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.

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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.

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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.


Aug 6

 

ben_blog Ben Koring

The 40 minute jeep ride from downtown Kigali, the last 20 being on a nauseating dirt road, was only the start of a wild two week experience that changed my life forever. My Father, Julius, and I were driven to a small orphanage by Jotham, a lawyer and pastor who had founded the NGO, Hope for the Future, HOFF, an organization to get homeless boys off the streets and set them on a path for a better life. He took us to his three month old organization to determine whether It was a good fit for me to teach and spend time with the boys over the course of the next two weeks.

The little hut surrounded with banana trees and little rabbit cages, crammed with bunk beds and benches, just over five miles from Kigali, was quite intimidating the first time I saw it. I don’t know whether it was the thought of doing something I had never done before; teach children. I  had never taught anyone anything before. I had never even been in charge of anything. I was now being put into a position where I was teaching Rwandan orphans in a different language.  Or maybe  my anxiety stemmed from being in the poorest place I had ever seen in my life. As I got out of the car, I noticed the dirt road running by was full of sullied, poverty-stricken children who had come out to see the commotion. Most were excited at the site of strangers in their remote neighborhood, especially two white ones. They waved  nervously or called out bonjour or Mwaramutse, some even reached out their hands for a high-five or hugged our legs.

About an hour earlier I had been in an internet cafe eating a ham and cheese, and I now found myself in a place where even the most basic needs were hardly achieved.  Jotham took the three of us past these children and through the shard of metal that stood as a gate of the orphanage. As we entered the main room of the house, which served as the classroom and the dining room, we were greeted by 24 boys, aged from 8-17, who stood up and said “Good Morning.” We went through the limited English pleasantries that they knew and were then introduced to Jean, the teacher of all subjects and supervisor of the orphanage. He knew English very well and translated all of the boys questions and our answers. After a short tour around the property and being introduced to the two permanent caretakers, Jean and David, the boys asked me to play soccer with them.

We made our way to a clearing down the street with makeshift goals made of pieces of wood at either end. Surprisingly, the orphanage owned a real soccer ball. It was very old and beaten up but better than the typical ball made by compressing trash with rubber bands into a sphere. As we began to play the initial nerves slipped away. We returned to Kigali after a quick match, my mind was decided. I wanted to take this job on. It would be hard but the rewards would surely outweigh the difficulties.

Every weekday up until I left Rwanda I worked at the orphanage from 9-3. It was hardly what I could call a job because it was so much fun for me. I taught the boys English for about an hour and a half every morning. A task made much easier than I had originally expected because of Jean’s translation and the kids enthusiasm to participate. Some boys were better than others at memorizing and some were better at pronunciation, but all were just as eager to learn as the next. These boys knew that the one light path out of their troubled past was an education. No one made the boys stay at the orphanage and they were never graded for their schoolwork yet every day I was welcomed with a fervent drive to participate and contribute throughout class.

Soccer came next. I would flip a coin to see if I would be playing with either the Kangaroos or the Lions. Many kids from around the area would come to watch the game. Even bikers and workers carrying huge loads of wood or bananas would stop to see the game. The matches were very competitive but there was never an altercation between the boys.

After the game, the schedule of the day was a bit more relaxed. The group split up to do several different things. I would sometimes play mini games like marbles or cards in the front yard of the house or look over a picture book translating different object names. Meanwhile, one lucky boy would have my camera for the day. The others would line up to have their picture taken of them pulling of a soccer move or of them in a karate pose. Each day a selection of boys would assist the caretakers prepare lunch for everyone else. This free time lasted about half an hour before we ate.

Lunch consisted of the same thing every day. A huge block of maize with a side bowl of beans with sauce. It was eaten by ripping of a piece of maize with your fingers and dipping or scooping up some beans and sauce as there was no silverware. It wasn’t exactly gourmet but it filled me up, the only problem was the beans were burning hot and I often would leave lunch nursing burnt fingers. After lunch, Jean would call a moto to come and pick me up. I would spend the waiting time packing up and saying my goodbyes.

The bond I developed with the boys and Jean over the course of my two weeks of teaching was very strong and it was hard to leave the final day. As I sat on the moto, driving down the dirt road away from the house I realized that it wasn’t really the end of a job, but the beginning of a relationship that I intend to continue even after returning home.

The time I spent in Rwanda was relatively short but the impression my trip had on me will last a lifetime. hopefully the 24 orphans life’s, whose lives have seen so much dismay, have been changed as well.  I am confident that my time at the orphanage was a positive experience for everyone involved, and many good things can be taken away from it, by both me, the kids, and the HOFF organization.


Aug 6

 

amy_blog Amy Dempsey

There is no such thing as a quick lunch in Kigali.

It usually goes something like this. You sit at a table. You wait a really long time for a menu. You ask for a menu. You wait again. A server brings a single menu for a table full of people, and then disappears for the next 20 minutes.

You hiss down the server. (Hissing is acceptable here). You order, finally. The drinks come a half hour later. The server then tells you that the meal you requested is unavailable. You order something else. Also unavailable. You order something you don’t really want. The server disappears.

You wait. And wait. You wonder if the cook has gone out to actually kill the goat to make your brochette, or plant the seed to grow the avocado tree to make your sandwich. The food comes, finally. You eat. You finish. You wait for the bill. You ask for the bill. You wait again. You get the bill. It’s written on seven different pieces of paper and it’s nearly impossible to understand.

The whole process can take 2 hours or more. Opting for a buffet restaurant is a safe way to avoid an all-day lunch, but it won’t let you escape the other elements of Rwanda’s notorious customer service.

On the days when service is particularly bad and I am particularly impatient, I zone out into an angry, crazed daze and daydream about picking up tables and chairs and throwing them across the room.

On the rare occasions when service is good or acceptable, I am tempted to leap out of my chair and kiss my waiter on the face.

I used to be a server. And I’m not too shy to say that I was a damn good one, so customer service is very important to me.

In Canada, I would without hesitation let the staff or management know that poor service is unacceptable. But here I feel uncomfortable complaining because I’m a foreigner.

I’m not the only one who is unimpressed by the customer service in Rwanda. The government has officially recognized it as a barrier to bolstering business and tourism in Rwanda, and made it a priority to promote better customer service practices in the country.

President Paul Kagame, addressing diplomats at Amahoro Stadium in February, had this comment on the service situation in his country: “We can no longer accept a culture of mediocrity either from Rwandan business and government institutions that give poor services, or Rwandan customers who quietly accept substandard customer care.”

In March the government formed a National Customer Care Task Force. Now there are a number of initiatives to improve customer service in Rwanda.

Which brings me to the radio piece I want to share with you.

The organizers of Rwanda’s 12th Annual International Trade Fair, which is taking place right now in Kigali, have made customer care improvement one of their objectives.

Find out how by listening to the story below, which I produced for Contact FM.

Entrance to the Trade Fair - Murakaza Neza means "you are welcome" in Kinyarwanda.

Entrance to the Trade Fair - Murakaza Neza means "you are welcome" in Kinyarwanda.

This seller came all the way from Egypt for the trade fair.

This seller came all the way from Egypt for the trade fair.

Aimabre Musaneza is one of the Rwandan sellers. His company, Socobico, sells paper products like tissue, serviettes and toilet paper.

Aimabre Musaneza is one of the Rwandan sellers. His company, Socobico, sells paper products like tissue, serviettes and toilet paper.

[Please note: the vendors I interviewed for this story were kind enough to let me ask them questions even though they were concerned about their ability to communicate in English. I think it’s important to acknowledge that they could express themselves more effectively if I was able to interview them in Kinyarwanda or French.]


Aug 5

 

chloe_blog Chloé Fedio

All I wanted was a coffee and some meat on a stick. It was foolish of me to think that the waitress scrubbing the table next to me in the empty café would bring me a menu if I didn’t specifically ask for it. Even though we made eye contact. Several times. So I got up from my seat, asked for the menu and ordered. Then I waited. The coffee took half an hour. The food never came.

Customer service can vary from region to region, from country to country, from culture to culture. Even within the same city the type of service you get might depend on where you go and how much you’re willing to pay. But in Rwanda it seems no matter what the situation, you’ll still be greeted with the same blank stare.

Barbequed pork and with bananas are worth the wait.

Barbequed pork and with bananas are worth the wait.

A recent report released by the Rwanda Institute of Policy Analysis and Research suggested that customer service in the country was the worst in the region. Those working in Rwanda’s service sector were criticized for being slow, inattentive and rude. And in a country that relies on tourism to help drive the economy, it’s a potentially damaging reputation. As Amy Dempsey outlined in a previous post the government has recognized the need for improvement and launched the National Customer Care Task Force to rectify the problem.

With that in mind I set off to find out what some of Rwanda’s foreign population thinks about customer service in the country. In a crowded bar filled with ex-patriots and tourists I asked the following question: “What’s your impression of customer service in Rwanda?” Here are some of the responses.

Customer Service in Rwanda

This was originally broadcast on City Radio on Friday, August 7th as part of my weekly show.


Aug 4

 

ashleyburkeblog Ashley Burke

Elyse, an orphan of the 1994 genocide and a U.S. embassy nurse, is part of a new generation of women driving through traditional gender roles. Find out why she’s famous for being unlike any other female in Rwanda.

Previous Wepisodes of Degrees of Separation

picture-4 Introducing Degrees of Separation
A multimedia blog that follows around a chain of Rwandans’ connections. From motodrivers to genocide survivors, Degrees of Separation dives into the lives of locals in Kigali to show viewers what Rwanda is like now. It’s a window into the present, rather than a spotlight on the past.
picture-2 1st Degree: Laura
A Rwandan mother of two, returns her homeland for the first time in over a decade. She left to study in Moscow four years after the genocide. Find out what she thinks of Kigali, her hometown she once knew so well.
img_3169 2nd Degree: Theogene
A young houseboy turned motodriver hits a roadblock in his life. The death of someone he depends on is about to change everything.
img_3657 3rd Degree: Adrien
Hop into convenience store culture in Rwanda. A boutique owner, takes you inside his Kigali store. From his best selling items to his tricks for success, peek into his daily life.
eug 4th Degree: Eugene
A U.S. Embassy worker and genocide survivor escapes his past in the pool. He talks about forgiveness and moving on.


Aug 3

 

andreanne_blog Andréanne Baribeau

Electricity, or “cash power” as it’s called here, remains quite a luxury in Rwanda. It has yet to reach most rural areas and while it’s accessible in cities like Kigali, the electricity bill quickly adds up.

At our house, a 5,000 francs worth of power will last us about a day. That’s just under 10$. Here, you purchase electricity from the national utility company, Electrogaz, the same way you would purchase credit for your mobile phone: by getting a “top-up” at shops such as this one.

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A shop that sells “cash power” in Nyamirambo, Kigali. 

The other day, I interviewed Naila Umubyeyi, who works for the Kigali Institute of Science, Technology and Management (KIST). She explained that in rural areas, most people can’t afford electricity, so wood and charcoal are still used as the main sources of power for cooking and heating.

She said that this high demand for fuel wood is contributing to deforestation, but that new policies have been put into place to help slow down that problem and find alternative sources of energy.

One of these alternative energy sources is biogas, which constitutes a fairly new sector that is currently gaining momentum in the country. Some prisons, hospitals and schools are already equipped with biogas installations, which use human or animal waste to produce methane gas, used for cooking and heating.

Naila Umubyeyi took me to the Frères Montfortains de Saint-Gabriel convent, in Kiovu, to visit their biogas installation. A local company, whose creator acquired biogas expertise at the KIST, built this installation three years ago. 

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The Frères Montfortains de Saint-Gabriel convent, in Kiovu, Kigali.

Beside the residence, there is a small barn where two cows help produce the needed waste to run the biodigestors. The cow dung (in the amount of about seven wheelbarrow per day) is mixed with water and introduced in a cement inlet in the ground. 

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A barn sits in the backyard of the convent. 

The mixture then makes its way into one of the three biodigestors, located under the soil, where it ferments and produces a mix of methane, carbon dioxide and other gases.

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The biodigestor is a dome built under the ground.

The gas is then channeled through a pipe that runs all the way to the kitchen, where it can be connected to stoves like this one. The cook explained that the biogas installation supplies enough gas to prepare all the meals for the brothers, as well as for the sisters living in a nearby convent.

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The Ministry of Infrastructure also launched a national domestic biogas program in 2006, which aims to install biogas installations in 15,000 households by 2011. Already, 400 biodigestors have been installed and a new line of credit will soon be available for farmers who also want to switch from fuel wood to biogas. 

I prepared this radio documentary (French) that takes a deeper look at this domestic biogas program, its impacts on the environment as well as on family finances.

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Radio Documentary

Credits:

Music by Chad Crouch