled up to two large white gates which read Les Enfant De Dieu and the noise disappeared into the hills as the gates opened.

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This not-for-profit orphanage currently supports 120 boys between the ages of 5 and 15 that would otherwise be living on the streets of Kigali. Although the orphanage uses the word God in its name it is a secular organization that encourages the exploration of every religion. In fact, the only pledge these boys have to take before coming to the orphanage is to promise that they will attend school. The centre helps the boys transition from the streets into a public school system by beginning their studies at the orphanage.

I was greeted by a tall and slim young man wearing a baseball hat who introduced himself as Noel, the weekend social worker. Noel took me on a tour of the grounds and explained the structure of the centre and its strategy for rehabilitation and reintegration.

Noel- the weekend social worker at Les Enfant De Dieu

Noel- the weekend social worker at Les Enfant De Dieu

As we walked toward a fish pond hearing children giggle out a “bonjour” and “hello” Noel began the tour. He explained that the orphanage has an exemplary system in place that others should follow. The association is partially self-sufficient – it owns its own property, dozens of goats, hens, rabbits, a pond for fishing and a water pump; however the orphanage still relies on its donors for beds, school fees, health insurance and other necessities.

”We realized that the boys needed mosquito nets on their beds to prevent Malaria so we sold one of our goats to purchase them,” explained Noel. 

Noel in the dormitory.

Noel in the dormitory.

We went from the large pond to the on site kitchen, infirmary, and dormitory. The dormitory is full of bunk beds lined in two orderly rows and fitted with the mosquito nets that their goat was able to provide

Hidden at the back of this massive stretch of land is a large basketball court and soccer field. Here we ran into Yomar, the Minister of Administration. Carrying a pad of paper and pen, whistle firmly hung around his neck, Yomar explained that he had a soccer game to organize that evening. His stern and responsible eyes told me that we were holding him and he had to be on his way.

Yomar- Minister of Administration.

Yomar- Minister of Administration.

 
Les Enfant Des Dieu has implemented a system of ministers. The boys must elect one of their peers to represent their concerns to the staff. Each minister deals with matters associated with a specific portfolio such as health care, administration, recreation and education. Yomar explained that election time at the orphanage is quite bustling as the boys must prove that they are responsible. Noel added that it is an opportunity to give the boys some responsibility and to include them in all aspects of decision making in their home.

As we walked back toward the main office the sound of stomping, cheering and yelling caught our attention. We were lead to a small multi-purpose room used for holding meetings and eating meals. There I saw a group of boys being directed by a man from a Rwandan dance company in traditional Intore dancing. They were swinging wooden spears and shields, jumping, squatting, and yelling out words in Kinyarwanda. One young boy in red kept looking back at my camera with a smile from ear to ear as he waved his spear and stomped his over sized, blue flip flops harder to impress his audience.

Intore dance class in the multi-purpose room.

Intore dance class in the multi-purpose room.

The dancing stopped as everyone hurried over to the next set of lessons. They all lined up in front of traditional Intore drums and waited for the signal. The swing of each stick hit their drums in synchronicity while other boys gathered to listen.

The instructor from an Intore dance school teaching the boys to drum.

The instructor from an Intore dance school teaching the boys to drum.

While the lessons continued I was introduced to a boy who said his name was Usman but that I should call him Chris Brown (also the name of a popular, but controversial hip hop singer). Not only was he wearing a shirt that read Chris Brown, but he was prepared to perform. Everyone gathered around as they watched the crazy muzungu (foreigner) sway and dance to his rendition of “With you”.

Usman Ibrahim- A.K.A Chris Brown.

Usman Ibrahim- A.K.A Chris Brown.

As I cheered for Chris Brown to sing another song, another boy approached the circle. 15-year-old Joshua has been living at Les Enfant De Dieu for the past five years. When I asked him what his thoughts were about Les Enfant De Dieu, his bright eyes glistened as he stood up tall and announced “ I’m so happy to be living here…we go to school everyday, sometimes we play foot ball, and I have so many friends. It is a really nice home.”

15-year-old Joshua.

15-year-old Joshua has been living at Les Enfant De Dieu for five years.

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