Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A franc for your thoughts

It is now been a little over a month now since swearing in and I’m feeling more and more each day settled into life here in Nyamagabe. My work thus far has been mainly observational, as my counterpart Flavien, colleague Emmanuel and I work on the first phase of our project with Higa Ubeho, which translates to “Be Determined and Live” in Kinyarwanda. It’s a 5-year program funded by USAID , overseen by CHF International, and operated through RPOs or Rwanda Partner Organizations. The organization that I am working with, AEE, is one of these RPOs and recently became of the specialized organizations to work on economic strengthening. This broad term translates into very specific goals for AEE Nyamagabve: Assist three “Pre-Cooperatives” into becoming “Model Cooperative” and develop 57 new ISLGs over the course of the next year. This involves assessing existing groups, finding and establishing new groups, providing trainings in coop development and market literacy, etc. It also involves many trips to the field which I have no problem with for two reasons: 1. It means I don’t have to sit at a desk and type all day 2. I get to ride a moto (Of course with my PC issued moto helmet, which by the way includes firey stars and lightening bolts). Our job is also to work with youth in the community in either going to school (AEE Nyamagabe funds over 300 orphans and vulnerable children’s school fees), providing vocational training, and ultimately finding them an employer. The families that we contact to join ISLGs are all family members or guardians of the OVCs that are also sponsored by AEE to attend school. In addition, the youth that AEE works with are from CHH or Child Headed Households.

Currently we are in the assessment and sensitization phase of this process which has brought me out into the rural areas in the surrounding sectors of Nyamagabe town. It is great to meet and see the faces behind the numbers and names on paper, while at the same time learning of their challenges and successes. One group that we met last week has been established for 10 years, which has allowed some members to buy cows for their families or remodel parts of their house. However, they struggle with bookkeeping, enforcing repayment schedules and utilizing the social fund. They will be trained in the coming weeks in all of these areas.

It is hard to contribute anything tangible right now because I feel like it is the time for me to observe and ask all of the questions I may have. It’s one thing to learn the saving and lending practices that AEE teaches, but also how and why these practices work Rwanda as well.

My house is coming together more and more each day. In Kinyarwanda we’d say “buhoro buhoro’’ which means “slowly by slowly”. I have my bed frame (which I need to buy a larger mattress for), my chairs, my small and large tables, and my couch (which I need to buy cushions for). My book shelves will arrive this week (fingers crossed). I’ve slowly been picking up items that I need around the house like a hammer, cleaning supplies, and cookware. I’ve started cooking for myself which has mainly consisted of oatmeal in the morning (who knew oatmeal can taste so good with any mixture of peanut butter, honey, cinnamon, and/or jelly), lunches are provided by AEE, and dinner which has mainly been hot sandwiches with some sort of mixture of veggies, cheese, and spices. I eat great fresh fruit from the market which is amazingly cheap. For example, I bought a pineapple, 12 bananas, 3 green peppers, and 3 onions for about $1.50! I’m going to attempt pasta sauce this week for the first time…where’s Newman’s Own or Ragu when you need em?! (Actually Ragu was $12 in the market in Kigali, either the import tax needs to drop or Safeway needs to expand to Rwanda)

The rainy season is wrapping up or so they say, which means it should heat up here pretty soon. It’s surprisingly a bit chillier than what you think of when you think “Africa”. I had to go home today to get my North Face fleece because our office was so cold. The elevation of my site and its proximity to the forest keep it cool and the clouds lingering, but it’s still nothing to complain about.

Well I think that's it for now, feel free to email anytime!