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Wednesday, 13 September 2017

OUR JOURNEY INTO THE LAND OF A THOUSAND HILLS





Journeys: you can take them alone or with company, some are short and uninteresting, others distant and surprising, but each has its purpose and all have its challenges.

This is my team’s ICS journey - distant and surprising.

Traveling from the capital of the UK to the heart of Africa our journey was far from short. Together with 10 volunteers I boarded a Boeing 747 for a 10-hour, 4096-mile flight to Rwanda. Our journey’s purpose, personal and social, to challenge yourself to change the world, a unique opportunity.

How it all began

Every journey has a start, if you thought our journey began in a busy airport think again. Months and hours before, challenges had been faced and won - different for each of us. In fact, hours before departure I was on a London tube riding to the airport. It was Gay Pride, a suffocating 30-degree heat, and I was on the underground squashed, with my suitcase, in-between girls with glitter and sweaty armpits in a carriage infused by the odour of warm beer. This was challenging to say the least, yet that’s not where the journey really begins…


Our journey much like yours and many others before me, began by accepting the invitation to embark on the ICS programme. Your first step, sending off the application form. Your first challenge, laying aside the “what ifs” and jumping out of your safety boat.

After months of preparation, fundraising and painful vaccination, we didn’t need to imagine any more, our dreams were now reality. Even though we were jetlagged and tired we refused to rest our eyes as we travelled to our hotel. Eyes wide open, we looked out of the window of the bus, as we journey through the capital in awe of everything.
We were ready. Ready to experience all this land of a thousand hills had in store for us.   

Coming together


Arriving in our rural setting, together with our Rwandan volunteers, not being surrounded by shops, clubs and cinemas became our greatest advantage. We got to know each other’s likes and dislikes over countless games of cards. Over a soda, we learned about each other’s aspirations and with some banter we learned our different political views. Together we shared embarrassing stories and those that shaped us as individuals. With each day spent together, layers of our identity unravelled, with time we began to understand each other better. Every day was not perfect, but the more we come together, the better equipped we become at solving our differences.

The moto ‘Challenge yourself to change the world’

Challenging experiences makes us aware of our similarities and differences. We were challenged from the get go, be it getting used to eating cold food or being woken up by a rooster at five in the morning. We learned how to overcome these with time, one by one. Although, difficulties were not exclusive to UK volunteers alone, like us our Rwandan counterparts faced challenges. A common challenge among Rwandan volunteers, was understanding our faced paced English, native to UK volunteers, external to Rwandan volunteers. The consequence, chaos, words misunderstood and misinterpret, which lead to half the team not participating in project actives.
Other challenges were personal, an illness in the family, overcoming past problems, being torn between two worlds, dealing with bags of emotions. Reality is, challenges are present daily be it at home or in a country far away, but with each challenge there is an opportunity to grow. As a team, we learned to overcome ours, some alone and some with help of others. If you were to ask any of us, it is because of these challenges we have grown and developed.  

Overcoming Challenges

First, we learned to work together, learning about each other, putting aside stereotypes based on initial impressions or our experiences of people.
Part way through, we all had to look back to the ICS code of conduct and remind ourselves to be flexible and adaptable. Our work included surveying members of the community that lived in rural environment, which was hard to access by foot. Therefore, it was essential for us to be flexible and work together for the success of our work and our project.
As a result, we have learnt that journeys are paved with moments of excitement, masked anxiety, displays of courage and a large wealth of determination – and the need for flexibility. It would be a lie if I told you the journey was an easy ride, our journey has been bumpy, with high and low terrains. We can recount countless moments we just wanted to go home and others where we wished it would never end.

Citizens of the world

As I write this, we have just completed presenting our final research to the Director of KOPAKAMA (coffee cooperative) and our partners for the past 9 weeks Our actions haven’t solved world problems, although I can confidently say that our actions have improved the community… Our research has helped us identify gaps and strength for KOPAKAMA to carry forward. Our actions contributed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) amongst which, quality education, gender equality and economic growth. We have carefully surveyed the community to understand their standard of living and awareness of human rights and gender equality, setting the vital foundations for future cohorts to carry forward.

Our journey here is ending, as we reflect on our experiences, we can see we have challenged ourselves, again and again and won! There is so much we will take from this experience including working and living in a new culture, integrating into a new community, developed new skills, making new friendships and learned how to work in a diverse team.

In regards to changing the world, our journey doesn’t end here. It will continue back home, through sharing SDGs, ideas and working with our friends across the continent, we will remain young and proactive citizens of the world.

Thanks for reading, I hope your getting ready and buckling up for your journey. Kristo G. Tafesse 




Monday, 11 September 2017

R & R (Rwanda & Recreation)





As you will know by now, we have been working for Kopakama and have had many adventures. But what you might not know is what we do in our spare time… So, we thought it would be a good idea for you to understand what R&R (Rwanda and Recreation) we have participated in.  (Before you ask, it isn’t drinking beer or going to a nightclub whenever we get the chance!)


Draughts, Dama & Cards

For us volunteers we don’t have access to Xboxs or PlayStations, instead we have traditional Rwandan games, our favourite being Draughts. Here is a brief instruction manual on how to play
Players: 2
Overview: Draughts is a game where two players use bottle tops to take each other out.  
Rules: Tops can only be taken diagonally and with a space between the top, otherwise it cannot be taken. The winner is the one who can take the most bottle tops first.
Despite the ICVs having a good track record against the UKVs; the UKVs are substantially gaining ground on the ability of the ICVs.

Thankfully all volunteers are very competitive when it comes to playing cards; such games have included Snap, Sevens, Spoons and the Joker game. The tension, thrills and spills of our games have produced many memorable victories and defeats for those involved. 




Exercise & A Little Dance Competition

Every morning volunteers who are willing and able, walk up to Kopakama to participate in 30 minutes of rigorous and tiring exercise. This has been a great opportunity to burn all of the carbohydrates that we have been eating here and trust me there has been a lot, and it is an additional opportunity to get out the stress!
If there is one thing that Rwandans and Britons both love, it is dancing. However, to stir things up the UK volunteers thought it would be a great idea to introduce the ICVs to some classic film music. For instance, Dirty Dancing, Grease and Saturday night fever. All volunteers were required to mix-up into pairs and put their all into trying not to break a leg. Whilst I may not be auditioning for the Westend Dirty Dancing, it was nevertheless a good way to show off my brilliant moves.

Film Time 

There is nothing like a bit of escapism to break up the work that we have been doing. Films that we have watched have included frightening horror films such as Split (2017), moving biographies such as The Intouchables (2011), thrilling action films like The Great Wall (2016) and heart-breaking romance in Beautiful Creatures (2013).  The films have been a brilliant break up from the work we have been doing and if you have any suggestions put them in the comments below :) we are running out of ideas!

The BIG Wedding

The benefit of living in a tightly knit community is that everyone knows each other very well. Lizzie, Devota and Grace’s family member Helen enjoyed her wedding on the 27th August 2017.


    

We attended the civil and church service. The civil service involved the wedded couple (Helen and Jean Claude) coming to Kopakama and enjoying a lovely meal (which we had the honour of serving!) Afterwards there was a church service to commemorate their love. It was a very lovely day and our team were very glad to be witness to a ceremony that not only represents the culture of the country but also the love that the two individuals share.

Washing



Washing has been one of the biggest tasks for many of the UK volunteers. In Rwanda, the access to washing machines is minimal. Therefore, volunteers have no choice but to wash all of their clothes by hand. Whilst the process may sound difficult to us, our counterparts make it look easy. If your washing machine ever breaks, here’s a handy guide to washing your clothes…
Step 1) Take an everyday shirt. Simply dunk the shirt into a bucket full of water
Step 2) Then using soap, rub the neck, sleeves, waist and any other dirty areas
 Step 3) When it’s nice and soapy, grab two parts of the shirt and rub together to get rid of the dirt
Step 4) To finish it off, plunge the shirt into another bucket of water before ringing it out to dry
It usually takes us 2 hours to wash 7 days of clothing. Whilst it may not be the most enjoyable activity in the world, it is certainly a necessary job and  has been a worthwhile experience that the we have learnt a lot from.


I hope that this has given you a sound insight into what we get up to in our spare time. As I am sure you are now aware, this experience is more than the volunteering work. It is a chance to make new friends and bond over activities - reflecting the very best of our cultural norms. There is no doubt this is an experience will stay with us forever. Although I can safely save I will be back to using a washing machine, when I get back home!

Thanks for reading, until next time!

Rob 

Friday, 18 August 2017

Culture Shock - My Experience

Hello,

This week blog is from Chantal (Rwandese), an ambitious, confident, happy soul, who’s always up for a laugh. Those are the words used by my volunteer friends. I’m an ICS in country volunteer (ICV) currently in Rutsiro, a district in the western province of Rwanda.

Me - Chantal!

My wish:
I dreamt of working alongside European people, sharing a room, spending time together, making memories and becoming real friends. My dreams came true!

What I knew about UK people:
Before meeting the UK volunteers there were some part of their culture I was aware of. For instance, they like privacy, their dress code, sarcasm, complaining easily and they are quick decision makers.



Culture shock:
I work together with volunteers from the United Kingdom (UKV’s). Although many young Rwandans speak English, most have not worked alongside people from the UK. ICS is a new experience for Rwandans as well as for the British volunteers. 

Volunteers face many challenges, the biggest of which is culture shock. And you will be forgiven if you assumed like many others that culture shock is a problem only faced by overseas volunteers. Culture shock is as big of a challenge for ICV’s as it is for UKV’s. Spending time together working, chatting and doing leisure activities, you get to know each other’s differences and similarities.

We have learnt it is not about comparing our two cultures, but celebrating the differences and seeing what we can learn from each other.




There are some aspects that surprised me about UK culture, which shows how our amazing cultures are different.

Attitudes towards drinking:
Normally, in Rwanda there are people who consume beer, but many people choose not to. I learnt that for the UK volunteers, drinking is part of their culture. In Rwanda is it not common to see a girl drinking beer, but in the UK this is very normal.

Attitudes towards sex:
Sex is not openly discussed in Rwandan culture, mainly for religious reason. The majority of Rwandans are Christians. Most Christians believe that sex should only occur within marriage. I believe the same. You can then understand why I was shocked to hear UKV’s talk about sex openly as one of their basic needs.

It was a normal working day, me and some of the UKV’s were having a normal chat until the topic of sex came up, and I heard one them saying “I miss SEX!” When I heard this, I was surprised because I can only say that I miss someone and the rest I keep it secretly.

Attitudes towards weight:
Rwandan families are happy when their children put weight on and we like people who tell us we are becoming fat. The UKV’s dislike being called fat, and prefer to be called skinny! Imagine the difference!

As I said there are positive aspects of UKV’s that make me happy and I adopted them to my culture.

Flexibility:
I like the flexibility of UKV's - they can try new things; food they didn’t ever eat, having baths using buckets, talking slowly so we can understand. That’s good for everyone who is living in new places. I like the motto of “please try it” as long as this causes no harm.

Energizers:
We always like to be busy at work though we can get tired easily. I was surprised by some of the UK V's games (energizers) which boost morale and keep us effective at work.

Confidence:
I like how the UKV’s emphasize their ideas until they are heard by everyone. They have great confidence and stand by what they say – this is good!
lovely friends
Overall...

Our cultural differences have helped us to get to know each other by respecting each of our cultures. Here in Rutsiro, we are a big family of Rwandans and UK volunteers. This is a result of patience, flexibility and respecting the needs of others. Nothing should be taken for granted, when we work together, we are all winners!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

KOPAKAMA THE INSIDE SCOOP

Mwiriwe (Good Afternoon) I’m Pasha, I’m a member of team Rutsiro and a sister of the community! Last week you met the squad, now it is time to give you an insight into what we do here...

Who's our project partner?

Kopakama is a small cooperative in West province of Rwanda. They produce and export coffee worldwide, not just the Rwandan way, but the right way! The team and I have put together the 5 MUST-KNOW facts about Kopakama, as we want you guys to get to know them as we have done.

1. Kopakama opened its doors back in 2005 and started with 47 members. Through hard work and the drive to succeed, the business now has over 852 members.

2. The co-op implements their activities in both the Rutsiro and Karongi districts of Rwanda and exports coffee to the UK, USA and China. 

3. The cooperative owns a dry mill, and not just one, but two washing stations! The first is located in Rutsiro and the other in Karongi.

4. Kopakama’s work is focused on coffee washing, harvesting and applying pesticides. Members attend the farmer fields schools, with field officers, so there is consistency with production.

5. The cooperative works to empower women. 307 of the producers are female, and they have women’s meetings twice a month to discuss relevant issues.

Kopakama: Where the work happens!

Where do we fit in?

Kopakama has managed to grow over the past few years, yet some areas still need assistance. The cooperative struggle to produce green coffee, but what exactly is this? It’s coffee beans which have not yet managed to be roasted; unfortunately Kopakama have low capacity of doing so and we wish to help them gain a better level of it. They also lack confidence due to basic levels of accountancy, business and leadership skills. Team Rutsiro hope to build self-assurance, increase the knowledge base and develop the abilities of the workers.      

As the first cohort our main objective is to research and collect data. Surveys have been created to help us understand the gaps in Kopakama and knowledge of gender equality and human rights. After interviewing selected members, team Rutsiro will analyse the findings and put together recommendations for the next group of volunteers to implement. Knowing we have the opportunity to influence a brighter future is a true magic, we will apply dedication and hard work in hope to start a ripple of change.  

What do we want to happen after we leave?

Once the first cohort has left Rutsiro, we hope the upcoming volunteers can pick up the work from the stepping stones we have laid.  The team have read through the action plans written by International Service and Challengers Worldwide and we desire three main achievements:

1)       Boost integration of women in the business. 36% of the employees at Kopkama are female but we wish for this to rise. Though Kopakama is on the right track, we would still like to see a greater priority given to gender equality.   
2)      Promote gender equality in the community.  More girls should be encouraged to stay in education and have long term aspirations other than becoming a wife. The inequality of women is a global problem and we must raise awareness where we can in order to achieve change.
3)      Maximise production sales. Increasing profit for Kopakama does not only benefit them, it creates a money flow which will travel from the members, the co-op and into the community.  The capital generated will impact the Rutsiro district and improve the wellbeing of the people who endure life on poverty line.

How are we integrating?

Team Rutsiro have been very active in trying to get to know community faces, make friends and build strong relationships. Along the way we have planned events and put on classes in hope for all to get involved. Every Wednesday at 5pm is our language class and what a turn out we’ve had! Many folk of Rutsiro came along to learn English and the UKV’s to learn Kinyarwanda. The people here have demonstrated a true dedication in wanting to learn English and it is truly inspiring. Each week two different volunteers take part in teaching the class, one from the UK and one from Rwanda, the pair provides data and pictures on presentations to all engaging eyes.

Eager to learn and ready to work, studying a language is for all!

Kopakama generously allowed us to use their space to hold a dance event, UK Steppers VS Rwandan Classics. The team hired traditional Rwandan clothing and performed a variety of dances to the community.  Amongst our routines we had the Cha Cha Slide, Rwandan Cow Dance, Macarena, Rwandan free style and over 100 people showed up! Majority participated in each dance while the rest clapped and cheered for us, the audience brought an uplifting energy that moved us, literally. Although there were two separate languages and two different cultures we were one big performing family. So far I smell success!

Full Rwandan wear ready to Cha Cha! 
The lovely ladies of Team Rutsiro! 
Hopefully my blog today summarises what we do here and how we want to help create long lasting change.  We are very excited about what is to come in the remaining weeks here. Surveying the community, skill sharing, teaching business skills and learning more about the culture as each day goes by, murabeho (goodbye).  

Friday, 28 July 2017

Week 1: Meet the Team

Rutsiro Week 1: Meet the Team

The Team at Lake Kivu
Bite! (Hi) We are Team Rutsiro, Cohort 1. Almost two weeks ago we arrived in the Rutsiro District of Rwanda. It's probably time we told you a bit about what we are here to do. We're working with the Kopakama Coffee Co-operative to assess livelihood gaps and to help educate the local community on human rights.

We're a team of ten consisting of eight volunteers and two team leaders. Originally, half of us were from Rwanda and the other half were from the U.K, but now we are united.

Week One has been all about getting to know each other, learning about coffee and integrating with the local community. We had a fun time visiting Lake Kivu, relaxing and taking pictures. We also experienced the local (4 hour!) Church service, which was a little too long for some of us. And of course, with help from our host families and counter-parts we've began to learn the basics of Kinyarwanda (the Rwandan language.)

As this is the first blog, now seems the perfect time to introduce the team…




Chantal

Chantal- Kigali, Rwanda: Age 23
Describe your first week in one word? Surprising.
What was it that surprised you?  Living with a new family, meeting new people and adapting to a new culture.


Pasha

Pasha –
Newcastle, U.K: Age 23
What has been your favourite moment of Week 1? Meeting the local children, especially my three year old host brother.
What do you think is the best thing about Rutsiro?  The beautiful scenery, especially the view from our outdoor office.


Alain

Alain -
Huye, Rwanda: Age 24
What is it like living in a host family? It is wonderful. We live in a nice house with a big room, a big bathroom and the Mum is a very good cook.
What has been your favourite moment of Week 1? I enjoy the climate and it was wonderful to go to Lake Kivu.


Kristo

Kristo – London, U.K: Age 23.
What is your favourite thing about Rutsiro?  The people. They have been very welcoming and I have been surprised by their generosity and hospitality.
What is the best meal you have eaten so far?  Spaghetti with potato, and also fish on a stick (brochette.) I also enjoy the fruit; avocados and pineapple.

Devota

Devota – Kigali, Rwanda: Age 24
What is your favourite thing about Rutsiro?  The climate, it is the perfect temperature, not too hot and not too cold.
What is it like living with a host family?  I like the food they cook and they take care of us well. We always have hot water when we shower!

Grace

Grace – Woking, U.K: Age 20
What has surprised you the most so far?  How welcoming and friendly the community are, and the number of Kinyarwandan words that start with an ‘m’!
What is your favourite Rwandan food? All the amazing fruit, particularly the mangoes and pineapple.

Abel

Abel – Kigalia, Rwanda: Age 24
Best moment of Week 1? Playing the different energisers with the team, particularly ‘who stole the cookies from the cookie jar…’
Have you learnt anything new about U.K. culture? They like to play lots of games, especially card games, which I also enjoy playing a lot.

Rob

Rob – Tonbridge, U.K: Age 19
Describe your first week in one word? Integration
What has been your favourite moment so far? Spending time with the in-country volunteers and getting to know them better.


Lizzie

Lizzie (Team Leader) – Southsea, U.K: Age 24
What is it like living with a host family? I am very lucky - my host family are very welcoming and generous and always make the effort to provide food that I like.
Describe your first week in one word? Cultural.

Enock

Enock (Team Leader) – Kigali, Rwanda: Age 29
What has been your best moment of Week One? Getting to know new friends.
Have you learnt anything new about U.K culture? Yes, people from the U.K are always on time!

The first week has been enjoyable, and Rutsiro is beginning to feel like a home away from home. We have even more planned for next week; language lessons, community service, and a dance and culture evening, so stay tuned for next weeks blog. 
   
Murakoze, Thanks for reading,

Team Rutsiro. 
(Grace Bulling)