Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Coffee to Kitchen Gardens

United Nations Association International Service. Rwanda Cohort IV. Blog II.
Coffee to Kitchen Gardens

By Jamie Tristram & Lucy Holmes

Week two of our Rutsiro adventure! We are now into the full swing of things and are getting use to the Rwandan way of life. Our mornings are kickstarted with a personal alarm clock from the cockerel’s, followed by a seven o’clock yoga class outside the office where we are rewarded with stunning views of Lake Kivu and the surrounding hills. The scenery never fails to amaze us and its clear to see why Rwanda is known as ‘The Land of a Thousand Hills’. We can’t think of a better way to start the day and are all hoping it will help to tackle the delicious yet carb heavy diet. It is then a walk home for a “nice” cold bucket shower (which is exactly as it sounds) before we head off to work.

Our alarm clock and morning view

Our work week started with a trip to the local Kopakama Coffee Dry Mill, designed to give us volunteers an insight into how Kopakama processes its beans. The first process is for the coffee beans to have their outer and inner shells removed before being separated according to grade and size. Once sorted, the beans are moved next door where a team of women, ranging from 200-700 (dependant upon demand) are waiting to sort the beans by hand – this is to ensure only the best quality is put forward. A small selection is taken to the testing room where the beans are roasted, ground, brewed and go through a tasting process similar to that of wine tasting. Upon being given the green light, the beans are shipped worldwide after which they are roasted in country. From seeing the beans on the trees through to tasting a freshly brewed cup, we all have a better understanding and insight into the coffee making process. The highlight of the trip was getting the chance to roast and grind our own coffee. However, neither of us like the taste of coffee (still working on that) and will therefore be bringing ours back to the UK for everyone else to taste our hard work!

Coffee roasting & Grinding                                                                Tasting our hard work            

Upon meeting the all-female sorting team at the Dry Mill, we spoke to one of the workers – Cyimpaye Liberetha. (Pictured below) Despite our best efforts at speaking Kinyarwanda –  Mwaramutse (good morning) and Mwiriwe (good afternoon) - did not quite suffice in holding a conversation. Luckily, our helpful team leader - Donald - was on hand to help translate. Cyimpaye told us how working for a fair-trade cooperative (Kopakama) has benefitted her in many ways. She has a strong and stable wage and is able to provide her family with health insurance, give her two children a decent education and even save some money for the future. She loves working with the beans and is excited to start working with Organic coffee, as Kopakama is currently going through the process of being certified as Organic. Working amongst the smell of fresh coffee is an added bonus and Cyimpaye loves the odd cheeky coffee.

Meeting Cyimpaye at the Coffee Dry Mill

We got our hands dirty on Tuesday and Thursday by starting our project of building kitchen gardens for the local community. Kitchen gardens are simply made from sacks, soil, manure and seeds, however, don’t let that deceive you; they require hard manual labour from the whole team. The kitchen gardens we build will help the community fight malnutrition by providing families with the means of a balanced diet. Our morale and determination was increased when the local community - who will directly benefit - came along to give a helping hand. We are now more determined than ever to build as many as we can in the coming weeks. Team Rutsiro really came together by the end of the day. It was great to see that by Thursday we had perfected our building technique having reduced the time taken to build from four hours down to just two.

First Kitchen garden down, many more to go!

Keep your eyes peeled for our blog next week to keep updated with our adventures!

Friday, 11 May 2018

Kigali to Rutsiro. The Final Cohort.

United Nations Association International Service. Rwanda Cohort IV.

By Michael Lawrenson and Bertrand Kwibuka.

The Land of a Thousand Hills.

We’ve finally made it to Rwanda, ‘The Land of a Thousand Hills’, after a gruelling 17 hour journey which felt like it lasted a lifetime. The downsides of the journey, however, were quickly forgotten as the pleasant climate and beautiful rolling hills of Kigali more than made up for the lengthy journey. The city is a sprawling mass of energy which extends as far as the eye can see across a picturesque, undulating landscape. Kigali is undoubtedly the greenest city any of us have experienced which is reflective of the progressive environmental policies that would put many more ‘developed’ nations to shame. A government ban on plastic bags in addition to strict litter fines means that the streets are spotless; a designated ‘car free day’ occurs twice a month which encourages citizens to walk or cycle to their destinations; what we found most impressive, though, was Kigali’s commitment to tree planting throughout the capital which accounts for its ubiquitous green character.                                    

We soon joined the In Country Volunteers that we would be working with for the next 10-weeks. After a few pleasant days in Kigali which consisted of In-Country Orientation, meeting our respective counterparts and enjoying a plethora of Rwandan cuisine, it was time to depart to our respective placements. Kigali was an absolute pleasure. We were sad to leave the capital and our friends heading to the alternative placement in Huye; however, the project training and the experiences we had there made the Rutsiro team even more excited to start working towards positive change.

Cohort IV, Rutsiro Team.

Upon arrival at our host homes, we were welcomed by a warm embrace from our host parents, a charming Rwandan welcome which embodied the excellent hospitality typical of Rwandan culture. The warm welcome was complimented by authentic Rwandan dishes, which for all of us demonstrated the joy the families felt in hosting us.

In the morning, the whole village woke to the sound of roosters which was an appropriate reminder of our rural setting. Parting our bedroom curtains revealed an incredible view of Lake Kivu which spans the length of the country. After a typical Rwandan breakfast organised by our host parents, we were ready to take on the challenges of the day. The next action was to put on our ICS T-shirts which are appropriately labelled ‘Challenge yourself to change the world’. The quote is an inspiring reminder for the team that we all set out on the same journey to empower positive change. 

Our place of work was atop one of Rwanda’s many hills and the first challenge was the uphill walk to the office. KOPAKAMA (Coffee Production Cooperative) is going to be our main working partner and we were rewarded with an enlightening tour of the coffee farm. This, coupled with the morning commute to the top of the hill where the farm is situated, energised the team who were all keen to start work as soon as possible. After the tour, we met the KOPAKAMA staff who highlighted the different projects we would be cooperating with them on; human rights, sustainable development, civic participation, health and nutrition, livelihoods and environmental management.

KOPAKAMA Coffee Cooperative overlooking Lake Kivu.

After work, we headed to one of the host homes for some evening entertainment, which consisted of coffee and live music, as well as reflections on the work that lay ahead. The next day, after planning our schedule for the next 9 weeks, we had a chance to walk to the KIRURI waterfall set in the beautiful rolling hills of Rutsiro. This was not only extremely rewarding in terms of experiencing the picturesque landscape firsthand, it also gave us the opportunity to examine the environmental issues prevalent in Rutsiro District. This gave us a chance to research potential solutions to the ever present threat of landslides and flooding, which are common during the rainy season.

One Team.

We will keep you up to date with our progress and the changes we are making in Rutsiro district over the next 9 weeks. We are an ambitious team, hoping to make positive changes to Kopakama and the surrounding areas. Keep your eyes on our blog!

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Nearly three weeks ago we joined people from all around the globe who marked and celebrated International Women’s Day 2018, and what a better time than now to invest in people and especially in women and girls.
On 8th March in the small Rwandan village of Rutsiro we all headed to a small ‘model village’ which is the name given to the communities who consist of the poorest Rwandan families who have houses, schools and health insurance funded by the government’s money. Opportunities are sparse here and resources very limited, the unspoken norm is that when the girls become women they are expected to marry a husband and birth children to create a family of their own, this is therefore the circumstance of the majority of the women in the model village.

volunteers in International women's day

In the playground of the local school the organisers of the International Women’s Day community event in the village helped to create a stage space surrounded by benches, chairs and large speakers with a sound system, this paved way for the meeting and celebrations to begin with the ICS volunteers and the local community in Rutsiro. And so it began, the leaders of the sector and the village introduced themselves and spoke of how far women have come and then what needs changing in the mind-set of the local women such as gender equality within the family and raising their children of the future, both girls and boys to be educated well. The leader also spoke of women’s evening which is a community event that exists weekly, the women attend a meeting and discuss issues in their family life and work together to find possible solutions, the husbands are actually supposed to attend this event alongside their wife but unfortunately they do not and so the leader emphasised this as an example in the need for genders to become more equal.
community leaders delivering speech

Following on from the speech of the leader it was the ICS volunteers turn to make an impact to the community, we all performed a pre-collaborated theatre drama to the audience and the moral of this was to express the importance of gender equality and human rights from a sketch of alcoholism, domestic violence and neglect of their children. The local community then performed their drama which focused on gender equality and ensuring parents encourage their young girls to remain in school to achieve an education and as a protection to avoid the problem of older pimps that exist here, this was then followed by ladies dancing a traditional Rwandan dance. The ladies dancing looked beautiful dressed in traditional blue skirts with yellow sashes, the music was loud and the sun was shining down on a vibrant atmosphere where everybody then joined in with dancing and singing together. After the International Women’s Day 2018 community event finished it was later followed by everybody sharing food with one another.

 Nutrition demonstation
The ICS volunteers and Innocent (Field officer of Kopakama) travelled Cyarusero cell in aid of helping the mothers and their malnourished children by educating the mothers and cooking by demonstration before feeding everybody.

Everybody got stuck into the food preparation of washing, peeling and chopping potatoes, tomatoes, onions and carrots. A few other volunteers washed and dried the dishes and cups whilst the community health workers and a few other ICS volunteers started cooking the sorghum porridge, this was then given out to all mothers and children as the cooks continued to cook a healthy meal. Once the meal was ready it covered the whole of the dish – rice, beans and green vegetables, fish in peanut sauce, potatoes and chips. This was followed by a banana or boiled eggs for all of the children who were aged between six months and two years old.

During this nutritional feeding practice session the ICS team leader gave a speech in Kinyarwanda to the local mothers relating to the different food groups that contribute to a balanced diet, the importance of a regular diet for the children and their growth, the effects of malnutrition for children into adolescence, the available local foods that can help to prevent malnutrition and the importance of sanitation and hygiene when cooking.

volunteers feeding community
The session finished positively with the mums and their children having been educated and fed and the mothers then reflected back what they had learnt about a balanced diet and how they would now put it into practice when they cook at home for their children in the future. 
volunteers with community health workers
                                                         Written by Laurisa

Friday, 23 March 2018

Exploring counterpart relationships

We are half way into our time in Mushubati and throughout the various meetings, activities and excursions we have been on, a central and constant part of our placement has been our counterparts. Living with a counterpart is an integral part of the ICS voluntary placement. It’s a constant support network for both of you, and now, five weeks into living in Rutsiro, it’s impossible to imagine the placement without them.

Although we have grown up in different continents, with (in some ways) very different cultures we can still discuss serious issues surrounding global development, share stories from our respective homes, and joke around with each other.

The ICV counterparts enable UKVs to feel part of the host family from Day 1 via translations. However, this is just one of many exchanges that take place between counterparts; from handwashing clothes and cooking on charcoal, to music and ideas on faith and religion. The different experiences and perspectives we both possess as twos and also as a whole team make us a supportive, stronger and more successful team.
Team with community

During discussions we have had surrounding marketing and communications for Kopakama Coffee Cooperative it has been our collective ideas that have spurred discussion forward, enabling us to present suggestions to Kopakama that we all feel confident in. During field work with Ejo Heza in maintaining coffee trees, when building kitchen gardens and during nutrition demonstrations, working as a team who get on socially has helped team spirit. Flexibility, patience and adaptability are the key to good team work on placement. 

However, we are one counterpart down after one ICVs job success (congratulations Clarisse). UKV Edana remains last volunteer standing in her host home, showing the importance of her welcoming and friendly host home; where the language barrier has not stopped them from continuing to host Edana. Team movie nights, walks, trips to Karongi and card games allow her to be every duo’s welcome and loved third wheel. 

Lydia and Sarah M

Similarities: Both counterparts share a birthday, enjoy having down time and peace and quiet, and both hate mornings.
Difference: Lydie loves napping a lot more than Sarah
Counterpart highlight so far: Sharing birthday celebrations on 1st March, and sharing the experience of Lydie’s first jog – she thought she wouldn’t make it but she persevered and succeeded

Ange and Laurissa

Similarities: Both counterparts enjoy Afro beats, and both have naturally big curly hair
Difference: Laurisa likes to sleep in her free time and Ange likes to watch movies
Counterpart highlights so far: Connection over shared music taste, sing together and share headphones on bus journeys

Vanessa and Sarah L

Similarities: We are both a bit crazy and have no concept of time, we have a good dynamic where we can be honest with each other and make fun of each other
Difference: Vanessa is elegant and a lady, Sarah is clumsy and has no control of her limbs
Counterpart highlights so far: Dancing together…very differently

Sam and Eric

Similarities: Enjoy football, and have a similar sense of humour
Differences: Sam likes to read and Eric does not like it a lot
Counterpart highlight so far: chatting with their host dad and volunteer learning at Gisenyi 

Edana and the Kings (host family)

Similarities: Shares a similar dry sense of humour with her host Mum
Differences: Generational difference with her host Nana, about clothing, but always says it with a smile
Host family highlight: spending time with the family in the evening over dinner, especially building relationships with their two children

Chantal and Donald (Team leaders)
Similarities: Both share Christian faith
Differences: Differences in communication skills and different ways of addressing people
Counterpart highlight so far: Helping each other to lead the Rutsiro cohort 3

Written by Sarah Losasso 

Monday, 12 March 2018

Human Rights and Kitchen Gardens: A Recipe for Sustainable Development

Over the past three weeks we have been busy helping the community and KOPAKAMA, raising awareness on human rights and gender equality.

During the first two weeks we met 800 of the 1002 members of Kopakama during their meetings, in the different zones of Nyagatare, Bumba, Cyarusera and Mageragere.
We used the format of a short dramatised sketch to deliver our message in the first two zone meetings. The content of our message touched on human rights issues like school dropouts, gender inequality, the importance of savings, buying health insurance, the issues of drinking and polygamy.


Figure 1. International Service volunteers exploring Human Rights using sketch to Cooperative farmers

In brief, the sketch was related to coffee farming where an alcoholic man was abusing his wife and his children. Then, after getting advice and information from KOPAKAMA members, he changed his mind and worked together with his wife in the cooperative to support their family.

Then in the last two zone meetings we used posters. Every volunteer stood up one by one to speak about chosen human rights that related to the local community and coffee farming. We then asked questions to the audience to see if they had been engaged with what we were saying, and we found that they had learnt and understood the message we were portraying.

Figure 2. Volunteers presenting farmers Human rights using posters

To continue the work of past cohorts in addressing issues of malnutrition we built a Kitchen garden for the most vulnerable people living in a nearby model village located in Mushubati sector. This was to show them how you can use a small amount of land for a big impact; cultivating beetroots, carrots, cabbages and green vegetable (dodo). This will serve 10 families with vegetables for a nutritious diet, preventing malnutrition.

Figure 3. International service volunteers building kitchen garden.

Figure 4. International service volunteers with finished kitchen garden.
Written by Eric Ntwari

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Community integration.

On the last Saturday of every month Rwandans comes together for Umuganda. Umuganda means to ‘come together in common purpose to achieve an outcome.’ Umuganda’s beginnings date back to 1962 when Rwanda achieved independence from Belgium. It was considered an independent contribution to nation building. At this time, it was often referred to as ‘Umubyizi’ ‘a day set aside by friends and family to help each other.’ It officially became a government program in 1974 and was undertaken once a week. As with almost all features of Rwandan society, the genocide of 1994 disrupted Umuganda’s practice.

It was reintroduced in 1998 to foster a shared national identity. As a UK reader can probably imagine, many people perceived Umuganda to be a form of forced labour during its inception, but after significant achievements in erosion control and infrastructure, people became far more willing to participate. Today, Rwandans between the ages of 18 and 65 are obliged to take part and others who are able are encouraged, including visitors to the country and non-Rwandan nationals, as we were soon to discover. Activities take place between 8am, and at least, 11am. The activities are organised through a hierarchy from the village level all the way up to national level. We were to be working on leveling ground to keep livestock for the poorest people within our community in Mushubati.

Laurissa and Sam during Umuganda.

The government has recently provided them with housing, known collectively as a model village (Rwanda’s equivalent of council housing in the UK). The work is grueling, especially in the sometimes blistering heat of Rwanda. Leveling the ground included ploughing, digging and raking; all were achieved using one utensil, a hoe. The people of the local community were in good spirits for Umuganda, singing songs they all knew to keep their productivity high.

After the designated activities, a community meeting takes place, within which both members and leaders discuss current issues and how to resolve them. For example, during our attendance to such a meeting, topics such as sanitation, the importance of schooling, and family planning were discussed. The local leaders took time to deliver speeches and then engage the community through questions related to what they had spoken about.  A woman, no older than 18 years old was asked what she had learned from the speeches given. Her response demonstrated the importance and outreach of such discussions. 

She answered that what she had learned about the importance of contraception was that it should be available to all women and not just married women without judgement. According to our ICV counterparts, it is currently frowned upon for an unmarried woman to visit a health centre and request contraception. This perception was highlighted during the audience’s reaction as it drew bouts of laughter and awkward faces. Evidently though, this young woman’s attitude is proof that different ideas can be embraced and change can be achieved.

As it was planned we had an event of meeting with Kopakama members and surrounding community to introduce ourselves as new cohort. Therefore, after Umuganda we dressed  in Rwandan tradition clothing which was unique and presentable. The event started at 3 PM. With good playlist songs, we introduced ourselves and three UKV’s presented a speech in Kinyarwanda.

In terms of work, We raise awareness on human rights, the importance of saving, sanitation and health insurance. In other words,  it was the time to show a community the activities we shall be engaging in to the placement. To evaluate the lesson learnt we asked questions and they answered them well. We were happy that Some of Kopakama employees were with us together with sector leader Christopher and head of Mushubati health centre.

Apart from the above presentation we danced Rwandan song (Tarihinda), Macarena and cha cha slide, the community danced with us and then we shared a drink.

Traditional clothing for meeting the local community.
(From left to Right, Back to Front: Ange, Sarah L, Laurisa, Edana, Clarisse/Chantel, Sarah M, Vanessa)
Written by Sam & Chantal.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Kopakama: How Far They’ve Come

Kopakama has come a long way since it’s creation as an association of coffee farmers in 1998, to its status as a co operative in 2005 and continues to grow to the present day. It is this continued growth as a business that is particularly inspiring and it is this growth that ICS cohort 3 volunteers are anticipating to aid with. 

One such way that we are hoping to help Kopakama become more efficient as a business and therefore continue to prosper is through improving the communications system between Kopakama staff and its 992 co-operative coffee farmers, 56% of which are illiterate. The current communications system in place is time consuming and costly, therefore by putting in place a pyramid system through texting whereby lead farmers communicate to their farmers directly we are hoping to cut both time and costs and enable them to communicate more efficiently. 

Also high on our agenda in terms of facilitating Kopakama’s development is a sustainable marketing strategy to help them both come into contact with potential buyers and increase their online presence. We plan on doing this by improving and updating their website, setting up an Instagram account which they can continue after our departure and the design of a new logo, all of which will aid in promoting Kopakama. 

Kopakama’s growth is exhibited not only in its substantial expansion and its increase in co operative members but in Kopakama’s wider positive impact in the surrounding community. Perhaps the perfect example of this is demonstrated in the free electricity and water provided through Kopakama’s certification with Fair Trade since 2012, providing local families with resources that were previously unavailable to them. The continued growth of Kopakama has also precipitated the creation of Ejo Heza, a women’s only coffee farming association dedicated to upholding the rights of women and continuing their skills in coffee farming through female specific farming plots. 

With the organic certification of some Kopakama coffee on the horizon things are only looking up. This will allow them to accommodate another buyer’s requests and raise their income from production, but perhaps more importantly however it will allow the community to continue to thrive.