Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Goodbye from the Kigali Team

(Apologies: this post was written during our last week on placement, but due to poor internet connection and plenty of things to do, we haven't been able to publish it until now)

As you all might know, for the last 12 weeks, we have been volunteering for ICS, in a project partnered with AMU (Association Mwana Ukundwa). The organisation is based in Kigali, with other offices in Huye and other districts. We got to visit the office in Huye, as there is another ICS team there: it was good for our motivation and our spirits to be able to see their office and the work they are doing.

During the last three months we worked with the children and with the women in the SHGs. These are women that AMU organised in groups in order to develop support networks and help them economically. We also did home visits, during which we conducted surveys about child rights. We also managed to teach English to the women that come daily to AMU to learn how to sew clothes. While this was a last-minute thing, it was useful for us to see an impact of our work and to bond with the local community. Speaking English will be particularly beneficial for them, as Rwanda is part of the Commonwealth and English will enhance their business and marketing opportunities. Everyone in the team was happy to teach them as it was fun and educational at the same time: some of them did not know how to write or read properly, but we managed to teach them and bring them to the same level. We hope that the next cohorts will continue the work and get them to a good level within six months.  

Working with the SHGs was also a really good experience. We got to be part of a group of people that are working on personal development and it was good to know that we were able to support them through AMU and ICS. We taught them about finance, how to collect money among themselves and the basics of accounting for how to keep records of this all. We also helped them buy goats as a way of providing them with a starting capital to develop their own small business in the future. Hopefully the next ICS cohorts will continue supporting them and seeing an even bigger development, building a stable business and improving their lives.

We also spent a lot of time working with the children. When we started we had more than 300 kids from primary to secondary. Our goal was to teach them about their rights, and to do so sometimes we used realistic scenarios for them to discuss and understand what the rights really mean. We also taught them school subjects like Science, Mathematics, English – this was fun, but also very useful for them as it was exam time at the end of October. We also spent time playing sports, singing songs and dancing all together. On Saturdays, we worked with the HIV support group: we had a special programme for them, to be able to discuss HIV prevention and other sensible topics. We also prepared lunch for them every Saturday, to provide them with a healthy meal.
We organised debates for the older boys and girls on relevant issues, and workshops for the younger ones to have fun and think about their dreams and their future. We told them stories about successful people and African heroes they can relate to, to inspire and motivate them: our goal was to make them understand that they can help the society in many ways and that all heroes were once kids. We asked all of them to write down what they think they can do to help the world and the feedback was really great. We also talked about puberty with them and HIV prevention to try to make sure that they know what it is, how to avoid it and how to treat people with HIV, to fight stereotypes and discrimination.

During the home visits, we usually took rice, flour and porridge with us as a gift for the families. We got to meet them, talk to them and ask different questions. The families really appreciated the visits and enjoy having us over as guests. It was also a great opportunity for the volunteers to get to know the community and see with our own eyes the living conditions of the people we work with daily.

One of the volunteers also wrote a report on AMU, to gather our suggestions on how the organisation can improve and offer more services for the children and the women. For example, we suggested the creation of a counselling service for children and parents with HIV.

In general, the whole team got to experience a lot of different things, and it was a good situation as we wanted to help people in every possible way. Eventually, we also realised that a lot of kids that were coming to AMU daily could not afford school materials and uniforms, so we organised a charity car wash to raise money for them. This is going to be our last activity, on Saturday, to say goodbye to AMU and this community. 

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Youth Camp: Three days of Cultural Exchange

Last week we took part in a youth camp which is ran by AMU each year and is in its 10th edition. We, the 6 UK volunteers and 7 Rwandese Volunteers from ICS/international service, joined up with 16 Rwandese high school students and 26 Norwegian students, who were stopping in Rwanda as part of their trip across East Africa. The idea behind the youth camp was to bring together 3 different cultures so that we could learn from one another, contrast and compare experiences, as well as exchange stories about our home countries.

Day One

On the first day, we were divided into six teams, mixing Norwegian students, Rwandese students, and ICS volunteers. We would remain in these teams for the duration of the camp and perform activities and tasks within them. The first task we were given was to come up with a team name. The six teams were: Sky Seven, Unity, Forever 21, Sun and stars, Penguins and Forte Inshuti.
Another task we were given was to learn 10 new words in a different language to our own, with our teammates helping us do so. It was a great ice breaker and helped the teams bond and get to know each other better. Then the floor was given to Mama Rose who told us about her experience of the genocide and how she decided to found AMU. The genocide left many children orphaned, with no homes or family to care for them. Mama Rose saw this as a message from God and took it upon herself to help these children get the food, shelter and the care they needed. Twenty years later, AMU is still helping children and Mama Rose received an award for her work from President Kagame himself, which earned a well-deserved round of applause.

Then we had a traditional Rwandan lunch with rice, beans, beef and bananas. This went down very well with the Norwegians, who were clamouring to get seconds. After earing, we organized a few football matches. The first match was between the boys, a back and forth game, won 4 goals to 3. Then followed the match between the girls, which was a tight affair with only the one goal in it.
In the afternoon, it was time for the presentation about Rwanda and their culture. We were first informed about the formation of Rwanda, and the geography of the country as well as the meaning of the Rwandan flag, (the blue represents happiness and peace, the yellow band symbolizes economic development, the green band symbolizes the hope of prosperity and the sun in the corner represents enlightenment). We were then showed how a traditional Rwanda wedding works, including the giving of the dowry, and afterwards we were treated to some traditional Rwandan dance. The women performed the Cow dance, the men performed the Hunters dance. One the presentation had finished we were then giving the chance to learn some moves ourselves. We were taught by the Rwandans in our group, and, although we struggled at first, we eventually managed to perform the moves without tripping over ourselves!

Day Two

The second day began with the Norwegians introducing a fun clapping game, where one person shouted ‘one step’ and everyone else was require to perform a routine. After a few attempts we eventually got the hang of it. After that we were told to discuss challenges and opportunities for young people in the UK, Norwegian and Rwanda. We found that we had a lot in common, in that it was very difficult for young people to find jobs in their fields of choice. We had a few differences as well, particular in terms of education. The Norwegian students were part of a ‘Folk’ School, where they spend a school year but with no exams, instead learning from experiences, and focusing on subjects such as theatre, dancing and sport. These students themselves were part of the ‘safari’ group, who focused on exploring different parts of the world and travelling around. After the discussion, we presented back to the rest of the group on what we had learned from one another during our talk. The next task was to take a walk within our teams and search for items that link the countries together, and items that show how we differ. However, the walk was cut short by heavy rainfall, so we had to head back to AMU and were taught many new fun games by the Norwegians.

On this day, the lunch was western themed. We had an afternoon tea, with sandwiches and a wide choice of fillings; Jam, Nutella, ham, cheese, and an array of salad to choose from. And of course, there was a hot cup of tea for everyone.

After lunch, it was time for the Norwegians to present. Similar to the Rwandans, they started by talking about the geography of the country, pointing out the major cities and how vastly the temperature differs in the north and the south. They re-enacted one of their most famous fairy tales: The Three Billy Goats, and finished with a rendition of a Christian song.
Finally, for the UK presentation, we decided to organize a pub quiz. The questions featured an arrange of topics, from sport to literature and history, as we used it as a way to educate them on our country and culture. However, in typical British fashion it didn’t run as smoothly as we would have liked, with some confusion over the questions and even small arguments! Nonetheless, everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Day Three

As part of the third day, we split into small groups, with at least one ICS volunteer, one Norwegian student and one Rwandese high school student within them. In these groups, we headed back to the home of the high school student and helped the family make lunch. I visited the house of Bernard, a young boy of 15 who often comes to AMU. We were also joined by Pauline, one of the students from Norway. We set off down through Gikondo and through a rural part of the city. We caught the attention of many locals, greeting them with smiles and waves as we passed through. After a scenic walk, we ended up at the home, which had a wonderful view of the city. We met Bernard’s family, his mother, father and younger brother. Pauline and I got straight to work, preparing the food. Once the cooking was done, we made a quick visit to the market for some pineapples and avocados, and when we got back, lunch was ready to be served.

After our lovely meal, it was then time to head back to AMU for the final part of the camp – the goodbyes. Each team gave one last presentation of something new they had learned over the week and we performed the song we had learned earlier that day one last time. Then it was time to say farewell. Many pictures were taken and contact details were exchanged, everyone eager to remember their time here and keep in touch with the new friends they had made. It was a wonderful end to an incredible few days of learning, cultural exchange and most of all, fun.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Working with children in Kigali

Teaching young children of six years old their rights is not easy, it must not be like a lecture in class. You have to use different activities, songs, games and dances. At AMU, we are working with children of different ages, from primary one to primary six and students from secondary school. Our objective as International Citizen Service volunteers is to help these young Rwandans to know their rights without leaving anyone behind.

In Rwanda and some other African countries, young children are very excited to see white people. At AMU children are very happy for our presence but mostly for the UK volunteers; they like touching their hair and skin to explore the differences between black and white people.

Rwanda is shifting from French to English, so everyone is excited about learning English, especially the younger generation. We are using this opportunity to teach children English and other courses, like mathematics, geography and sciences, to explain them that they have the right to an education as well as other rights. To achieve this, we divide children depending on their classes.

The children from Primary one learn basic mathematics like counting in English, easy addition and subtraction, they work with two in-country volunteers and one UK volunteer. It is amazing to see those young children running around shouting loudly “P1, P1!” so that every one of them can recognize where they are standing. They work with very talented volunteers; Emmanuel is a good storyteller and managed to write simple songs to teach littles Rwandans about their rights.

The second class works with two UK volunteers and one in country volunteer, P2 are good with ABC song, multiplications and addition. They like drawing as they have the best artist among all the volunteers. Some of them are dreaming about being artists and they like to write the ‘right of the week’ on the black board where everyone will see it, all the time.

With Primary three, my class, there are two in country volunteers and a UK volunteer. We teach our kids times tables, we do spelling exercises with the alphabet and let them find the full word, and every daily session ends with everyone in our class reading an English phrase. With this reading exercise we found that some children are shy and read with quiet voices, so, to help them to be confident and teach them that they have right to express their ideas, Flora makes them read loudly and shout at the top of their lungs, they find this quite fun!

Primary four works with one in-country volunteer and two UK volunteers, and their class is formed mostly by boys. They are very active children eager to do what you ask them to do. Sometimes they come to disturb those from P3, and like to show off their newly acquired skills and knowledge. To help all children to understand that they have the right to play, every day we have one hour and half of playing. One day I showed the girls from P4 some games and encouraged them to play with their brothers the so-called ‘boy games’ to let them understand that boys and girls are equal, and they were surprised to find out that boys and girls won the same amount of games.

Finally, the kids from the fifth and the sixth class work together. They are the oldest of this group, they feel very proud of themselves and they like to show that they are smart everywhere they are. It is easy to teach them, and their maturity allows us to go into more complicated topics. For example, sometimes we make up scenarios about child abuse and child protection and let them discuss until they reach the right conclusion independently.

The life of a volunteer is an amazing life: it empowers you as you empower others, and I am proud to participate in the ICS placement.

Murakoze! Thank you!


Friday, 4 November 2016

Kigali and Gender Equality

It’s another endlessly hot week here in Kigali. Rwanda and the UK have few geographical similarities, but I have observed that it is very socially acceptable to discuss the weather with acquaintances. I’ve heard this is the rainy season, but it has in fact rained less than a UK summer -to say it is very rainy in the UK is an understatement, if you have never experienced one of these before- and it’s over 30 degrees every day. I clearly have yet to acclimatise. The in-country volunteers seem to find it very amusing and laugh as they watch us hastily layer on the sun cream as a ritual every morning in the office. I made the mistake of putting suncream on my face in public last week. I did not realise this was a mistake until my panicked counterpart, Emmanuel, informed me I needed to stop my behaviour immediately as I was gathering a small staring crowd of locals.

I’ve never written a blog post before and I thought I would start with a topic that we covered in the group reflection session. I decided to start with gender equality in Rwanda under it’s current political climate. It turned out to be an extremely complex issue. Women and children were systematically targeted in the genocide just over 20 years ago, which horrifically included the use of infection of HIV and AIDs as a weapon. When this is taken into account, I do not think it wrong to assume that from a political perspective, women would be underrepresented.

After doing some research, it became clear that this was simply not the case in the parliament in Rwanda. Over 64% of seats in parliament are held by women. Simply for contrast, only 30% of seats in the UK are held by women; in the US there are even fewer, with only 19% of seats held by women. There are countless articles on the internet on lessons that western gender equality should learn from Rwanda (mostly from the Guardian). It would seem that Rwandan politics is setting a new world standard for equality, with President Paul Kagame at the forefront of his own “he for she” movement. Kagame rejects that gender equality in Rwanda should play catch up with western feminism and he wants to go above and beyond their standard. However, this does not seem to be always the case. Even the women that make up the majority parliament members do not feel that equality affects their daily life. They are often forced to conform to traditional gender roles in their homes, feeling “trapped” into doing household chores such as cooking, cleaning and even ritually polishing their husbands’ shoes.

This left me wondering why then, if women are the majority in politics, does feminism not translate into the lives of ordinary women, let alone the lives of the female government members?

One Rwandan women's rights campaigner has described the female parliamentarians in Rwanda as like a "lovely vase of flowers in a living room" – decorative but not a huge amount of use. There are also concerns about domestic violence. Rwanda’s government reported that two in five women reported suffering physical violence at least once since the age of 15.

It is these facts which makes me realise how imperative it is that we communicate to the children at AMU that boys and girls are equal. We do this by encouraging them to include the girls in games which are heavily dominated by the boys, such as football and rugby. When I visited a school last week one girl asked me where she and her football team could play and I told her she could practice at AMU in the holidays on weekends. This also sets an example to the younger girls who will no doubt watch. It is also particularly salient that girls expand their aspirations to non-traditional female roles, such as parliamentary members. It is important that they know that women in their own country are setting an example for the rest of the world to follow and have pride in this. 

Thursday, 27 October 2016


Welcome to the blog of the International Service team working with Association Mwana Ukundwa (AMU) in Kigali. We are the first cohort on this ICS project, which will hopefully see seven further cohorts from International Service over the next two years. The team is made up of seven UK volunteers, seven in-country volunteers, and one UK team leader. We arrived here in Gikondo at the beginning of October, we have settled in well within our host families, and the UK volunteers are getting used to the culture here!

AMU is an association that was set up just after the genocide in 1995, with the initial aim of rehoming children who had been orphaned during the civil war. From that initial idea, it has grown into a place that helps a variety of disadvantaged people from the local communities. The organisation has five separate ‘branches’ spread across Rwanda – the last one opened just over a year ago.

So far we have worked with many different groups of the community: children who come to AMU daily, Self Help Groups, HIV clubs at five different schools, AMU club for people living with HIV.

The grounds of AMU are used as a centre for children to study and play every day. Without us here they normally play football and other playground games by themselves. Since we have arrived, each morning we separate the children into their school classes and attempt to teach them child rights in a creative way. The general consensus from all the volunteers is that playing with children is tiring work!

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, two different groups of volunteers attend local Self Help Groups. These are support groups set up by AMU for people living with HIV and the members are primarily women. The idea is that AMU sets up the organisation, however, the groups are independent and do not rely on the help of AMU for their weekly activities. So far, we have established that these people want to be taught English, so we have started with the basics! The women are generally very cheery people who are extremely happy and appreciative to have us here helping them.

A recent new venture of AMU is to teach local disadvantaged women to sew. Rwanda is currently trying to stop using second hand clothes from western countries, so in the near future tailors are going to be in high demand in the country. The women come to AMU for their tailoring lessons every day. We support them by teaching them English every morning and afternoon for an hour, during their break. We have discovered that teaching adults English takes a lot more than teaching children English, but it is also very rewarding. We must be very patient and ensure that everyone in the class stays up to speed so they don’t miss out!

The volunteers are split into five groups to visit HIV clubs at local schools once a week. Our first impressions of the groups were great – the secondary school children had plays, sketches, dances and other various performances well-rehearsed for our arrival. Since then we have been working with the groups to develop their fantastic ideas.

Every Saturday, AMU has a club for people living with HIV. From our second week here we decided that, after the morning activities, we would cook food for them – the first week we made rice, potatoes and beef stew, which went down very well! The second week we made ‘brunch’ consisting of porridge, bread, honey, eggs, bananas and tree tomatoes. Last Saturday we also organized a very successful debate between the students of Secondary School on the topic of premarital sex.

This weekend it is our first proper ‘Umuganda’. Umuganda is a Rwandan tradition, it happens every last Saturday of the month and is a community clean-up day. It takes place throughout the country and the aim is to spend the day ensuring your local community is tidy and clean! We plan to spend 8am-11am at AMU tidying up…and hope the children don’t bring polystyrene back again!

During our time so far we have experienced some inevitable problems, due to the fact that we are the first cohort, from long waiting to obtain basic supplies, to having to figure out the goals and plans from scratch. However, a great advantage of being the first cohort is that we have a lot of freedom when it comes to deciding what kind of impact we want to make on the community.

We have also been thinking of ways to overcome the issue of UK Volunteers being too overpowering, loud, and generally just quite rude (to their own admission) when it comes to group discussion. The Rwandan Volunteers find it highly annoying and are too polite to interrupt them! So far, our solution is raising your hand when you want to speak during a discussion, as well as sticking some “DON’T INTERRUPT” posters on the walls of our office!