United Communities

Welcome to Uganda

Our journey to Kampala began with an early bus from Butare filled with Jim Dale’s voice reading us Harry Potter. We arrived a few hours early to the bus but thankfully discovered the most amazing spring rolls at a bus station bakery. When we finally arrived to the Backpacker’s Hostel we were greeted by the lovely Katy Stewart- an alumni to the GROW trip and our chapter’s former president. The next few days of exploring around Kampala felt like I had time traveled back to Delhi with all of the traffic, pollution, crowds, and energy. Natasha also ensured that we visited an Indian clothing shop and we all got our fair share of North Indian Thali. Maddie, Molly and I decided to brave the level 5 rapids on the Nile and survived two capsizes and a swim with some forest cobras. After three days of exploring Kampala, having American style pizza for the first time, spending all of our money at craft markets, and discovering Uganda’s specialty street food snack/meal, rollex (an omelet and chapatti rolled up and stuffed into a plastic bag), we were ready for some of our first GlobeMed conferences!

Visiting our friend Alphonse's mom at her shoe warehouse in Kampala.

Visiting our friend Alphonse’s mom at her shoe warehouse in Kampala.

The East Africa Forum was a collection of GROW interns, partners, friends, alumni, foundations, and NGOs from almost all of the East African countries gathered together at the beautiful Ndere Center to discuss how we can “unite communities for sustainable action.” * We referred to it as Camp GlobeMed. We instantly made friends with all of the other members and the weekend began to feel more like a family reunion of people you had never met, rather than a conference. I met Mike on the bus ride back to Kampala and he ended up staying with us for two nights while he visited the Murambi Memorial and Nyuguye National Park. Our roommates were surprised that we had never met him before.
The main takeaway we learned from the conference was how to seek partnerships, whether between NGOs such as Resilient Africa Network and local universities that create innovations to better the lives of local communities, partners and GROW teams, parnters and other NGOs, partners and fundraising groups**, partners/ GROW teams and mentors, or GROW teams and GROW teams. We had the chance to talk to all of the other interns some of whom had only been in Africa for a few days or others who were heading home at the end of the weekend. We shared our successes and frustrations and it made us feel more productive about the work that we have been doing and appreciative towards our relationship with RVCP. We realized that despite our frustrations, we have been given the opportunity to do real hands-on work in improving the MHEP program and RVCP’s capacity. The conference also reminded us how much we love Butare and Rwandan dancing.
The lectures and panels we attended emphasized the importance of efficiency and community-based development within partnerships. We were also reminded of the value of accountability and clear visions when working with media or fundraising, both of which we hope to improve in our last two weeks in Rwanda.
The most inspirational lecture we attended was facilitated by Pam, a member of Columbia University’s partner organization. She drove home the importance of having, seeking, and asking for mentorship in any field that you are working in. She explained that one partner mentioned that their interns asked so many questions (this hit close to home since RVCP is probably sick of all of the questions that we ask them during our meetings). She responded that asking questions is healthy; we were probably just asking questions that they did not have time to ask themselves; and it was not because we did not understand what was going on, but we wanted confirmation for how the programs worked. Mentorships, she explained, served as a symbiotic relationship where both parties were learning from each other, by sharing beneficiaries and resources, and allowing organizations to see the results of transformation. She stressed that you had to seek mentorship and ask for help when you needed it. Pam responded to concerns of students that the potential mentors might not have time, which she reassured that you must be persistent when asking and if they really did not have time, the relationship would not benefit anyone.
In case anyone was wondering how they could be a good mentor, according to Pam, they must clarify clear goals, outsource to help fill gaps, create open space for discussion, understand the nature of the relationship, listen, help identify problems and solutions, explore needs and motivations, provide constructive feedback, serve as a role model, help the mentee to ask valuable questions, be accountable and honest (and on time), and above all- seek growth. Finally, she explained that with “relationships, trust, kept promises, integrity and confidence building…anything can happen within given resources.”
On Saturday morning, Alyssa introduced us with the questions “Who am I? What can I do? With Whom? And With What Resources?” and concluded that energy, art, culture, and music were sometimes the best methods for uniting communities and in this way we can stay alive. Based on the number of times we have been asked to sing for our RVCP groups or pulled into dance circles, our team could definitely relate to her final words. We have constantly had to question our group’s and our personal capacities over the summer, but I think all five of us could say that we have learned more about our selves, our capabilities, and our mentors and resources, while maintaining our personal values and appreciating those of the partners we have been working with.

The Whole Gang



*In case you were confused by any of our terminology, GlobeMed is the national organization that we are chapter members of in the United States and who organizes our partnerships across the world. The GROW internship is the Grass-Roots- Onsite Work project that the five of us are participating in the summer. The partners are the organizations that we are working with both in Africa and at home, ours is the Rwandan Village Concept Project (RVCP). Alyssa is an alumni of GW, GW GlobeMed, and the 2011 GROW team, she is currently working for the National Office as the Director of Partnerships and coordinated most of this conference.

**If you are seeking a resource for international donations, seedgrants will be launched in a few months. It is a crowd -funding platform (similar to globalgiving) to support innovations through the use of grants, instead of loans. If you have any questions, contact Steven Grant at sgrant@ghets.org.

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An experience in fieldwork

This summer, the GROW team aimed to conduct a research project in order to assess the nutritional status of the children of the women who have already completed MHEP. We came to Rwanda having full faith that the clinic would have comprehensive records for all of the children who visit it and that we would be able to spend a day or two in the clinic looking through the records in order to find the information we needed. We were wrong.

            The first week, we asked the nurse for the records so we could start the process of looking through the handwritten records for the height, weight and upper arm circumference of the children whose mothers had completed MHEP. Unfortunately, we found out that she only had records for the children who were found to be severely malnourished and this year would be the first year that the clinic would keep records for each and every child. Despite this setback, we started by looking through these two record books of severely malnourished children and were able to find some information for some of the children we needed but we still were missing a lot of information.

            The next step we would need to take was to obtain the remaining records from the health professionals who work in the villages. Contacting the health professionals meant we would need to go and visit them in their homes so last week, Molly and I set out with Hyacinthe to make a few home visits and hopefully get the records we needed. Before we left, Molly asked if we thought the houses would have outlets in case we needed to charge her computer. We clearly had no idea what kind of adventure we about to embark upon.  

            We took Moto taxis to the clinic and then began a short hike to the house of the president of the co-op who would be in charge of showing us around a few villages to the homes of the health professionals. She led us up small hills, through fields growing potatoes and cassava, and down footpaths with only enough space to walk in a single file line in order to reach the various houses. Molly and I had both worn flip-flops, another clear sign that we were not quite prepared for this journey.  After multiple stops on the way to say “muraho” to cooperative members, we finally arrived at our destination. We sat down in a small sitting room lit only with natural light and waited patiently as Hyacinthe and the health professional began an in depth conversation. About 10 min later we were informed that the health professional only had some of her records as an organization had already come before us to take her records in order to enter them into a computer. Fortunately she had one of her record books from 2011, so from that combined with her amazing memory of the people in her community, we were able to find the weight and upper arm circumference for all of the children we needed from her village.

The next three visits were less successful. After taking winding pathways up and down a couple of hills, we moved on to the next village where unfortunately the two health professionals who worked there were also missing several of their record books and did not have information for any of the children we were looking for. Though it was starting to get dark outside and we were far from any place with streetlights, we continued on to the last village we were visiting that day. The health professional we were meeting was not home yet so while we waited for her near her house. Several residents of the village came up to us to greet us and two young boys brought us a small bench out from one of the nearby houses. We sat down with the children and played with them while we waited. Just as the sun was about to set, the last health professional we were meeting for the day arrived. We sat down in a very small, dark room and tried to see if she had the records we needed but unfortunately it was now far too dark to read her record-books and her house had no electricity. We walked back through the fields and up and down the hills until we reached the clinic. By this time, it was very dark outside and we had to walk back to the main road without any streetlights. Luckily, we made it to the main road and easily found Moto taxis to get us back into the city.

Though we did not obtain the information we expected that day, our adventure was a learning experience and a reminder that Rwanda functions very differently from the U.S. If Rwandan’s system was similar to America’s we would have been able to obtain our desired data in the clinics electronic records under 15 minutes. However, we never would have had the opportunity to trek through the Rwandan hills with a parade of children behind us, or see first hand how the health professionals actually measure the children’s nutritional indicators. Because of this opportunity our data is no longer numbers on a spreadsheet but holds the memory of individual faces and the visual of the actual size of a severely malnourished upper arm. We had the opportunity to experience a small taste of Rwandan village life and demonstrated our ability to improvise and think on our feet. We learned not to be surprised when our plans fail and to formulate not only plan B’s but plan C’s and D’s as well. I am proud of our GROW team for facing all of the challenges head on without letting frustration affect our work. 

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When you realize you aren’t an NGO

If it is possible for a brain to overheat, I think I speak for all the GROW interns that this has been a common occurrence this week. Let me assure you that in between our adventures to rainforests,  Kigali, and safaris, we actually have been doing some productive work. In fact, I don’t think I have ever spent so much time thinking in my entire life. I think our friend Paci agreed…


During our first 4 weeks here we had spent much time discussing with RVCP on how the program was running, specifically the income generation portion. We received vague answers that the crops have not been doing very well and the women have not made as much money as they would have liked. However, there was no concrete data on how much they actually had made. So we decided to visit the women in the cooperative and speak to them directly to see what they thought of the program.

With each interview my heart dropped a little more. One after one they explained to me how their goats had died, how they couldn’t afford health insurance anymore because the government increased the price, and how in 3 years the cooperative had only made a profit during one season. Week after week these women walk 2 hours with their babies on their back to tirelessly work in these fields. Yet, in the 3 years that they had joined the cooperative they had not been able to receive any money in return.

A wave of guilt rushed over me. How many times had I told the women in our MHEP sessions not to worry? That once they joined the cooperative they would have more money to buy nutritious foods, and to pay for health insurance so they could deliver their baby in a hospital rather than on the side of the road on her way back from cultivating the fields. I naively came to Rwanda this summer expecting to find a program that ran smoothly and achieved exactly what it aimed to. However, it was becoming evident that this was clearly not the case. How come GlobeMed and RVCP didn’t know the severity of the problem? That we were running an income generation program that simply had not given the women any income? I began to run over our previous RVCP meetings in my head and it started coming together. There were few records of the cooperatives profits, many documents were lost due to computer crashes, and the entry survey evaluations were in a large folder rather than entered into an excel spreadsheet where the results could be summarized. The simple answer was that GlobeMed and RVCP just didn’t know exactly how the program was doing because there were hardly any monitoring and evaluation systems in place to track this.

As I was sitting in front of these women listening to them confide in me about the numerous gaps the program has, I remembered this quote:

 “Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.” –Thomas Merton

Yes, our program requires some large improvements, but this is a challenge that we can face. As I looked into the faces of these amazing women, it was impossible not to develop the same determination as theirs. Even though they hadn’t received anything from their hard work they were still here week after week working side by side. They had a common goal to improve their families health and that is what drives their daily move. They had so much hope in their voices when they talked about ways to improve the program and I became determined to make this work for them. All of us did. We left that day with renewed energy and determination.

Our following meetings revolved over how we can achieve our “dream” program and ensure that it has the results that the women need. Luckily we had visited Gardens for Health the week before and saw amazing aspects that would benefit our program greatly. The first and major aspect we are missing is an agricultural specialist. When we conducted the interviews, the women had voiced the desire for better training so they knew the different techniques of farming. This makes complete sense and is a vital part in ensuring that the women can grow productive crops in order to make a profit. In addition to this we would also like to start giving the women chickens so that they are able to have another income generating activity where they can receive the profit directly themselves. To ensure that the women are taking care of their livestock properly and retain the information they learn from the MHEP sessions, we are planning on incorporating follow-up visits throughout the year. In addition, we are working to implement a year of health insurance for the family of each graduate. This way they will be able to save the money they make from the income generating activities for the following years health insurance.

While making the plans to implement these improvements it’s been important to remember that we are unfortunately not NGOs but rather two student run organizations. We don’t have the capacity to pay fulltime staff and have to rely on our own volunteers who are busy balancing school and work as well. Nevertheless the beautiful faces and amazingly optimistic spirits of the women remain engrained in our heads and drive us to make this program successful. 


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Stranded in the Savannah

Stranded in the Savannah

The last few days have been a whirlwind of adventures and information for our team. We departed from Butare via public bus at 7:00 am, and arrived in Kigali slightly nauseous from the winding roads, but otherwise excited for our day at Gardens for Health.

Gardens for Health is an NGO (non-governmental organization) that also has a GlobeMed chapter from Middlebury College. They have similar income generation projects and maternal health education goals, and we were eager to discuss and exchange ideas with the chapter. Our team arrived, and we were invited to an outdoor pavilion where GFH gave us more details on the different aspects of their program, such as education, agriculture, and research and development. After the meeting, we toured the farm, ate a delicious meal cooked with the produce from GFH, and then went on to tour the city for the rest of the day.

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On Wednesday, we went to the National Genocide Memorial. I think we can all agree that this is one of the most powerful memorials we have ever seen, and we all learned many things that we will never forget. I was upset that this nation has gone through so much pain and suffering, yet many people in the United States know nothing about it. I was angered at my own ignorance, because before I became a part of GlobeMed, I knew nothing about this Genocide. Even more, I learned of more genocides at the Memorial that I had never heard of. Why has the American education system chosen to ignore these devastating events? Should we not learn from these events so that they never happen again?

After the Genocide Memorial, we went to Hyacinthe’s sister’s house for an amazing lunch, then headed to the market to buy fabric. There was every color and design imaginable, and we were in awe in all of them. We spent a very long time looking at fabric, and thankfully we did not end up spending our life savings, but left happy and excited about the things we were going to make with our fabric. We then headed to the Muzungu-heavy Bourbon Coffee, where we caught up on the news and checked emails. To end the day, we had a night of good food, dancing, and fun at Alphonse’s house.



Fabric on fabric on fabric

On Thursday, we had a casual day of walking around the city. We went to Khanna Kasana, where Hannah, Abhi, and I finally got our Indian food fix, which was a welcome change to the beans and potatoes we usually have. We successfully made it via public transportation (without any help, I might add) to Kimironko, which is an open-air market in central Kigali. For dinner we went to Meze Fresh, where Abhi finally got her Mexican food, then headed back to the hostel, excited for the safari the following day.




Friday was the day that we went on a safari, and what an adventure it was. We started our day at 5:45 am, and took mototaxis to meet the Middlebury GROW team for the safari. From there, it was a 2-hour ride of windy, bumpy mountain roads to reach the reserve. Once there, we had a brief overview of the park, then off we went. Our goal was a river 3 hours into the park, where there were supposedly many animals to see. We figured that we could go on the safari, and make it back just in time for the last bus to Butare, but that did not end up happening. About 15 minutes into our safari, the driver pulled over and poured water into the hood of the car. Me, not knowing anything about cars, assumed this was normal and didn’t think anything of it. 15 minutes later, it happened again, and I realized that this was not normal, and that the car was overheating. We kept on this stop-and-go pattern for a few hours, and the stopping kept getting longer and more frequent. Finally, our guide told us that the car would not be able to make it, and that we had to call a rescue vehicle to come get us. By now we were a 3-hour drive from any civilization, in the middle of a Savannah full of wild animals. Even though the car was overheating, the guide insisted that we move inch by inch to make it to the river, and we eventually got there. We saw zebras, antelope, water buffalo, warthogs, giraffes, hippos, impala, and baboons. Thankfully, we did not see anything that would want to eat us, especially since we were wandering around the Savannah with not much in the way of defense.

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                   Hannah didn’t like being stranded



Shenanigans in the Savannah

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Eventually, the park rangers came and we were taken into the safe, horsefly-free zone of the rescue jeep. We parked our failed vehicle at a ranger station, and faced the 3 hour hell ride of a speedy off-road drive on a winding road. By the time we got back to the entrance, it was about 8pm at night, and the stars were beautiful. I don’t think I have ever seen so many stars in my life.

We had to move to the ranger canteen because the park was closed, and waited there to be picked up by the driving company. Our 30- minute wait turned into a 2-hour wait, where we finally ate real food, watched Step-Up 3, and made friends with an unwelcome bat that decided to circle us.



Hiding from our unwelcome friend

The rescue vehicle finally came, and by that time we all passed out on the ride back to Kigali. We crashed on the floor of Gardens For Health, since we were about 6 hours late for our bus to Butare. Although the day didn’t turn out as planned, it is definitely one of the most amazing adventures that I have ever had.

The next day, we woke up at 5:45 am (again) and caught the earliest bus back to Butare. Of course, it’s a national holiday, and the police set up roadblocks not allowing people to go through. After some persuasion by Molly and Hannah, we convinced the police to let our bus go so we could get back in time for our meeting. We made it back, and after our meetings, proceeded to pass out on any horizontal surface available. The weekend was long and had a few unexpected turns, but it was a weekend that I’m sure none of us will ever forget.

-Natasha Bear

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Adventures at Nyungwe

After almost three weeks in Butare, we were ready for a little getaway.  Last Wednesday we planned a trip to Nyungwe National Park for a day of hiking. We decided we would go the very next day. We asked Pascal to look up buses that we could take to the park and he found a bus that left from Butare Thursday morning sometime between 5:50 am and 6:50 am and a bus that could bring us back at 4 pm. No one wanted us to go to Nyungwe alone. Pascal offered to go with us. Abdou insisted that we should not go by ourselves. Over dinner at Shekina (of course), Hyacinthe tried to explain where we needed to go to catch our morning bus and after much confusion he insisted that he would accompany us in the morning. Despite the odds stacked against us, we insisted that we could make it on our own.

The next morning, we woke up at five am to get ready for a full day of hiking only to find out from Pascal that the bus had left from Kigali a little late and so would not arrive until 6:50. We took our time to get ready and left just after six to find our bus. We had been told the night before that the bus would come and pick us up at a gas station a 10-minute walk away. Some how we had no problem finding the tiny ticket office for Sopra Tour buses in the gas station and the man selling the tickets was waiting for us. Pascal had reserved our tickets both ways to make sure we got the correct tickets. Pascal was so unsure that we would be able to make it by ourselves that he even came by the gas station to make sure we got the right bus. Luckily we did get the right bus and it was only ten minutes late (!).

While getting the bus went smoothly, the bus ride itself was anything but smooth. The bus drove us up and down many of Rwanda’s thousand hills on rocky roads with some of the largest potholes I have seen. Molly even had a broken seat throughout our two-hour drive through windy, bumpy roads. After a couple hours the bus stopped and the driver and everyone in the bus turned and stared us down. Our indication that we had finally reached our stop. The bus left us on the side of the road on a mountain next to a sign that said Nyungwe National Park Visitor’s center with no visitor’s center in sight.  After we took a pause to laugh at our predicament and watch us bus drive away leaving us here alone for the next seven hours, we drank some water and went in search of the visitor’s center to begin our hike in time to finish before the last bus back to Butare left.


Once we arrived at the visitor’s center and paid for our tour, we realized that the trail we wanted to take, the red trail, was the longest and most difficult hike offered in the park. It would take between three and six hours to complete and was qualified as difficult, but we would see FOUR waterfalls! After we were introduced to Innocent, our tour guide, and given our walking sticks, we set off to begin our tour.


The hike started off fairly easily and Innocent pointed out some flora on the way. After half an hour I had probably tripped over sticks and rocks on the path around 10 times and the hike turned into a very steep downhill and I was sure that I was about to fall to my death into the running water below. We saw all four waterfalls in the first two hours of the hike and then started the steep uphill part of the hike. Our tour guide told us after the fourth waterfall that the next part of the hike was the part where we climb the mountain and it would take an hour for a very fit person to complete and almost two hours for an unfit person (me) to complete. The rest of the hike was quite the struggle for me. After half an hour of climbing, Innocent, who had yet to even show a drop of sweat despite his thick sweater, offered to carry my backpack for me. After he started carrying my backpack the hike became a lot easier but still the kind of challenge that I had never yet had. When they labeled the trail as difficult I was not ready for a hike of either a sharp decline or a steep incline at all times.  Near the very end of our hike, though we had yet to see any of the park’s 13 primate species, we saw the largest worms any of us had ever seen. They were possibly the most disgusting creatures I had ever encountered. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally reached the end of the trail and met the main road. 



Once we reached the end of our hike, 4.5 hours later (!), and got to sit down at the visitor’s center until our bus arrived, we finally saw some monkeys! Monkeys came out of the trees to steal banana peels from the trash and bread from the other guests. The two women who had their bread stolen by a monkey quickly realized that screaming at the monkeys in German kept them away. Apparently loud German has the ability to induce fear in all species. At 3:30 we left the visitor’s center to go sit on the side of the highway and wait for us bus to ensure we didn’t miss the last bus and get ourselves stranded in the forest. As 4 pm loomed we flagged down every Sopra bus that was going in the direction of Butare until finally our bus arrived and the driver laughed at us jumping up and down, waving our tickets; he said he was already looking for us. Pascal had, thankfully, probably made sure the bus company told the driver to look out for five umuzungu on the side of the road. Every single person on that bus stared at us for the first few minutes of the ride and we couldn’t seem to stop laughing; somehow we got ourselves all the way back to Butare in time to wash up before dinner at Shekina.




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The Pyramid Program

We started this journey on an inevitable high, taking in every moment, every conversation, gazing wide-eyed at the gorgeous green hills and smiling thoughtlessly at each person who came up to greet us as Umuzungu.  The first week felt like months as we took on a complete immersion schedule.  But now time passes fast.  We have a lot of work to do, and every task is met with challenges and frustrations.  It has come to a point where I expect to be surprised so that when an unexpected task or obstacle comes up, I can continue without panic. 

In a text message an hour before our flight left Washington DC, my older sister gave me the best advice I could have asked for.  She said, “You are going to see things that are out of your control, and you are going to get sad and angry and frustrated.  And in those moments you just need to remember you are here to grow and learn.  No matter what goes through your head, just remember to grow and learn.”

Well, my opportunities for learning and growing are quite plentiful. 

On Friday we had planned to go to visit one of the RVCP programs called the Pyramid Program.  RVCP members meet with secondary school students in the area and discuss gender, family planning, and HIV prevention.  This Friday’s session would be RVCP’s first time meeting with the students, beginning with the topic of gender. 

The night before, Pascal asked me to look over his presentation and add any ideas, improvements, or changes.  (Of course I had things to add… I could talk about this stuff forever).  We met for lunch to talk about it (the session was in 2 hours).  As we sat down, he alerted me that I would be the one teaching the session. 

On top of an increasingly nagging internal debate about the worth of my participation in RVCP programs other than MHEP (GlobeMed’s partner program in which we have had long term participation), this unpredicted task sent me into a mode of anxiety.  How could I limit my own extreme thoughts about gender to a simple 50 minute lecture with 92 high school students when I do not know their language, their culture, their background… I’ve only been exposed to their country for 2 weeks, and even in those 2 weeks, I have only experienced it as a white American, my perceptions skewed from the actuality of culture, life, and gender’s role here.  And how could I plan for a ‘lecture’ when I had absolutely no idea what their response to the very first question I planned to ask them would be? 

Grow and learn.

So I resorted to a conversation, the best kind of learning. 

After Pascal handed me the center of the classroom, I stood among the students, exclaimed the 2 Kinyarwanda words I know (Muraho, amakuru? Hello, how are you?) and then began to introduce the topic of gender in English, quite enthusiastically might I add.  (Students have been learning English since primary school, and RVCP comforted me an hour prior to the session that the students would understand me).  My first question to them (What is gender?) was met with quizzical stares, a cloud of confusion hovering over every face.  What the hell is this girl saying to us?  I looked up quickly at my team to see if there was any indication of whether or not I was completely butchering this.  Nothing.  So I continued to explain sex and gender, biology and social construction.  A few words into my explanation, Peter (vice coordinator of RVCP) hopped out of his seat, stopped me, muttered a few words in Kinyarwanda to the class, turned to me (as I stood there stupidly thinking I could effectively convey ideas of sex and gender in my own speedy American tongue to a group of students still learning the difference between good morning and good afternoon) and told me they had no idea what I was saying.  Good.  Great.   Precisely the reason why I feel so strange standing in front of a classroom communicating a topic so big, yet so ill-prepared.  Luckily, Peter is the best translator in RVCP and I had complete faith that he would help me out.  And so we started over with my introduction and my first question, while Peter and I displayed a mutual enthusiasm and command of the room. 

What is gender?  It was as if the answer had been inscribed in their brains.  Clear textbook definitions put on flashcards and memorized, not understood.  Gender balance is a process by which men and women are given the same opportunities and held to the same standards.  No, I told them.  What is gender?  Not gender balance.  Blank stares. 

The rest of the session was an incredible conversation with the 92 high school students.  They offered compelling examples and questions about gender roles, stereotypes, places in society, progress, debate, and questions about the Bible.  Yep… that was a fun one.  But actually, it was.  The only thing that seemed wrong was that it was the boys in the class who were so quick to participate and ask questions.  The girls would half-raise their hands, needing an extra sign of encouragement to speak their minds.  They had the balance of numbers in the classroom, but half of the voices were in need of amplification. 

It came to my attention that the idea of gender balance was one that is engrained into minds, but the meaning and complexities of the matter are lost.  Even some RVCP members will sing at the idea of gender balance but cannot tell me what gender is.  This has already led to countless conversations (my extreme feminist thoughts put on the back burner most of the time as I try to focus on basic points such as stereotypes, social construction and gender roles). 

It’s gradual change, for sure, but I do hope that the deeply rooted ideas of gender are taken up and transplanted in a way that does not promote gender balance between two seemingly opposing genders, but rather promotes and embraces empowerment of all genders and differences among individuals.  And I hope that my last-minute participation in the Pyramid Program did something for that change. 

Ok.  That was Friday.  A lot more growing and learning has been done since then, but I think I’ll leave that for another post.  Up next: Rwanda Healthcare System 101. 

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Muzungu Amakuru!


Welcome to a day in the life of a GROW intern (warning, due to our strange diets while in Rwanda, this will be a mostly food-based post):


We: eat… walk… talk about food…meet…walk…eat…walk….read/nap… talk about food more … meet…play with babies…walk…nap/ read… walk… eat… and read/sleep. Just kidding… well kind of… We usually wake up for a 9 am meeting with one or many of the RVCP members or adventure to one of RVCP’s various programs. For breakfast we have invested in a rather large box of oatmeal that we successfully finished today! Topped with cinnamon, bananas, apples, or Nutella, the blandest of breakfast choices is rather tasty! We have recently decided to all start getting fit so every few mornings we have engaged in Shawn T’s Insanity workout videos or an incredibly dusty run up what seems to be Rwanda’s longest hill. Thus far, we have been able to participate in RVCP’s Maternal Health Education Program (the reason for our journey to this beautiful county), MHEP’s cooperative farm (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdP9jaU7ASU&feature=youtu.be) , and the Hygiene teaching program at a primary school. This next week will be jam-packed with visiting the other programs and initiatives such as the Hygiene program in the village, the orphanage, the Malaria and HIV teaching programs, and the income generation program (specifically to see the rabbit farm, for Abhi). We are also just getting started on our research to see if there is a correlation between the women’s participation in MHEP and their children’s nutritional status so there have been many meetings with the different RVCP members to get the research going. Most of the programs are held in rural villages so we have been either walking or motor-taxing between them; today we took our first bike-taxi. Rwandans are an extremely friendly bunch, and I think I have shook almost every single person’s hand in Butare, if I have not greeted them with a “Muraho! Amakuru?” or “Bite?” (for the younger folk). To basically everyone in Rwanda, we are Muzungu, white women. You can hear people commenting to each other as we walk by and almost always, the only word you can pick up from their conversation is Muzungu. The other day as we were exiting our gate a group of little school girls started sprinting down the hill with their arms outstretched, planning to jump into our arms, yelling “Amakuru?!? Amakuru!?!” Similarly, as we were on bikes coming home from one of the programs this weekend, a group of ten boys starting running beside our motorcycles yelling “Muzungu Amakuru!” It is hilarious, especially since, we have never encountered anyone in the United States pointing and yelling someone else’s race as they walked by.

After our meetings we are usually famished and have been talking about food for the past few ours so it becomes time to decide what we shall eat.nomz ice cream The only ice cream in Butare.

We have been shopping at the farmers market for our produce and have made friends with most of the vegetable sellers.

all the friends at the market

If we eat at home we will have an avocado and tomato sandwich, or if you are Abhi you will have nutella and/or cliff bars. We have been eating A LOT of protein/ cliff/ Luna bars. (Parents, Friends, and Family- care packages of any type of granola bars would be greatly appreciated, our summer stock is running rather low).

A meal in Butare, typically costs between 1000 and 3000 Rwandan Francs (around 2 and 5 dollars). We however, have found our new dining place of choice, SHEKINA! Our first day there we signed up for a meal plan where we paid ahead and get some kind of discount so whenever we go we don’t have to worry about paying, but our meal costs about 600 RWF, less than $1. Since we are girls we get to serve our selves from the buffet rather than having a waiter/waitress fill up our plate. The options at Shekina include, chips (French fries), Irish potatoes, rice, pasta, sweet potatoes, fried bananas, sweet-cooked bananas, dodo (cooked cassava leaves that look like spinach), beans, and cabbage. So far we have only missed one or two days of Shekina, but do not worry, we have also been more than once in a day. We are regulars now so when we walk in the door they have our card ready for us and the other day the chef offered to make us boiled (instead of fried) sweet potatoes and spinach- our new favorite dishes. He also is going to teach us how to make chapatti (a tortilla). The portions at Shekina are rather large and we usually end up rolling out of the restaurant at the end of the meal. I once filled my entire plate, but was told by our Rwandan friends that that was not a real meal because I did not have the food heaped up (thank goodness for Shawn T and Rwanda’s hilly terrain). Shekina also has a great drinks menu with some mysterious, delicious fruit juice served in Obama mugs, tea with an almost unbearable amount of sugar, and sour milk (basically drinkable yogurt). The other day, however, Maddie and I got rather cocky and tried ordering for ourselves. Mind you we have tried going on our own on many occasions, but our RVCP friends are almost always there when they are not with us. So Maddie and I ordered one of our new favorite dishes an omelet cooked on top of a chapatti, but we tried ordering together and instead of saying an omelet with two eggs, we just said two eggs and sides of beans. We ended up getting four chapattis with no omelets, four boiled eggs, and three sides of beans, with a side of shaved carrots. Fail.

so excited for shekina

A rather small lunch at Shekina, with an Obama mug!

A rather small lunch at Shekina, with an Obama mug!

After lunch, we will have more meetings or programs or if we have the afternoon off, we will journal, watch Friends, nap, and read.


afternoon nap

We have attempted at cooking our own meals that have been vaguely mentioned in the recent blog posts. We brought our own Crockpot and loaded it with fresh vegetables and legumes from the market. We plugged it in and left it for the day to cook. When we returned home we realized the machine was no longer on and that we had probably broken the cord by not using the proper converter. So we left it in the Crockpot for a few days in our living room, contemplating what to do with the ingredients inside. Bad Move. Three days later, Molly smelled something and we realized it was coming from our Crockpot so we locked it in the kitchen. Two more days later, the smell was seeping through the door and we realized our dish had fermented and was bubbling. RIP Crockpot.

We have also learned that beans take a really long time to cook on a charcoal stove and are not super appetizing when they are hard.


beans in a crockpotThe longest cooking beans on our stove.

We had a successful rice dinner, the other night with green beans (that may have been too old) and carrots, and our next adventure is pasta. Wish us luck.

*Kineyrwanda is the national language in Rwanda.

** On our way back to Shekina!

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