Last Days in Rwanda/ Partnership Proposal

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Three months has really flown by and as I am writing this I have 2 days left here in Rwanda. The last week has really been a special one. We had some time to relax at lake Kivu in Kibuye, but the week has been filled with a lot of hard work. We are mainly working with UR to finalize our business plan for our internship. We also organized a fair with the children at Les Enfants de Dieu. We were able to get them tea, candy, bananas, popcorn and cake. We played games, they preformed traditional dancing for us and we also did face painting. The kids at Les Enfants de Dieu make me smile every time I’m with them. I am also working hard to create a partnership proposal for them during my free time. This proposal will simplify the process of acquiring funding, donations and/or interns from various organizations. I apologize for this post being short but I have got to go do laundry, pick up gifts for my friends and family and go to the gym. I can’t wait to see all my loved ones when I get home… thinking about all of you daily. 

Lake Kivu (Kibuye)

We decided to take a final weekend trip to Kibuye before starting our final week of work here in Rwanda. It took about 6 hours to get there by bus and we made a pit stop at King’s Palace in Nyanza. Here we saw where kings lived and where they kept the royal cows. We also got into a minor accident that popped one of our bus’ tires, which set our trip back an hour. Finally, we made it to Kibuye safe but tired. We arrived at our hotel around 9 pm so all we did was eat and sleep. The next morning we decided to wake up at 5am to watch the sunrise. The sun didn’t come out until 6am but it was well worth the wait. The sun rose over Lake Kivu and it was as if it woke all the islands up at once. There were many different species of birds that started chirping and near the water, I could see fish swimming in huge schools. 

After breakfast we organized a boat tour of three islands. This included a three-hour tour and the chance to dock the boat and hike the islands. The first island was rally cool because it had a huge bat population. We hiked through their territory and there were overwhelming screeching noises and bats flying in all directions directly over our heads. I was actually worried one would fly and hit me or one of the girls. The next island we passed by had family of monkeys living on it but we did not get the chance to see them. Our tour guide Olivier said that the monkeys only come out during the early morning. This island also had goats and cows on it and Oliver told us that the cows actually know how to swim. The last island we went to was more for relaxation and didn’t really have anything to special about it other than an amazing view. 

This was definitely one of my favourite places in Rwanda because it was very peaceful and relaxing. There is no doubt that when I come back to Rwanda I will go back to Kibuye. 

Days for girls (Centre Marembo)

Before coming to Rwanda I was fortunate enough to come in contact with a woman named Jillian Johnston. She works for an organization called ‘Days for Girls’ and their mission is to provide menstrual health solutions around the world to young girls most in need of them. In many of the places Days for Girl’s has provided these solutions to,  the young women have no access to menstrual equipment and/or the society they live in may have negative perceptions of girls being on their period. Many of these places don’t allow the girls to go to school while on their period so they must stay home. This organization is determined to give these lost days back to them.  

Jillian Johnston and I worked to prepare 145 menstrual health kits. Then I prepared a plan for distribution with the Western Heads East program across Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya. These kits contain reusable pads and cleaning supplies that the young women are able to use for 2-4 years. My plan required the assistance of Trevor Wright (going to Kenya) and Zola (going to Tanzania) to carry about 40 kits each and find organizations to distribute them to. I am really grateful for their hard work, we really could not have done it without them. 

Here in Rwanda, we worked with a wonderful organization for our distribution. Key, Diah and myself worked with an organization called Centre Marembo to organize our distribution. This is a rehabilitation centre with a mission to transform the lives of young street girls who may have been victims of rape and other types of domestic and social abuse. They help the girls obtain an education, understand proper health practices,and  encourage female empowerment in their communities before reintegrating the girls into society. 

On the day of our distribution, the Centre also organized time for us to play soccer with the girls so we got a chance to interact with them. This was really important because not only did we play soccer, we walked a long way to the field and in that time the girls really opened up to us. We also got the chance to sit down with them after we played soccer and talk about different topics. They were really interested in what we were doing in Rwanda and I was interested to find out more about them. After about 2 hours of playing soccer we went back to the centre to educate the girls about their menstrual cycles, health and hygiene tips and how to properly care for the kits. The girls were so grateful for what we brought them and so was the organization. Theogene, one of the leaders at the centre, told us that this contribution would save them lot of money and that they would be able to put that money into future projects. 

Akagera National Park

*Let me first give my apologies for the late post. I went to Akagera at the end of May and could have sworn that I had already written a blog post about my experience.*

This morning I woke up early to go to Akagera National Park. Key, Diah, and my new friend Willy accompanied me. Key met Willy the last time she was here and introduced Diah and I to him. He is a really cool guy who acts as a guide for safaris and other adventures in East Africa so when he offered to take us to Akagera, we all agreed. Willy picked us up in an SUV that he rented because his regular car wouldn’t have been able to handle the terrain of the national park. Where other national parks in East Africa (such as those in Kenya and Tanzania) change the natural landscape to benefit the experience of tourists, Rwanda’s national parks are 100% natural. Because of this, there is a lot of rough terrain and foliage that makes finding animals such as the ‘Big 5’ (lions, leopard, elephants, buffaloes, and rhinos) an incredible challenge. We made a pit stop to a gas station/plaza for some food about 30minutes before we arrived to the park. While I was there I saw a bottle of Uganda Waragi, which I really wanted to try so I picked it up.

A park guide introduced us to the park’s history and current animal statuses when we first arrived to the park. There were a lot of animal carcasses on display in the reception area and it was crazy to see how big some of the skulls were. Akagera National Park is truly stunning. We got to see so many animals in their natural habitat, the list includes: zebras, giraffes, buffaloes, impalas, topes, African eagles, hippopotamuses, king fishers, baboons, warthogs, and these annoying flesh-eating flies that kept flying into the car and biting me, Diah, and Willy. Somehow Key didn’t get bit. It was really interesting to see so many of these animals up close. Seeing the two injured zebras really made this experience real for me. Seeing the zebras that fled from an attack really reiterated that these were wild animals and that their lives are filled with a kill-or-be-killed reality.

 

After we left the park Willy let me drive through some remote villages with the car he rented. I hadn’t drove stick in about 6 months so I was a little rusty but I got the hang of it. This whole day was a great experience and defiantly something I will remember for my whole life.

Mt. Kigali

Today we woke up bright and early to hike up Mount Kigali before it got too hot. Well, Key and Diah woke up early and like most mornings, I struggled to get out of bed. We travelled across the city to Nyamirembo. When we were dropped off to Mt. Kigali we went to a nearby store to get some chapati and water for the long 2-hour journey ahead of us. We started toward the mountain but had to zig-zag our way through some neighbourhoods before we got to the real hike. It was very complicated and locals helped us navigate our way around dead ends and toward the beginning of the mountain hike. Once we got through all the neighbourhoods, and by one of the last houses we passed, we picked up a few stragglers.

Initially, I had asked some of the local children to take a picture of Diah, Key and I but they continued to accompany us along the hike. Their names were Cedric, Abed, Jimmy, and Kiri. They took us up the hill. I don’t think we would have made it up without their help. We took a few breaks for a breath, chapati, water and to say hello to a puppy we found

. We all shared and even though we didn’t speak the same language, we all tried our best to communicate through gestures. I think the boys came with us because we interested them for some reason. I started playing music and a couple of them nodded their heads to the beat. The kids knew their way up and most of the time we followed their lead. It was a lot of fun and a great adventure; we shared some laughs (mostly when I fell).

Things really got interesting when we reached the top of the hill. What I found as I passed through the forested area at the top of Mt. Kigali really surprised me. The forest had been clear-cut and I saw two buildings being constructed. Though it looked like a construction zone, there was a stronger military presence than there were construction workers. I waved to signal that I was not a threat. One responded, yelling, “Where are you going? Where did you come from? You have to go back from where you came!” At this point, I looked back and Key, Diah and 3 of the kids were gone. I realized that Key and Diah ditched me when they realized there were soldiers there. #RealFriends #IMissMyBoys #CedricIsARealOne

I proceeded to tell the soldiers that we were just interns wanting to take a hike. We didn’t know there was a military base at the top and wouldn’t have gone on the grounds if we did. 6 soldiers walked me and Cedric back to the dirt road we crossed (where Key and Diah were waiting anxiously) and told us that it was a restricted zone. One of the soldiers scolded Cedric as if he knew better than to go up there. None of them spoke English very well but they let us off with a warning and when Key asked which way we should take to get back to Nyamirembo, they pointed down the dirt road.

It was a long walk but we ended up finding a small village that we explored briefly before finally descending Mt. Kigali. We tried to go to our favourite brochette place, which is in Nyamirembo, but it was closed. Somehow we all decided on getting food at Kigali Heights and headed there.

Climbing Mt. Kigali was quite the experience and well worth it. It was a good challenge and exercise for us all. I really enjoy living in the moment and trying new things, I’ll be sure not to wander on another military base again but it makes for a funny story.

Lake Kivu

Last weekend Key and I were fortunate enough to go on a trip to Gisenyi (Rubavu) on Lake Kivu. Our friend Willy, who also brought us to Akagera, and his friend Maggie accompanied us. We chose this weekend strategically because there was a music festival and it was an umuganda weekend (The last Saturday of every month is called ‘umuganda’ and roads and stores are closed down so locals participate in community-building activities) so we were able to leave on the Friday afternoon. Many people from Kigali also ventured to Gisenyi that weekend for a music festival, which is usually one of the highlights of summer.

The first interesting thing I found about this trip was the drive. The journey took three hours and it was all on a single road that wound up and down hills. As we wove across the hilly terrain out of Kigali and into the Western Province, we saw the sun set over the hills and how the lights of remote villages were scattered in the darkness. Halfway there we stopped in Musanze for a stretch, some brochette, and roasted potatoes. The brochette there was just as amazing as Willy and Maggie promised. When we got to Gisenyi, we pulled up to the Havanna Hotel. We didn’t get to see the view on our first night because we arrived so late. I passed out as soon as we got in the room and didn’t even hear Willy knocking and asking us if we wanted to get food.

The next day, we got up bright and early to explore. We started off with our hotel. To me, this hotel should get 4 out of 5 stars mainly because only 4 of the 5 floors were finished being built. Our (mine and Key’s) room was on the 4th floor and when we went to explore the 5th, there wasn’t one… Besides the concrete floor foundation, there were no rooms, walls, or roof. Even though it looked dangerous, I didn’t mind so much and it didn’t bother me because our room was fine. The hotel had a nice view of Lake Kivu and the whole town of Gisenyi. We took a few pictures with the view and then went to reception for breakfast. They served us eggs, bread, fruit, and tea. It was funny because the dining table where breakfast was served was right beside someone’s room and he came walking out in a towel. He really did not care.

We headed to the Serena Hotel on Lake Kivu. Looking back, this day has been one of my favourite days in Rwanda. We chilled on the beach, played volleyball, Key and I rode on a Jetski for the first time (I drove), and met some really cool people from Kigali. Some people even asked Key and I to pose for a picture with a T-shirt that had their company branding on it. Locals of Rubavu stood on the sidewalk and stared at all of us on the beach the whole time. Willy explained that this happens a lot because locals are always interested in how people from the ‘big city’ act. We also drove past the music festival and saw the concert from afar but opted to stay on the beach and relax instead. We went to a buffet restaurant for lunch and when I walked past the dishes and made my plate, I saw a whole goat head in one. As a joke, I asked the waiter how much it was to buy it and he told me 2000rwf, which is about $3CAD so I told him to hook me up. He brought it to our table on a plate and Key, being the vegetarian she is, almost threw up. I am always excited to try new foods so I didn’t hesitate to dig my fork into it. With Willy and Maggie, I ate its cheek, tongue, and brain. Then Willy dared me to eat the eyeball… So I ate both. And he recorded it.

The first one was weird because I had to get used to the taste and texture. As I chewed, there were different layers that each felt and tasted different. I kept chewing as it popped and gushed and eventually, it tasted really good. I can now say that I’ve eaten goat eyes.

After our day spent the beach, we went back to the hotel to clean up and get ready before we went to a party. We checked out a few of the different parties that were happening across the town and met a lot of people our age. We ended up eating at the Serena hotel, which was expensive but good.

The rest of the weekend was very similar to the first but we knew more people and more about the area. We found cooler parties, better food, and many of the people we had met earlier. During one of these parties, we were at a restaurant on the beach when Willy, Maggie, Key, and I decided to play truth or dare. The stakes were kind of high and things got pretty interesting… We had a lot of fun and got to know a lot about each other. One of Willy’s friend’s, “The General”, came to play and he was quite the character; he travelled to the different parties with his posse in a safari bus.

Key and I decided to stay another day and so we had to take a bus back to Kigali. The bus was so long and Key slept on my shoulder for most of it. In Musanze, I had to get more of those brochettes and I almost missed the bus. All I saw was Key’s head out the window and her whisper-yelling for me to hurry up. I jumped on just in time and we continued on the long ride to Kigali. The bus pulled in to the station across town from our house, the Nyabugogo Bus Station. We struggled to find a taxi and when we finally did… We found a taxi that looked like it had been through quite a struggle itself. It had a broken windshield and when we pulled out of the lot, the door flew open. The driver didn’t even stop. He just reached over, one hand on the wheel, and pulled it closed. It was a bit of a nervous ride after that but we got home all right.

All in all, it was a great weekend trip. We got out of our house, out of the city, and off of our phones. This really sparked an interest in Key and I to travel more across Rwanda and maybe to more countries during our remaining time in East Africa.

Halfway there …

 

This is a reflection of what my fellow interns and I have accomplished during our time here and what we will do in our second half of our internship to achieve our goals. In our first couple of weeks being in Kigali Rwanda my fellow interns and I started to schedule meetings and presentations to introduce our probiotic yogurt project and outline our goals.

Our first order of business was to conduct a presentation in the college of health and medicine for the staff and students that are apart of the Students Nutrition Association. During this presentation we told the staff and students about our university, western heads east and the fiti probiotic project we were sent to do. The students also gave a short presentation about their association and we were happy to find that many of our long and short-term goals aligned with the association. I had a short discussion with the president of the association and he seemed very engaged with our project and he has been throughout the summer. Our next meeting was with Charles, the director of Les Enfants de Dieu. He worked with WHE when the project initially started in Rwanda a couple years ago. This was a very useful meeting because he was able to tell us what worked last time and what could be improved on for the future. One of the major improvements that needs to be made to this project is the advertising. The past interns made the mistake of heavily advertising this yogurt as meant for people with HIV/AIDS. This gave people the perception that this yogurt is only for people living with HIV/AIDS causing others who were not diagnosed to shy away from buying the product.

Another important and interesting meeting we had was with Rwanda National Standards Board. We sat down with Anciet Muriro to understand the protocol for business and food safety within Rwanda. I found this meeting very interesting because Anciet also gave us tips on how to make the yogurt taste better while reducing costs, fat content and increasing shelf life. This will definitely be a useful connection for interns coming to Rwanda in the future. We also had meetings with Bilyogo Health Centre and Kibagabaga Hospital. All three of us were able to attend the meeting at Bilyogo but Nordiah attended the meeting at Kibagabaga Hospital with Didier, Bob and Jessica. At both we discussed our project and how it can be implemented within their organizations (Kibagabaga asked for a business proposal in order to further our plans while Biryogo wanted to see our project better established in the community). By the second week of June we had a proposal ready to be submitted to the university. Once this gets approved and the Campus Kitchen opens and becomes self sustaining, Kibagabaga hospital should be our next target.

During the first half of our experience we also had short meetings and interactions with many of our supervisor’s (Yves Didier) colleagues. This includes professors, the deputy vice chancellor of the university and the Dean. My team and I have also done further investigation in local grocery stores and markets to compare the prices of different yogurt brands in order to ensure our price stays competitive. We also looked at prices at different ingredients and where we can get them in bulk for the cheapest price. We have also met with a few restaurant owners to discuss using their facilities and equipment to practice making the yogurt for the students in the association to try and begin sensory testing.

I have many ideas for the second half of our internship to help our team achieve our goal. My first idea is to start providing the students at the University of Rwanda with tasks they can help us with. This includes translating posters we have made from English to Kinyarwanda, brainstorming the best ways to market the product on campus and identify the best location for the Campus Kitchen. I think this is important because the students will be the ones guiding this project from September to April as Western interns are only here in the summer. Another idea I had is to strengthen the connection we have already made with Kibagabaga hospital and the Rwanda National Standards Board. These organizations seemed the most interested in the project and had the most to offer us in terms of knowledge and resources. My last idea comes from the recent connection we made with a organization called Centre Marambo. They are a rehabilitation center for girls and young mothers. Their facility is equip with a small cow farm and is also focused on pursuing good health for their members and community. We will talk with them to see if our goals align and what kind of business we can conduct with them. From the second half of this internship I will learn how to build lasting connections between our organization and other organizations in order to further the success of this project. I will also learn how to engage peers, introduce people to a new project and equip them with knowledge to run a sustainable social enterprise. This is also why I think this experience has been reciprocal; I expected to learn a lot from this internship but I didn’t expect to have such an impact educating and equipping people with the skills they need to sustain our initial efforts.