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.