Friday, 17 November 2017

My dearest Rutsiro,

Some call me a quiet person, a shy person but I am none of those names. Call me Fiacre, a young man passionate about bringing positive changes in the community, I am currently volunteering with International Service in Rutsiro, Western province of Rwanda. I am working with KOPAKAMA, a coffee farming co-operative. The co-operative produces green coffee, which is their main product and they are looking to start producing roasted organic coffee.
Community integration

How is it that over the course of 2 months, you have stolen my heart more than I thought? How is it that I’ve fallen more in love with you than I have been with anything else on earth?
Being with you has truly been like falling in love. At first, everything was so new and exciting –When I arrived in Rutsiro District, I was like Huuum! Am I going to stay here for 3 months? The answer was “let me give it a try”! With a friendly environment, little by little I was able to get familiar with this community. Though sometimes, I was called UMUSEMUZI (a translator), which I did not feel comfortable with, but as time went on, things went well.

Now, it has been 5 weeks since I arrived in Rutsiro. I am with an awesome team, which is ready to do whatever it takes as far as empowering the community is concerned.
Coming from the community work
One of the things I really enjoyed with the team so far was participating in the community work known as “UMUGANDA”. Normally in Rwanda, every last Saturday of the month, the community joins hands to participate in different activities that contribute to the development of the country. During the Umuganda, we were honored to be part of Mushubati community, where we helped them to remove weed from along the local road.

We also participated in dry mill inauguration event that was organized by KOPAKAMA. During the inauguration, we were able to meet different partners and stakeholders of KOPAKAMA including TWIN representative and Misozi…… The funniest activity we enjoyed as team was testing coffee, which was quiet interesting.
Dry meal inauguration

Another thing done as a team, we travelled to Rubavu, a city with beautiful beaches, trees and nice view. The aim of the trip was team bonding. We visited Calafia café Gisenyi and TAM TAM beach.
Additionally, it was great pleasure to provide an English class to the local community, which is done every Wednesday of the week. The community enjoys the class session which motivates the team as the facilitators.

English class carried by Beth and Fiacre

A lot has been achieved even though we encountered many challenges in the fourth week of our placement. However, as I always say “life is a learning curve”! Challenges are there to help us improve and now we are ready to turn the page. The mid-term review is coming close where we are going to meet Huye team to share what we have been working on and identify the gaps and see how we can improve in order to accomplish our plans. 

Of course, there is a long way to go as we are only remaining with not more than 4 weeks but I always believe that when the team is committed, the sky is not the limit. Let me say we are on track! 

BUHORO BUHORO (Step by Step).

Monday, 30 October 2017

The Better Tomorrow

Hi! Call me Reece Marriott, a guy who is addicted to Nutella unfortunately it’s not available in the district I am in, which is Rutsiro in the Western province of Rwanda, but that won’t interfere with my project. Talking about the project, we are working with a coffee co-operative called Kopakama. The co-operative produces Green coffee, which is their main product but they are looking to start producing roasted organic coffee.

Reece and team talking with a women cooperative in Ejo Heza.

Of course, I am not alone! We are a team of 10, volunteering with International Service, who is a non-government organisation that empowers women, children and disabled people to access their rights in developing countries across the world. Our project is in a joint partnership with Challenges Worldwide. Challenges Worldwide is another INGO, which focus on working with small businesses and enterprises in developing economies.  In addition, many of you reading this blog wouldn’t expect International Service to be working with a co-operative, but that’s what makes us unique. We are ready to bring positive changes in terms of raising awareness when it comes to human rights and gender equality within the context of the co-op.

Ray raising awareness in the community
 So far our plans and goals are set. Now, it’s time to get things done! Last Thursday we had a meeting with the women farmers - there are 331 female growers and they form a group called in Ejo Heza, which translates into ‘The Better Tomorrow’. At the meeting, we discussed many issues like gender equality, accessibility to health care, education and safety! One thing we appreciated is that the community is open, honest and they were ready to corporate and take action. One of their wishes was that we could teach them English.

There was an issue that I wasn’t surprised about; the female workers were complaining that they are physically weak after their shift. Are you amazed? They should be given more time to recover due to the long hours they work, so this is an area we are going to look into to see how we can support them.

Personally, when I was arriving in Rutsiro, all I was worried about what will their food be like. Will it be delicious? I didn’t have to stress though because I have always learnt to be proactive and I adapted to this community very well which will benefit me in terms of their culture. I had no idea what to expect but when I arrived I started to feel calm due to this community were very welcoming.  For example, I would walk the streets in this community and they would instantly stop me to shake my hand and say Muraho which means hello. As each day goes by I am falling in love with their language and this gives me an urge to learn more about it. 
We are here to build from what the previous team has done. 

The most rewarding feeling about this placement so far is that when you hear the community speaking English to you. It’s not the fact they can speak it but it’s the fact that they have a go and put in the effort to speak my language. On the other hand when I walk past people in this community and say ‘Mwaramutse’, which means Good Morning, they would be surprised because they didn’t expect that from me. It’s such a great feeling and one of my goals is to learn more Kinyarwanda!

I am honestly delighted to be volunteering with Kopakama, being given the task to help the Coffee Co-operative as a business and to raise awareness for human rights is a great opportunity for myself and the team. As a team, we all have individual goals that we want to achieve and every one of us is excited to accomplish them. Till next week…murabeho!

Still not satisfied? Why not follow our regularly updated social media accounts.

Instagram: ICS_Kopakamacoffee
Facebook page: Kopakama ICS

MURAKOZE! (Thank you)

Wednesday, 13 September 2017


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 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!


Friday, 18 August 2017

Culture Shock - My Experience


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.

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.

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.

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

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


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).