Monday, June 29, 2009


Welcome to the new economy…pay before you use it.

You must buy electricity credits before you use it. This was news to me until the power went off (not a system blackout) but my meter was dry. Stores sell electricity credits just like they sell minutes for your cell phone. You buy a card and punch the code into your meter. People who do have electricity conserve it though power strips and keeping all non-essential lights and appliances turned off. One night I forgot to turn off the front light after I drove in and the neighbor’s guard came to the gate to ask my guard to have me turn it off…amazing.

In the documentary, FLOW, it showed several parts of the world where the water was privatized and people had to buy tokens before they could go to the local well. It seems that in the “Developing World” the people least able to pay are charged up-front and at premium rates (because they can only buy small amounts and there is a price break for the more you buy).

This experience has taught me to place more than monetary value on the resources I take for granted at home.

Umuganda in Rwanda

Umuganda is a unique Rwandan is compulsory community service on the last Saturday of the month from 7:00-Noon for everyone over the age of 18. All businesses are closed and EVERYONE participates. It took place last Saturday and my local cell planted trees, cleaned the community garden and put up playground equipment.

Rwanda is, and has been a highly organised society. The country is divided into administrative regions called prefectures (the equivalent of counties); these are divided into districts which are divided into sectors then into communes which are finally divided into cells. This organisation, and the officials who control each region, pass on instructions from Rwanda’s leaders that are quickly carried out by ordinary people. This is how the genocide was able to spread so quickly.

Umuganda is a tradition which dates back to before the arrival of the Europeans. Some Rwandans return to their home cell (for many in Kigali this means going back to the village they were born) to receive instructions from the cell leader. They all carry out whatever type of community service has been decided on for that month – for example picking up trash, planting trees, clearing fields, fixing roads (I have not seen any improvement!), building houses, etc.

No one is exempt from this community service – the President, Ministers, Members of Parliament and even foreign diplomats participate. I will participate on July 25th and give you a first person account.

I found an interesting Opinion article on this subject in the English language newspaper The New Times. It talks about how much more powerful this tradition could be and gives examples of how to improve it.

Can you imagine the impact if we all gave five hours for Community Service a month in our cities or towns? Would Americans embrace this idea and give up one Saturday morning a month? Interesting questions…

Powerful Message for 2009 Graduates

Jeffrey Hollender, the Chief Inspired Protagonist of Seventh Generation sent us an email containing the Commencement Address by Paul Hawken to the 2009 Class of the University of Portland.

Paul Hawken is a renowned entrepreneur, visionary environmental activist, and author of many books, most recently Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming.

Reading the speech had a significant impact on me and more than it would have a few months ago. Being in the "Developing World" and seeing so many issues first hand, it touched me personally. I am changing every day due to my experiences, new knowledge and being exposed to diverse perspectives and opinions.

You can find the speech on his website and it is well worth the five minutes if you have not read it yet.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Star Gazing

I attended the final ceremony of the Film Festival last night and met Danny Glover!

He spoke very eloquently about his thoughts on Africa, being a Good Will Ambassador for UNICEF and how important it is for everyone to tell their story and preserve it in any means possible…film being the best way.

He explained that he was invited to come to Rwanda in 1997 as a UN Ambassador for a previous Development program (after the genocide) and did not come. He said many of the issues addressed in the documentary FLOW For the Love of Water were things the UN was addressing at that time but are no longer priorities.

The film asks the question “Can anyone own water?” and discusses the tug-of-war between public health and private interests. Interviews with scientists and activists outline the next biggest political and environmental crisis for our planet. I did not know that Water is the third largest industry in the world. I find that having the luxury of time to read, watch films and diverse TV programming, I have learned more in the past six weeks than I have in quite awhile.

FLOW tries to awaken and galvanize the viewer and gives some practical solutions that do not involve multi-billion dollar loans from the World Bank. Just as I recommended WAR CHILD, I think many of you would be very interested in FLOW.

I have included a few other photos and Helen, I think my friend Barbara (Nurse Practitioner) could be a relative and she is with Eddie the PAO (both from the US Embassy). Since the Festival started earlier, I was able to get a good photo of the inflatable screen they use to take the Festival into the Hills and how we watched FLOW under the stars last night.

Driving in Kigali

I have had the car for five weeks and driving in Kigali continues to be a challenge for a number of reasons:

• No Maps
• No Street Names
• No House Numbers
• Speed bumps everywhere
• 100’s of Motos (scooters that carry people and things)
• People always walking in the roads (major problem at night)
• No Street lights
• Very few traffic lights and several congested roundabouts

When someone gives directions they may use local names of streets or roads that a newcomer has no idea where they are. They also say things like “travel about 1 km until you see a utility pole and dirt road”…well there are hundreds of those and nothing to distinguish them. I am ok on the main roads and have even found a few shortcuts on the dirt or brick roads to save time and speed bumps but not having a 4-wheel drive makes those roads difficult to traverse.

I was invited to dinner and left when it was still light so I could follow the directions I wrote down. After three phone calls, my host had to come and pick me up at a gas station (asking someone to talk to him on the phone to tell him which Kobil station I was at, was also a great experience). Dinner was an hour late but everyone took it in stride. I am sorry to say I got lost driving home that night as well.

The photos are of a few interesting sights I have seen on the roads of Kigali: a truck full of live chickens hanging by their feet and a man on his bike with a 20 gallon milk container hitching a ride up a hill.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Power outage offers a different opportunity

The continuing issues of power and water struck again last might when Eddie and I went to the Film Festival Showing of the "Iron Women of Libriera". We went to the restaurant (photo of screen) and ordered our dinner while we waited for the movie to start.  Then the power went off and Chez Robert was in total darkness.  I used my cell phone flashlight for some light until they brought out a few candles.  It lasted about 15 minutes and during that time one man deicide to leave and took a header off the top step.   It took him about 5 minutes before he could sit up and finally stand (we wanted to call an ambulance but he said no he was just a little shaken up).

When the power came back on, the equipment did not work so they postponed the movie and eventually moved it to another venue.  We finally got our dinner (not the best) and decided to attend the opening of an art exhibit instead.  I am very glad we did because the artist had some fantastic work and Eddie and I each bought a piece.  The paintings are an invitation to look through (Umutima w’Urugo); the heart of the family.  The faces are expressive and sometime haunting.  She captures the simplicity of life by placing women at the center of all activities.  The Artist, Arlette Vandeneycken came to Rwanda 16 years ago with her Rwandan boyfriend and stayed.  I looked for a website to show you but she does not have one, only a Facebook page.

This beuatibul painting is hanging in my living room in Rwanda and they will pack it when the time comes to get it back to California.  In a way, the power outage “opened another door” and I found a beautiful memento of the trip. I would still like to see the documentary about three female ministers in Liberia and how they will determine the fate of the country, but it interferes with attending a debating society event on Sunday afternoon.  I have become a social butterfly!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A few thoughts on Rwandan TV

I have a total of 26 stations: 4 French, 2 Chinese, 2 Arabic and about 10 in various African Languages that sometime provide English programming and the rest in English. When I do turn on the tube, I generally watch Al Jazeera/English. I am very impressed with the scope of coverage and professional reporting. To me it is more informative than the BBC Africa (I do not get CNN International). I find they spend more time on each story so it is more like PBS due to in-depth reporting. They also are not as repetitive as the 24 hour stations in the US. Their investigative reports have helped me to understand some of the issues facing nations and people that I knew little or nothing about.

I also get a geography lesson each time they do the weather. I try to memorize 5-6 new cities and make the change from Celsius to Fahrenheit as my daily brain teaser! One of their major Bureaus is in Doha and I had to look up where that is (in case you don’t know either, it is the Capital of Qatar).

I recently watched a report on the tunnels being built in Myramar with North Korean support and how the missiles they will house will change the balance of power in the entire region. I am sorry to say that I know nothing about this until I watched the report. It made me realize that I need to broaden my list of new sources everyday to be better connected with the world and not just the US and our issues and politics.

I have also watched a portion of a Chinese soap opera with English sub titles that was too difficult to follow all the characters and interconnections and a two Bollywood films. Needless to say I do not watch much TV (the same in the US) and thank God I downloaded over 50 books on my Kindle before I left. I just started Crime and Punishment last night. I intersperse a classic in between novels and business books.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Another Unique Rwandan Experience...getting a Dress Made

I need to attend a dedication in July and have been asked to dress in a Rwandan Traditional Dress. There are no “ready to wear” stores so I started my saga at the textile corner in Kigali. I was fortunate to have a guide by the name of Liberata or else I never would have maneuvered through the process.

We chose fabric (much bartering and many people involved) and then went to the tailor shop. I thought we would just drop off the material and I would come back for a fitting and pick it up. Wrong…four people worked on the outfit for about 90 minutes and we walked out with a beautiful Traditional Dress for 30,000 francs about $55.00. It is silk and had about six man hours into it so it was a real bargain.

I do not know how many times I will wear in the US but I am sure I can think of something…maybe when I do my brown bag presentation on my sabbatical!

It is all about the Story

I was finally able to shower (over 48 hours without H2O) last night before I saw an incredible documentary at the Film Festival, WARCHILD. It tells the story of Emanuel Jal, a Hip Hop artist. Being Sudanese and a former child soldier, he has many tales to tell and some are horrific. His is an unbelievable journey and some parts of the film were very difficult for me to watch. It has UN footage of him at age seven in a refugee camp, concert footage and glimpses of his life until he returned to Sudan in 2007. He is now in his late 20’s and sings his stories around the globe. His inspirational message of peace and reconciliation is powerful and well worth a Netflix.

You can learn about him and the movie by checking out these websites. I especially like his logo of an AK47 with a microphone at the end of the barrel.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The water truck came around 8:00 PM and they could not get the pump to work. There was very little light so I gave them my flashlight to help them see what they were doing. The pump was very old and three men worked for 45 minutes to try and fix it with only the flashlight illuminating their way. They finally gave up and said they would come back by 7:00 AM tomorrow. They gave me two “jerry cans” of water to tide me over until they returned. Now I can relate to about 90% of the population who do not have running water and go to neighborhood pumps to fill their cans for the day.

It is now 8:15 AM and they have not shown up yet; over 48 hours without water. Another cold splash shower and dirty hair. Stay tuned…

NO H2O....

I called the landlord to ask what the deal is and he said he was sorry he forgot to let me know there would be a lapse for approximately 24-36 hours with no water in this part of the city. When I asked why he said it was “our neighborhoods turn” so apparently there is a roaming water shortage.

I have never experienced turning on the faucet and no water coming out. I have a pan in the kitchen and one in the bathroom but they are almost gone. I bought two, four liter jugs at the store for about $6.00 each for drinking and cooking so I should be ok until the truck comes. Bathing with cold water in a bucket is not my idea of fun and hope this shortage does not hit my neighborhood again before I leave or hopefully it will take place while I am in South Africa.

Today was market day and this time I agreed to have a guide help me (Vincent, number 120). If he told me his name and number once, he did it at least 10 times so I would ask for him next visit. There are usually 25-30 guides waiting outside the market and wear white smocks with their number on it. He saved me about 1000 francs by bartering and when I went to give him 1000 francs he said it was too much so I ended up giving him 500. He was very proud of the service he provided and he insisted on carrying all my purchases to the car. His English was excellent and it amazes me he has to do this for a living.

He also gave me a lecture on eggs: Rwanda eggs have yellow yolks and have more vitamins while Ugandan eggs have white yolks and according to Vincent are inferior. He said each Rwandan egg is 100 francs and worth the extra cost (Ugandan eggs are 70 francs each). I have had omelets at restaurants and they were very anemic looking and had a different flavor than I am used to; so I guess there is something to buying them at the market and fixing them at home.

I wish they had an etiquette book to help foreigners know how to deal with all the cultural issues like what to pay someone like Vincent. Plus I still do not know how to deal with the housekeeper and guard. People ask me why I do not hire a driver because it would save me from getting lost so often; getting lost will be the topic of another street names or addresses make a directionally challenged person wander aimlessly!

It is different having a cleaning service come to my house in CA regularly but to have someone around for 10 or 24 hours a day wanting to wait on you is disconcerting to me.

Where is AAA when you need them?

I opened my door for a walk on Sunday AM to see a flat tire; no doubt due to the bad roads yesterday. The good news is I had a spare but the bad news, no jack. After pointing and using many hand gestures, Francoise (my guard) was able to call four of his fellow guards and between them they had the appropriate tools (lifted from the cars of the people they work for). An hour later, the spare is on and flat is in the trunk.

As always, I am at a loss of what to pay them so I gave Francoise 2500 francs, which would be 500 a piece and they all lit up and shook my hand before they left to return all the tools to their owners cars. That equates to about $.90 cents but I guess when you earn a $2.00 a day, it is considered a windfall.
It indeed took a village to change the tire and I am not done yet; I must go to the tire repair shop.

They showed me a slit on the side of the tire so I needed to buy a tube and wait for it to be completed. They called me “auntie” and found a chair for me to sit in while I watched. When they were done I asked how much and they said 10,000 francs and I looked at them for a moment and then they said 5000 francs. I would have gladly given them 10,000 to have it fixed but my moment of hesitation made them decide not to charge more because I am a “mazungu” white person.

I can’t remember if I told you that my house came with two workers as part of the lease. It is disconcerting to have them around all the time and wanting to wait on me. Clare irons everything including my underwear and Francoise washes the car everyday even when I tell him it is a waste of water. They are told what to do by the owner and they can not deviate. Clare does not live here and when I tell her she can go home because I have nothing for her to do, she sits under a tree outside until her normal quitting time; people could learn from their sense of responsibility. If I did not employee them, they would join the 60% of people that are unemployed and the last thing I want to do is take away their livelihood.

Some of the domestic help who work and live in Kigali have families out in the village and they send most of their money to them and they have domestic help. I guess it is part of the culture that persists while the country is modernizing.

KWITA IZINA…Gorilla Naming Ceremony

Three of us traveled in my study Toyota sedan early Saturday (6:00AM) and made a brief stop at SINA Gerard’s facility about 45 miles outside of Kigali for breakfast. It is called URWIBUTSO and it is a framing and food processing operation. This organization helps more than 2000 local farmers to grow fruits and crops by giving them seeds, technical advice as well as marketing support. It is also has an educational component to teach them how to grow the crops properly and gain the best yield.

They produce, farm fresh juice, jam, wine, chili sauces and powders (peri-peri very popular in Africa), honey and operate a bakery and restaurant. All is grown organically and fresh products are sought after in Rwanda and are now being exported to other East African Nations. I read a blog that can really give you more of the feel and importance of this operation and suggest you visit the site

After juice and pastries we continued to Ruhengeri for the ceremony. We arrived around 8:30 and large crowds were already forming. Since we were on the “US Embassy List”, we were able to enter the Tent with chairs. The “masses” were standing in large fields surrounding the stage on three sides with the tent on the fourth. I was embarrassed that everything was played to the tent and not to the Rwandans who had walked for many miles to attend.

Since this part of Rwanda does not receive much entertainment, the Ceremony consisted of lots of music, dancing and short skits interspersed with dignitary’s speeches and the actual ceremony to name the Gorilla. For someone who does not speak Kinyarwanda, it was difficult to follow and at times loud and boring but the main event was well worth it. The 18 dignitaries who named a gorilla were dressed in traditional garments and theywere brought to the stage surrounded by drummers. I was again reminded how dramatic drumming is and sets the tone for all that what follows.

Each person explained why they were there and gave the Kinyarwanda and English name for their gorilla and why they choose it. I have searched the local papers and web for al full list to include but it does not exist yet. I will forward as soon as it is released.

A few observations: I and my friends would have bought many t-shirts if they had them and will send a letter to the organizers that they missed an opportunity. If you looked at the website, you saw how cute those photos were of the Gorillas and with the backdrop of the Volcanoes it would be a no brainer to raise funds.

Secondly I will recommend the stage be set-up in the future so all people can see what is going on, not just the “special” people in the tent.

It was a long day and when we pulled back into Kigali at 6:00, we were exhausted but very happy we attended.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Amanda's Farewell Dinner

I had my first dinner party last night and I had to borrow things from most of the attendees in order to prepare and serve the meal. That is the norm in Rwanda because every rental house has different pots, pans, utensils, serving dishes etc so everyone contributes. It was inconvenient when the oven did not work but we pulled it together. I received two bottles of wine and one of them was “Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joes”; I wonder how that got here!

The evening was a celebration and send off for Amanda, a talented young woman (In the photo above with Filbert) I have worked with the past six weeks on Project Akilah. Her pedigree is impressive being a graduate of the Hospitality Administration Program at Cornell. She has accomplished much as Country Director and if it had not been for her, Project Akilah would have NGO status or the MOU signed for the school land grant. She has also been involved in developing the curriculum. She has worked very hard to make things happen on the ground and the fundraising support will determine how quickly we can begin the next phase of work. Amanda will be missed by all the people she has touched in Rwanda.

The food was good and the conversation very stimulating. All ages (22-60) were present with every decade covered. Lot’s about everyone’s volunteer projects or work in Rwanda, people we have met, situations that are different from “home” (wherever that is) and how FRIENDLY everyone is here. It is amazing to all of us how many NGOS and non-profit organizations from around the world are working in Rwanda. The government supports growth and development that will help all Rwandans therefore it has an atmosphere of accessibility and partnership. In the next 5-10 years, many people will be trained and educated so organizations will be run by Rwandans instead of people from around the world.

Filbert is an Anglican priest and Executive Director of an organization called REACH. We talked a lot about his peace and reconciliation work with prisoners and victims. His new facility in Kigali (Photo of great hall under construction above) will be dedicated on July 18th and is very impressive. You can learn more about his project at

Erin is a student in Social Entrepreneurship at TCU and works with a jewelry coop that sells their products in the states. Most of the products are beads made of recycled paper. You can visit her site at

I feel very fortunate to have met and continue to meet such inspiring and interesting people.

Monday, June 15, 2009


This weekend, Chad and I went to Butare to pick up my bracelets at the Tin workshop I mentioned in a previous blog. Here is a picture with the man who made them for me. We also passed a number of agricultural and fish farms where the genocide prisoners were working (in pink uniforms). It is interesting that every Genocide Memorial is done in purple and the prisoners are in pink. I have not been able to find out why they chose the colors.

It was First Communion for 23 children and quite a pagaent and very long service o Sunday!

I have a busy week with Project Akilah work, attending two Kigali Women Associations meetings and a road trip to the “Gorilla Naming Ceremony’” in Volcanoes National Park on Saturday. They will name 18 baby gorillas this year. Please go to this site for more information

Several of you have offered to contribute to the Center for HOPE and I trying to find a way to get them on and will let you know in a future post.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rwanda Film Festival

Rather than show my very amateur photos, please go to

This tells the story of a crew from Washington State following the filmmakers and events last year.

To say the least, the Hillywood event was something to behold. I could not help but watch the people watching the film because it was so intense. I look forward to volunteering for the Children's event on Wednesday.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Youth Vocational Training Center of Hope

Don’t you love the name!

Chad and I visited this school in a very poor village just outside of Kigali today. They have 90 students in two programs: Catering or Beauty Services. As you can see from the photos, the girls were weaving black extensions into my hair and polishing my nails.

I had a much more emotional response to this school because the Director is trying to do so much for these young people with very little money. Neither she nor her three teachers have been paid for the past few months to keep the school going. Coming off the trips to the Kibbutz and other privately funded schools with endowments of 10-20 million dollars, this one breaks your heart. I paid her what a manicure would have cost in the states ($20.00) and she said this would buy food for the practical cooking lessons for next week.

As always, Chad took lots of photos and had the students do a five minute video on his flip cam. We will write their story and send to KIVA to see if the students can receive loans to pay for the program. If each of the students could get a $25.00 loan, it would go a long way to sustainability for this wonderful program and they could pay them back when they got a job.

They receive a certificate after one year of classes and a 2 month internship. Since its inception, it has graduated one class and over 60% of the students received jobs and have come back to donate money to keep the school running. A testament to playing it forward...

Working and cooking at my new house

It is so nice to come home to my new house! We have all been congregating at my Dining Room table completing the Project Akilah Prospectus. Having the internet all day has helped us research many of the topics we needed to address in the document.
We also had very good news today…our International NGO status came through and the MOU for the land in Bugesera will be signed tomorrow. We are getting closer to starting the renovations on the school.

Chad and I will spend some time as volunteers for the Rwanda Film Festival. The first week is called “Hillywood” because they take documentary films out to the villages and show then at dusk on a large inflatable screen on the side of a hill. Many of the films have been made by local film makers and address issues they are passionate about. I will be able to meet “Number One” (what some people call President Kagame) at the opening ceremony.

I have included a photo of the bounty from my trip to the market and will be able to cook in my small kitchen with all organic produce.

Kibbutz in Rural Rwanda!

Agahozo Shalom Youth Village is a Kibbutz 50 KM from Kigali and is by far the most amazing school I have visited to date. The first class of 125 students range in age from 14-19 and are all orphans of the genocide. These kids do not know much about Judaism but they can explain "tikkum halev" and "tikkum olam"…healing the heart and healing the world. It has adopted the methods of rehabilitation from the Yemin Orde Youth Village founded in Israel for the orphans of the Holocaust.

It is not a traditional Boarding School because the student homes are separate from the school; it is a village at the bottom of the hill. 16 children live in a family home with a Rwandan “mother” who is also a genocide victim. For some kids this is their first family and for others it is a chance to call someone Mom, sister or brother again. The family home gives them a feeling of security because many have been shuffled from homes, institutions or have even been heads of a household themselves.

The school is on the top of a hill overlooking a lake with picture windows out of each classroom. The vision of the sky and clouds allows them to reach for them and all their potential while gaining knowledge and skills that will provide structure for a new life as citizen leaders. They begin grade 9 and will graduate 4 years later and each year a new class of 125 will enter to the maximum of 500 at the time of the first graduating class. The 11 Rwandan teachers were trained in Jerusalem at the Feuerstein Institute for three months last fall. They were instructed on a method of teaching for traumatized children. Jean Pierre Nkuranga, the Principal was very passionate about why these methods work with his student population and said some will be adopted for all Secondary Education by the Minister of Education next year.

The students participate in after school activities that provide emotional support and a means for reconciliation. Sports, drama, art and music therapy are very important aspects of this program as well as tutorial assistance with English and computer skills. One counselor, Sarah said it was difficult for some students to accept using games and art as a way to learn and heal. There is in an incredible outdoor mural and art work created by the students throughout the school with the help of local artists and therapists.

Another portion of their time is spent on house and farm chores. These responsibilities make them feel part of the community and teach valuable lessons that will help them assimilate in society when they graduate. The farm is very impressive and will help them become sustainable and sell produce to the community surrounding the school.

This is a school on a grand scale because they constructed all buildings to house the 500 students they will have in next three years. The Kitchen, Dining, Activities Hall is as big as a football field. There were Aids and Safe Sex posters in the Dining Room because this is a coed school for young adults.

It opened its doors to students in December 2008 and will have a formal dedication in late June. The school is named after the corporate sponsorship, Liquidnet Holdings, a NY based Financial Technology firm.

I was very impressed with the school, staff and students...and will keep in touch with contacts to follow their progress.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Maranyundo School Visit

Another incredible day at the site on Friday with a local architect, two Electrigas Representatives , and a wonderful women by the name of Joy who is interested in working with us to open the Akilah Institute. After a 90 minute site visit, we returned to Nyamata to see the Maranyundo School, named for the mountains in the distance. The Maranyundo Initiative was started in Boston at a chance meeting in 2000 between Sister Ann, who ran the Paraclete Center in South Boston, and Senator Aloisea Inyumba of Rwanda. They both attended a Women Waging Peace conference at Harvard.

The partnership took years to get off the ground. After saying yes to Inyumba, Sister Ann was stymied. She'd tell people about her plan for a school in Rwanda and they'd reply, "That's nice." It wasn't until November 2005, when she took her first group of women to Rwanda that the project moved beyond a promise. Over the next two years, the Maranyundo Initiative raised $1.8 million.

The original construction began four years ago on eight arid acres that were the former site of a concentration camp for the Tutsis. A little history on the Bugesera District in the country's east province…it was ground zero for the genocide, a killing field where no place - not the church or town hall, not even buried up to one's neck in a swamp - was safe. In one month, five of every six Tutsis here were hacked with machetes or bludgeoned with nail-studded clubs. Most of the women who weren't killed were left widows; many were HIV-infected through rape. Thousands of children were orphaned, many of them becoming heads of households before age 10. With so many Rwandan men killed, or in exile or prison, women are rebuilding the country.

It's a startling irony: The genocide killed their loved ones and shattered their country, but it gave women power they never had before. Discrimination was rampant and women had few rights and little to no education. But the government under Paul Kagame has made it clear that educating girls is crucial to the country's recovery.
The school is located on a beautiful oval-shaped campus of orange-brick buildings, including computer and science labs, dorms, dining room, library, and classrooms. New construction is underway and next year they will have 180 girls in grades 7-9.

The Akilah Institute is about 10 miles away from the Maranyundo School and will educate young women ages 18-24. It is another example of how educating women is an answer to a sustainable future.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Road Trip to Sonrise School
On the road to Ruhengeri (Northwestern Rwanda) we needed four wheel drive and I bounced around to the point that my keys fell out of my bag and did not realize it until I was dropped at my car around 8:00PM. Luckily I took a motion sickness pill but still felt a little queasy because I was on a bench seat in the back of a Land Cruiser and thankfully they found my keys and brought them back to me. Betsy, Luanne and I will need to travel on this same road to visit the Gorilla’s so I will rent a 4 Wheel vehicle and drive myself. Hopefully, I will be able to maneuver the HUGE potholes and areas of unpaved road. One of the biggest public works projects is to make this into a four lane highway because it leads to the biggest tourist attraction in Rwanda at this time; too bad it will not be completed before my return trip in mid-August! Gad, the young man who drove us and gave us a running commentary on all things Rwandese, said some people will miss the “rustic” road to the Mountains.

As we started to climb the first 7.5% grade into the mountains and volcanoes that separate Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo, we were bombarded with beauty. As usual, my photos are amateur but i am trying!

We arrived in time for lunch and had one of the local delicacies… forest honey. We dunked fresh bananas into the honey and I bought a jar to bring back to Kigali. Dan, I wish you could taste it and enjoy the “woodsy’ taste and admire the clear amber color.

Sonrise School was the vision of Bishop John, a man revered by all in Rwanda. He is an Anglican Bishop who wanted to assist as many orphans of the genocide as possible. Due to his extensive fundraising contacts in the US and Europe and with the help of the local diocese, he began construction in 1999 and opened the boarding school for grades 1-4 in 2001. They added a grade each year and will graduate there first High School class in 2010. They have a primary school with about 565 students and High School with over 500 students. They are building a new wing to the high school that will house more computer and science labs. All 6, 9 and 12th graders must take the standardized test and since its opening, Sonrise has always been in the top 4 for each grade with many number one honors. With the first graduating class next year taking the 12th grade test, it will be interesting to see how many of the students will be given scholarships to University based on their rank on the test.

It has a very impressive campus and employs over 130 people to keep it running. We met the Headmaster (age 27) and several teachers who ranged in age from 20-35; another indication that Rwanda lost a generation. We saw all parts of the school including the dorms, classrooms, churches, kitchen, dining halls, playing fields, dairy, dispensary, and the school management was very supportive in providing information that will be helpful in opening the Akilah Institute next year. Perhaps some of the young women graduates form Sonrise who do not qualify for University will attend our school next year.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Reminiscence of a Past Adventure

While watching the BBC, I was reminded that 20 years ago today I was at the Shangri-La Hotel in Hong Kong with a CA Trade Delegation watching the events at Tiananmen Square enfold. It had special meaning for us because we were scheduled to leave for Beijing the following day. Needless to say, we were not allowed to leave and spent a few more days observing the events in China and similar demonstrations in Hong Kong.

That was my first extended business trip outside North America and was my most interesting adventure until this trip in Rwanda.
Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo, and Hong Kong were exotic locales but full of every modern convenience and food I could relate to. There are inconveniences for me here but 57%of Rwandans live below the poverty level defined by the UN of less than one dollar per day.

Rwanda has worked hard to emerge “from the dead” and is forging a remarkable path to development. It is the safest and least corrupt country in Africa, with the highest % of female members of Parliament in the world-49%. It has a low % of HIV/Aids at 3% and all suffers receive antiretroviral drugs at no cost. One of its biggest investments is in Education. President Kagame knows that in order to reach their 2010 Vision, Rwanda needs an educated population and there is currently a 60% deficit of trained people in the private sector.

Whether it is philanthropic or private, US organizations and companies are assisting Rwanda on education, energy, water, railroads, eco-tourism, consumables, etc. I may have to deal with some inconveniences but I am fortunate enough to work for a company that allowed me time to contribute to a cause greater than myself…