Thursday, 9 November 2017

An Honest Review of Working Across The Language Barrier

Mwiriwe, ça va, habari yako?

How many languages did you recognise there? From what I’ve found in Rwanda so far, nearly everyone is multilingual, but English is often the third or fourth language, if spoken at all. Unless you know French, you might have to get by with hand gestures for a while, until you learn some Kinyarwanda. 

At first, the language barrier may seem daunting. Crowds hush as you pass, someone might shout something at you, there might even be laughing! Don’t worry though, it's curiosity not hostility. Sometimes people will shout English at you, but the local accents take awhile to get used to so you might not even recognise it at first. But as time goes on and with the help of your local counterpart you’ll begin to decode some of what's going on and feel more comfortable. 

I’ll be the first to admit I still haven’t broken down the language barrier after four weeks, but I’ve certainly made progress. The shouts from before, I now, understand to be people asking how I am, or general greetings, and I’ve learnt how to say please and thank you!

Muraho, mwiriwe and amakuru are the most common, meaning hello, good evening and how are you, respectively, and everyone loves it when you can say these few words, so it never hurts to say hello to people as you pass! More advanced terms and sentences can be translated by your counterpart, or yourself, if you know French. 

However, the language barrier can become a serious issue when working in the field, trying to talk without a counterpart, or situations like the dinner table or meetings where the counterparts are involved directly in the talks, therefore unable to translate for you. When working with some beneficiaries English is basically non-existent, so your counterpart is vital, you won’t be able to do any work without them. When talking alone to Rwandans you’ll probably find yourself totally misunderstood and unable to express yourself outside of one word phrases and hand gestures. For example, yesterday I went to the barbers and after a trim, the barber thought I wanted him to shave off my eyebrows before I stopped him! For the other situations where the counterparts are involved themselves you might feel sidelined, but it's very important to understand that the counterparts are trying their utmost to keep you involved. 

Just make sure afterwards to ask what happened if it's formal, or if it's an active conversation at the dinner table, just ask some questions in English to remind them you can’t speak Kinyarwanda or ask your counterpart to help you get involved. Your accent could also be an issue as well, as Rwandans are only used to American accents, so make sure to speak slowly and stress your pronunciation. However, don’t stress about it too much, miscommunication is bound to happen but while it might seem awkward it's never as bad as you feel it is, and the Rwandans will never get frustrated over the language barrier, especially your counterpart who will always be there to support you.

It might be worth learning a few words and phrases in multiple languages, that way you can fill gaps in your vocabulary, if there are any problems. Menus at restaurants are usually a 50/50 split of French and English, but some dishes have bad translations or just French, so it's always a good idea to brush up on your foods, for example the words for egg, milk, fish and cheese are always helpful. 

My counterpart personally stresses how vital it is to communicate with him to breach the language barrier, both in social life and the workplace. He felt that without a counterpart, UK volunteers can’t form bonds with local Rwandans, or even buy things from shops easily. His most important observation was that the language barrier is at its most frustrating at the home, where it can be the most awkward to not be understood by your host family, but he felt that with counterparts’ help this can be overcome easily enough. Knowing French was also a good tip from him, as nearly all Rwandans have studied French and it can help if there is an English word, which is hard to explain. 

Overall, while the language barrier here can be frustrating, don’t be too daunted by it. Hand gestures and small phrases will get you through most situations, and for the harder ones you can always find an in country volunteer to help you out. Just remain calm, don’t feel stupid or embarrassed, it happens to everyone, instead try to take it in your stride and see the humorous side of the situation. If you know French, then you’ll often have no issues at all communicating with people, though quickly learning the local language is a great idea regardless of what you already know! Remember, practice makes perfect! 

Sunday, 27 August 2017

This week on keeping up with the Volunteers: Cooking, Clothes and Clapping


During our initial visit at the Mukura Health Centre, one of the topics raised for the single mothers present were that the mothers received knowledge on how to cook healthy and nutritious meals, but there was no opportunity for them to put this knowledge into practice. As a part of the team plan for this group of women we decided to conduct a cooking session with a group of women from the group to enable them to practice what they had learned. 

The lesson took place in a makeshift kitchen outdoors under the scorching heat. It was a good opportunity for us to get to know the women in the cell. We did many tasks together such as starting the fire, peeling and chopping vegetables and making porridge. The resulting food was delicious and enjoyed by all.


Some of us also decided to buy African materials from the local market in our village and get traditional clothing made. Initially we chose from an array of different materials, made of vibrant colours and patterns. Then we designed how we wanted each of our outfits to look. Some opted for dresses while other opted for skirts, tops and shorts.

Selection of materials at a market stall
Seamstress working on one of our dresses


After the initial visit with the traditional dance group we found out that they had many challenges, one of them being that they find it difficult to remember melodies they create to songs and different rhythms when dancing. 

To overcome this issue we decided to run some workshops on teaching how to write down rhythms and melodies. The first lesson led by Chris the expert musician was on note value and basic rhythm. During the lesson some notes were written down on the whiteboard and the dance group members were asked to clap along to the rhythm. The members picked up the rhythms quickly, saying that they really enjoyed the workshop and learned a lot. We will continue these lessons in the upcoming weeks.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

What Is International Service About?

What Is International Service About?

Written by Julia Chabasiewicz, Photos by Agnes Ishimwe

“Helping some of the most marginalised groups in the Global South”, “Human-rights approach to development”, “Sustainable socioeconomic development” “Life-changing experience”, “Eradicating poverty”, “Gender empowerment” etc. , etc. ….

You’ve probably heard these vague phrases many times but many of you are probably wondering: what do the International Service  volunteers actually do? This is why, in this week’s blog, we decided to tell you more about our work.

At the office working hard!

The International Service group based in Huye works with a small Rwandan charity called LUTI (Let Us Transform Life Initiative), aiming to provide the most marginalised groups in the local community with new skills, ideas and employment opportunities. Our role is to assist the NGOs in meeting their target, while keeping in line with the Int Serv values. That means we often need to negotiate, compromise and come up with creative ideas to make sure that the goals of both organisations are met.

Each UK volunteer is paired with a work counterpart from Rwanda, which gives us a good balance of various skills and perspectives. The in-country volunteers are invaluable when it comes to the knowledge of the local language, lifestyle and culture. To work more efficiently, we divided ourselves into two groups: half of us works primarily with women, the other one focuses on the youth. This way, everyone can do something they are really passionate about. In the sector there is a wide variety of beneficiaries, organised into cooperatives, clubs and informal associations. There are tailors, woodcutters, artists, sex workers, dance crews, indigenous people communities, school clubs… Each of this groups is very different, so there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for action.

Getting to know the youth dance group from Mukura sector.

The first stage of our work is to get to know our beneficiaries and find out as much as we can about their current situation, experiences and needs. We also attend many meetings with local authorities, NGOs and community workers, conduct interviews and online research. It can sometimes get challenging or tedious but we know we can’t bring any long-lasting change without forming good relationships with the community and understanding the local reality. Only after this thorough preparation we start thinking of the best ways to help the beneficiaries. This part requires a lot of innovation and thinking outside the box – the whole team keeps brainstorming ideas for various activities, training and workshops. Once our plan is approved...

…the most exciting part of our job can start!

Meeting with the Rango Artists.

This week, we are starting to have our first community interventions. We prepared a session of teamwork, communication and conflict-solving for a group of single mothers who study sewing and want to establish a handcraft cooperative. We can’t wait for all the fun games and group activities! Moreover, team-working skills may turn out to be very important for the success of their future business. 

As the motto of LUTI says: “if you want to go quick, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. Moreover, next week we are planning to conduct sanitation and cooking classes for mothers of malnourished children. Through teaching them basic practical skills, we are hoping to help improve the health of themselves and their kids. These are just a few examples of the kinds of trainings happening in the next few days but we keep planning, scheduling and organising… 

So, stay tuned, there’s many more exciting things to come!

Friday, 4 August 2017

The Cultural Exchange

 The Cultural Exchange 

By Syeda B Begum

Rwanda is described as the land of a thousand hills. Everywhere you look there is beautiful scenery, greens and land. Our team of 12 ICS volunteers are based in the district Huye, where there seems like there is  thousands of children as well as hills! We are four weeks into our placement with Let Us Transform Life Initiative (LUTI) who work with women and young people, that are often the most adversely impacted by poverty. 

80% of the team - sorry we are just too busy for group photos.

On our placement, we have already seen and learnt so much. But just how well does each volunteer know their counterpart? I mean how can you embed yourself into another culture without knowing the likes and dislikes of the person in that culture, whom you wish to learn about? It is the way of living that creates a persons culture. To test this cultural exchange we quizzed each volunteer with 6 questions about their counterpart. Below you will see the questions they were asked, then under each name you will see how they answered for their counterpart. Each person is then given a score out of 6 to show just how well they know their counterpart!

Essy (left) and Anne (right).
                  2/6                                                                    4/6

Claire (left) Julia (right).
                 5/6                                                                    4/6

Ari (left) Chris (right)
                  3/6                                                                    4/6

Syeda (left) Agnes (right)
                4/6                                                                    4/6

Aisha (left) Ange (right)
                 1/6                                                                    4/6

Team Leaders ; Dan (left) Sabrina (right)

               4/6                                                                    2/6

Now, we did not only just learn about our counterparts but the norms and values of the community, here are some facts we learnt 4 weeks into our placement!

Did You Know?

1    1In Huye the buses will not travel to any destination until it is full with passengers,          meaning you could wait up to 20 minutes!

2. The word ‘Mazungo’ is commonly used to describe travellers/foreigners by Rwandan people, so if you come here everyone will call you this :/

3. Carbs such as potatoes, rice and bananas are the main foods in all meals. 

4. On Friday afternoons, people in the community leave work to play sports.

5. As Rwanda is close to the equator we get exactly 12 hours of light and 12 hours of night, meaning it gets really dark by 6 pm!!