The Rwanda presidential elections have come and gone with incumbent Paul Kagame winning by an overwhelming majority. His 2nd seven year term, which officially started last Monday, was attended by heads of state from many African nations and the American Rick Warren.
In addition to the fiber optic cables that have been installed in Nyamagabe, construction has begun on new, paved roads around Nyamagabe town. One of the roads happens to be in front of my house and office, which comes at the delight of many of my neighbors and colleagues. Although I will enjoy not having to cross the small “bridges” on my short walk to work or town, I’m not sure if cobblestone roads are the most urgent of needs in Nyamagabe.
During my Pre-Service Training (PST) I signed up to take part in the Peace Corps Coverdell World Wise School program, which links current PCVs to classrooms in the US. I recently found out that I will be pen pals with twelve 1st graders in Allen, South Dakota. If you have heard of Allen, SD before it is probably because it has been deemed ‘The poorest place in the US’. I really look forward to learning about the lives of these twelve children, as well as providing them with a glimpse of life outside of the States.
In addition to the first grade class, I will also be corresponding with a 7th grade class in Southfield, Michigan. I was extremely happy to receive the news of my pen pals in South Dakota, but wanted to have an opportunity to discuss and exchange ideas about the Rwandan culture and way of life with older American students as well. The 7th graders in Southfield will be studying Africa in their social studies class this year, which I think will be a great opportunity for this exchange. I was also excited when I received an email from their teacher who asked if it would be possible for her students to exchange letters with Rwandan students. I now plan on linking them with a classroom in my town, after completing a Needs Assessment scheduled in October. I hope I will be able to find a motivated teacher and classroom to keep up with this exchange throughout the year.
Lastly, this month I will be taking part in the African Region Post-Conflict Workshop in Entebbe, Uganda. Peace Corps is assembling staff members and volunteers from post-conflict countries including Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda to discuss issues related to programming, training and PCV and staff support. I’m looking forward to discussing the needs and best practices of Peace Corps Rwanda, and hearing about the other country programs as well
We have now finished the 2nd phase of the ISLG trainings which focused on the technical side of bookkeeping and accounting. During the initial assessment phase, many groups had trouble answering questions about their finances from the previous year and they had very few notes in their ledgers. Extra time was allotted to review and emphasis the importance of this bookkeeping as it allows the groups to hold themselves more accountable for their savings and lending practices, and helps AEE understand what areas the group may need additional assistance.
As the ISLG trainings wrap up Flavien, Emmanuel, and I will begin working with our cooperatives in the Nyamagabe district. The co-ops have been deemed “Pre-Cooperatives”, based on their size and income so we will be working with them on establishing themselves as “Model Cooperatives” within the next year. To attain this title, they will need to demonstrate a period of growth which coincides with developed business skills in marketing and accounting. The cooperatives activities range from making drums to selling honey, so our approach will not be the same for any two groups. I visited the drum-making cooperative on my initial site visit during PST, and I’m looking forward to meeting the other groups and tasting the “best” honey from Nyungwe Forest.
One of the frustrating aspects of being a ‘muzungu’ is that some people think our possessions are easily replaceable. Although I feel safe at home and generally believe my belongings are secure inside my home, items that I normally wouldn’t think twice about have been taken. It first started with a compost pile Tressa and I constructed at her site. Our plans were to start a garden, but when we found that the compost pile was stolen, we figured growing food wouldn’t be a good idea. Next was my wallet, which is an obvious target, but something I thought was easier to hold onto. Lesson learned: Being first in the push-pile to board the bus isn’t worth losing a wallet. Next was the wood behind my house, which has now included the gate on the fence as well. The gate provided access to the forest area behind my house and luckily is only the first hurdle to getting on the compound. The eight foot tall cement wall with locking metal gate is a little more intimidating and can’t be used as fire wood. I now know to keep small bills in my pockets, and to never leave a compost pile unattended for more than a week.