Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Karibu - “You are Welcome!” to Rwanda!

“Karibu” is the Swahili word for “Welcome”, and it definitely describes how I’ve felt in my short time here in Rwanda.

 The land of 1,000 hills at dawn

I arrived in Kigali on a late Sunday night in early June. As I descended in the darkness, I began to see the outline of the many hills of Rwanda in the distance. Rwanda is appropriately called the land of a thousand hills – and as some people like to add, a million smiles. The people that I’ve encountered in Rwanda have been extremely friendly and welcoming. 
 The view from my office window over Rwanda

One of the biggest cultural aspects of Rwanda that I’ve noticed is how people greet each other. Often in the US, especially in New York where I’m from, I greet people briefly as I’m rushing from one thing to another with a quick “hi, how are you?” often without waiting to hear the answer. Here in Rwanda, people make sure to take the time to greet everyone in the room personally, often by grasping hands in a loose handshake, slapping hands, kissing cheeks, or even hugs, accompanied by a “Mwaramutse” (Good Morning), “Mwiriwe” (Good Afternoon) or even “Muraho” (how are you). It’s extremely refreshing to see people slow down and take the time to actually have conversations – something that I’m not always cognizant of in my daily life back in the States. However, I’m still trying to figure out what to do in greeting each person – my go-to is generally to say “muraho” and offer my hand and let them take it from there, which sometimes ends in awkward fumbling as someone is expecting a hug or a kiss on the cheek – or three? It really depends on the situation, as I’m learning.
  The children of Rwanda

 I’ve also been extremely blessed that everyone here is so willing to teach me words in Kinyarwanda – the local language. I’ve been having a great time trying to learn the language, which is becoming more and more familiar each day. I’ve had conversations with coworkers, bus drivers, moto drivers, security guards, and almost anyone that will talk to me, and usually end up picking up a new word or two along the way. As an introvert who is normally a bit more reserved around new people, I’ve found myself struggling at times to come out of my shell and attempt to speak in the local language, but each time that I attempt to speak Kinyarwanda, people are extremely encouraging and supportive. My goal by the end of the summer is to have some semblance of a conversation in Kinyarwanda. I’ll let you all know how it goes!

 Country music singers from Tennessee in Kigali

During my time in Kigali, I’ve been living in what feels like “Africa-lite”. My apartment provided by World Vision is one of the nicest places that I’ve lived in my entire life. The streets are clean and orderly, well-lit, and safe enough that I have no problems walking around by myself. We have restaurants with all of the international cuisine that I’m used to in the US – though admittedly, often with interesting interpretations. There are taxis to take me where I want to go, supermarkets to buy groceries, movie theatres, bowling, and even clothing stores reminiscent of H&M. Basically, it’s very similar to any city in the US, which demonstrates the impressive strides in development that Rwanda has taken in the 20 years in the 1994 genocide.
Bowling at Mamba Club
Once you travel outside of Kigali, you can see some of the struggles that Rwanda faces to provide for its residents. The country had a poverty rate of 45% in 2011. Currently, only 16% of the population has access to electricity. 12% of children under the age of 5 are underweight. Children suffer from malnutrition, no access to clean water, and lack of educational opportunities in many of the rural areas of the country.  Access to health care is still a challenge for many Rwandese.

Many of Rwanda’s challenges are a direct result of the genocide of 1994 in Rwanda, one of the biggest atrocities in modern human history. The Rwandan genocide was a mass slaughter of Rwanda citizens by members of the Hutu majority. During the approximate 100-day period from April 7, 1994 to mid-July, an estimated 500,000–1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, while millions others fled their homes and became refugees in neighboring countries. Millions of children were left orphaned and families were shattered.

This summer, I am working for World Vision Rwanda, a Christian organization with a worldwide headquarters in Seattle, Washington. This is a special time to be joining World Vision Rwanda, as the organization celebrates its 20 year anniversary of serving the people of Rwanda. In July 1994, following the genocide, World Vision began working in Rwanda to provide emergency help to displaced refugees, assist orphaned children, and provide assistance with resettling. In the 20 years following the initial start, WVR has expanded its mission to working with communities to find long-term solutions to solving poverty and injustice. There is a special focus within WVR on providing education and nutrition to children.
Leading a process improvement meeting with the Supply Chain team

My project is focused on teaching and implementing process improvement techniques in the Head Office in Kigali, and potentially expending to some of the field offices by the end of the summer. This will be a new and exciting challenge for me, as I have worked with small manufacturing operations and utilities where you can easily see the processes as they are happening. However, in a service environment, it is much more difficult to observe the processes. Luckily, I have been extremely blessed to have the kindest, patient, and dedicated coworkers here at WVR to allow me to learn and grow in this new role as I try to make a small impact on a great organization.

 My coworker Robert and I

 My coworkers that I share an office with

I look forward to sharing more of my adventures in Rwanda, my work at World Vision, and my every day struggles of trying to pronounce words Kinyarwanda.

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