Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Kids Club: Challenging Perceptions

Cohort 4 were inspired to work with the local street kids in Rango after the previous cohort had noticed a growing number of young children spending their day around the LUTI office. The children, many of whom appeared to be homeless, are begging for food and do not attend school. After discussing their needs as a group, we decided that a blend of classroom and sports based activities could provide some much needed structure in their lives. This resulted in the launch of the Kids Club!   

The team and the street children after the first sports session

From our first day in Huye, we met some of the strongest characters to attend our sessions, but also those who seemed to have the greatest needs. Calixte immediately stood out to us, from his physical appearance as the youngest most ragged looking child, but also the loudest and cheekiest of the group. Every morning, we found him waiting outside our office, despite his hardship always wearing a big smile and demonstrating a boundless amount of energy. It was Calixte who made it clear to us that, as a group, the street children were in desperate need of positive adult role models. Mostly in the local community they are treated as second class citizens by adults; they are shooed away from shops and restaurants and feel like they have nowhere to turn. The objectives of the Kids Club, therefore, became to offer an outlet for their energy through inclusive activities which help to build a bond between them as well as providing important life skills.  

Volunteer Gianne taking a break from a sports session with Calixte and Jean-Claude

From the second week of our cohort we began the sports element of the kids club, using local facilities as a hub for our sessions. We were very lucky to have a member of our team with experience in this area, Carl (who the kids have named King Carlo) has been using rugby to engage troubled young people in the UK to make positive life choices. His skills were essential to the smooth running of the sports sessions. So far we have conducted three sports sessions and Carl has been slowly introducing the concept of touch rugby and team work to the children. His energy and commitment to this group of beneficiaries has been the cornerstone of Kids Club.  

Volunteer Carl leading a touch rugby session

We quickly realised that two weekly sports sessions would not be enough to satisfy the complex needs of the street children. While sports sessions give them the opportunity to release their energy in a constructive way (rather than fighting), we discovered that many of them were keen to learn new skills including reading and writing, improving their English and using computers, since they are not able to go to school. It was at this point that we introduced a third weekly session at our office where we lead a session focused on their learning. For example, in this week’s session, each child produced their own ‘profile’ where they drew a picture of themselves and wrote their name, age and favourite things in English. A vital part of all three weekly sessions is to provide the children with a much needed meal and the opportunity to enjoy sitting together in a café, something which would normally not be possible for them. Each session they are provided with water, bananas, porridge and bread which we hope will contribute to fighting the malnutrition from which many of them suffer.

Volunteer Davis helping Calixte write his profile 
The street children have quickly become one of our favourite but most challenging groups to work with. We have faced serious issues of organisation; the children can find it difficult to engage in a structured environment as it is so far from their daily norms. Equally, as a team we have experienced some challenges due to the language barrier with the children and the fact that we were not prepared for the number of children who quickly began showing up to our sessions.

Our work with the street children this cohort is probably our most ambitious plan. We realise that the current interventions, as positive as they are, will mean little in the long run if we leave without ensuring their continuation. We are looking for another organisation with the funding and time to be able to continue at least one of the sessions we have set up. We also hope to connect the children with governmental agencies to help get them off the streets and back in school. We plan to develop the profiles that they made in to more detailed documents to pass on in order to facilitate this. We also hope that the visibility of the sessions we run will begin to change attitudes in the local community, especially since we allow all children to attend so that the street children can mix and build relationships outside of their group.

Street Child Jean Paul's Profile
Street Child Peti's Profile

In just three weeks of implementation, the children have already surprised us with the progress that they have made and we are excited to see this continue for the remaining weeks of our placement. Although our plans are ambitious, the enjoyment we get from working with the children motivates us to ensure its sustainability for the future.

Carl Redgrave, Felicity Martin-Daly and Keziah Lewin

Photos by Shema Isaac and Gianne Pineda

Friday, 18 May 2018

Meet the Final Cohort - 4

Muraho! Amakuru?

We are ICS Cohort 4, the final group to create a positive impact in Huye, Rwanda with LUTI (Let Us Transform Life Initiative) -  a non-governmental organisation , we aim to improve the lives of many, focusing on women and young people who live in poverty.

Our objectives as volunteers is to work with 8 groups of beneficiaries which includes; former sex workers, indigenous groups, community health workers, schools and street kids. We will be delivering sessions to create a sustainable development as we hope to leave all beneficiaries empowered to improve their lives independently.

Meet the team and what we have learnt from our counterparts so far:

Diane, 24 Muhanga
Becky, 23 Nottinghamshire


Christine, 24 Nyamata
Mel, 24 London

Davis, 23 Kigali
Tom, 25 Lanteglos

Glody, 24 Kigali
Naomi, 23 South Wales

Jemima, 25 Kigali
Gianne, 22 London

Liliane, 20 Kigali
Keziah, 18 Birmingham

Shema, 18 Kigali
Carl, 21 Bristol

Team Leaders:
Felicity, 23 Kent
Fred, 30 Kigali

After just 19 days, we have all formed as a team, creating strong bonds together through sharing this unique experience. Already we have learned so much from each other; both transferrable skills for future life and cultural differences between our worlds. Learning how to wash our clothes by hand and cook Rwandan food has been a new experience for many of us. Also, waking up early and managing time has been a difficult but worthwhile adjustment for some of us.

In our first 3 weeks we have already achieved a lot we are looking forward to implementing our plans and creating a positive, sustainable difference over the next 7 weeks.

Gianne Pineda and Keziah Lewin

Monday, 30 April 2018

Beneficiary case study: increasing access to food and water

In Rwanda, 0.4% of the population are indigenous, formally known as twa or batwa. These citizens are classified as historically marginalised by the government. According to the Community of Potters of Rwanda 77% of this community are illiterate, 47% have no farmland and 30% are unemployed.
International Service volunteers with LUTI have developed the partnership with the indigenous group in Rango, who live in public housing. Previous cohorts focused solely on facilitating their knitting co-operative but we identified the necessity to improve their access to water and food. Our first priority was to build a kitchen garden, in which we planted carrots, dodo, spinach, celery and onions. We worked with members of the indigenous group to complete this. It was important because our needs assessment identified that they currently lack a consistent supply of vegetables. The work of the International Service team has been rewarded with an encouraging reception from the beneficiaries. For example, elders of the indigenous community said they would dance to celebrate the completion of the kitchen garden. We have observed growth in the vegetables we planted and expect some will be ready to use in cooking soon.
The team celebrating finishing building and planting the kitchen garden with members of the indigenous group.
In addition, we installed two tippy taps, which are hand washing devices to improve personal hygiene. Follow-up visits were undertaken to ensure each member of the community understood how to use the hand washing stations and were utilising them when necessary. Unfortunately, due to theft, the soap we provided has to be stored separately so people have to go to request it after using the toilet. Moreover, to complement these initiatives, we held sessions on nutrition and sanitation, as well as distributing resources on these areas. In order to enhance the profitability of their knitted goods, the team provided them with new colour palettes and a revised pricing structure. Our work has been linked to the Sustainable Development Goals of no hunger, clean water and sanitation and reducing inequality.  
Jean-Paul (JP) Bikorihana, 40, President of the groups charcoal burner co-operative, spoke about the progress made alongside the International Service team. We are grateful for everything thats been done for us. We had a great time together. Discussing the impact of the different projects that have been undertaken, JP was positive. Even though the vegetables havent grown yet, they will help us to eat a balanced diet and put into practice the nutrition sessions that were delivered to stay healthy. Hygiene and sanitation sessions complemented the installation of two tippy taps. JP said: They will help us fight diseases caused by dirtiness and its a great way of living as even when we don't have enough water we will still have some left to wash our hands. 
JP (far right) and other members of the indigenous community during a meeting with LUTI's volunteers.
In terms of business development, the colour combinations and pricing strategy proposed for the knitting co-operative is now being implemented. According to JP: [The co-operative members] will still need training but they can manage as they have resources. They hope they will make a profit and may adjust the prices depending on the market. With regards to creating products from iron sheets as an alternative source of income for the charcoal burner co-operative members, assistance to purchase the equipment is still required.  
Overall, JP claimed that the International Service team has been successful in making a difference to the lives of the indigenous group. Theres a lot of change, especially in terms of our mindset. We now feel we can be more engaged and try to put into practice all the activities we did together like the kitchen garden and tippy taps. The only request for future cohorts is to follow up on all the activities weve started and to keep training them.
Team member Winnie testing out one of the tippy taps that was built for the indigenous group.
Team leader Felicity said: The indigenous group were the most in need of our help when we arrived and we are happy to have carried out most of our planned interventions with them. Challenges faced in implementing our plans included the marginalisation of the indigenous group among the local community as well as practical difficulties to install a tap in an attempt to increase access to clean water. The team of volunteers strongly believe this group of beneficiaries should be the top priority for LUTI and hope the next cohort follow this lead.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Working in a new cultural environment

Before coming to Rwanda, I could not have told you much about its cultural practices and norms. More than that, I could not have told you much about Rwanda itself. I knew Kinyarwanda was the national language, and that French and English were common second or third languages to most. I knew Christianity was the widespread religion. On the one hand, this was daunting – I was going to feel so out of place. On the other hand, this was an amazing opportunity to learn about Rwandan culture.

Arriving in Rwanda was quite an overwhelming experience. I had no idea what to expect. Coupled with having not slept in over a day, this felt quite surreal. We may not have been the centre of attention in Kigali, but in Huye it is a different story. Crowds hush and turn to stare as you pass. People often shout at you and try to talk to you but it isn’t hostility. I found this difficult to handle at first; I don’t enjoy being the centre of attention, let alone being stared and shouted at in a public space. Children stop to shake your hand and the word ‘muzungu’ flies around at least thirty times a day. You get used to it, and learn to understand that you are a new and different person in the community.

Dan surveying one of the kitchen gardens the team built.

Being able to speak French has put me in a good position. It makes it easier to communicate with people and negotiate prices at the market. French doesn’t save you though. Before I arrived I was excited to learn a new language. Kinyarwanda is like no language I have ever learned before, and it certainly isn’t easy. I made a point to learn greetings and thank you as early as possible. It makes it easier to talk to people, and it is much appreciated. Over ten weeks I have thoroughly enjoyed learning Kinyarwanda. It has improved my relationship with my host family and with my counterpart. We sit down and learn new phrases and words, which has been so enjoyable. I am proud of the progress I have made and think this has been one of the most memorable experiences from my time in Rwanda.

Before coming to Rwanda, I felt nervous about the work we would be doing. I did not feel qualified to run sessions on human rights, nutrition or hygiene and sanitation. Moreover, I felt apprehensive about public speaking, especially in front of people from a different culture who may not share my mother-tongue. I wanted to contribute to sustainable development in any way I could. Over the ten weeks, my confidence has grown. I have become more independent and capable of setting direction and aims. Despite not knowing much about certain topics, I was able to research them and feel confident in the knowledge I acquired. I begun to believe in my ability to create resources on them. 

I have always been a rather introverted and solitary person. The prospect of spending ten weeks with other people in an intense and social environment scared me. At the start, I felt intimidated by being with so many people I didn’t know. I came to realise that the intense atmosphere made it much easier to get to know people. We spent so much time together that I had no choice but to talk to the others and tell them about myself. I found that many of the UKV's were just like me – nervous about coming to Rwanda. This helped us bond, and it helped me to feel more comfortable. I now feel like an integral member of the group, and I feel I can be myself without being judged. This experience has made me feel more confident in myself. I can now talk to people I don’t know without feeling uncomfortable, and I have made friends here that I intend to stay in touch with.

Team photo on International Women's Day.

I would argue that living in my host home has been the most memorable experience I have had in Rwanda. My host parents have been so welcoming and kind. I felt nervous about meeting them, but upon arrival they both gave me a big hug and made me feel at home. We have long talks at the dinner table about home as well as our likes and dislikes. I have learned so much about Rwandan culture  from them, and I hope they have learned about my culture too. I will never forget my experience with them. I have learned new food recipes and loved the food. 

The kindness and hospitality shown to me by Mama and Papa Cedou has been incredible. My relationship with my host brothers Derek, Cedric and Eric has been amazing. Derek and I regularly play and watch movies together. Although Cedric is at boarding school, I got a chance to visit him and spend time with him over the Easter holidays. Eric and I always watch the football together, and talk about it all the time. I could not be more grateful to my wonderful host family, who I hope to visit in the future and share stories and memories with.

I will greatly cherish this experience. I have become more self-aware, more patient and more understanding of new and different cultures. I hope to come back to Rwanda in the future. Nahu mo kanya, Rwanda!    

Dan Greener
Photos by Rabeya Ullah

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Rimba Creations: setting up a jewellery business

One of our business proposals for our beneficiary group of former sex workers is selling handmade jewellery. We have been looking for alternative sources of income which are sustainable. The accessories idea stemmed from using waste products to produce a range of earrings, necklaces, bracelets and table mats. For example, we sourced used bottle tops from bars and excess kitenge fabric. Additionally, we bought beads, thread, wire and fastenings.

The raw materials the team has been using to make jewellery.

Skilled members of our team have been experimenting and making prototypes of different jewellery designs in the office. In our weekly meetings with this group, demonstrations have been provided and ‘how-to’ sessions conducted. The idea has been met with enthusiasm by the beneficiaries who are slowly learning to make the jewellery themselves.

Volunteers Omar and Josine explaining how to make jewellery to the beneficiaries. 

Alongside this, the team has come up with a name, logo and marketing plan for the new business. After brainstorming, we have put forward the name of ‘Rimba Creations’; rimba means ‘stunning’ in Kinyarwanda. The idea of the logo was partly inspired by Miss Rwanda’s. To achieve this, a member of the team posed with our handmade jewellery. We are endeavouring to use computer software to transfer the outline of the girls to a line drawing. Moreover, we are considering utilising the tag line ‘Made in Rwanda’ to stress the local origins of the goods.

Team member Ruhama is the face of Rimba Creations. 

We already have one retailer lined up, one of the suppliers of the raw materials offered to sell the jewellery once it was produced. In order to boost sales, we are planning to create a jewellery display to show off the designs and pictures of models wearing them. We are hoping to get the group fully trained and the business up and running before the end of our placement so that the next cohort can build upon the development of this new source of income. A pricing strategy has been constructed in order to guide the group and help them both distribute the profits and reinvest in the business.

Volunteers Winnie, Josine and Tina posing for publicity shots wearing pieces of our handmade bracelets, earrings and necklaces. 

In conjunction with Rimba Creations, we have also helped to introduce a street vending and savings co-operative. The idea behind supporting the former sex workers to begin street vending is that they can build up capital to be used on future jewellery supplies. Each member has been asked to deposit a set amount of money each week earned from selling fruit to passers-by. This will be saved for group use and to replenish stock levels in the future. We are also planning to complete more training on co-operative management and to utilise the marketing skills within the team.

Yasemin Craggs Mersinoglu
Photos by Rabeya Ullah