Sunday, September 25, 2011

Research in Mpanga

the hills surrounding PROCOM's farm
 It's interesting what you'll find when you finally take what you learn in class and you begin to put faces and actualities to it. I've found it to be rather troublesome actually. It's a feeling of powerlessness, of walking into a situation almost empty-handed. It is painful but it is rewarding. 

I have spent this last week conducting research in the sector of Mpanga in the eastern region of Rwanda. Our group slept in tents, battled black ants and gave up on showers for a dusty week of visiting families and learning more about the needs of the community. This trip to the farm was the final project for our Social Context of Development class. We learned everyday about development, exploring what we can do and what needs to be done as development workers within Rwanda. And then there we were... meeting families, conducting surveys and putting all we've learned to some use. We spent three days from 8:30am until 2pm going from house to house with our translators and interviewed individual families from a survey. Each interview took about 30-45 minutes and usually included about 20 kids and various people surrounding the bench that each family pulled out for us to sit on while we talked. In the three days that I walked around with my translator I had interviewed a little over thirty families. Our survey in itself asked questions dealing with health, family and house size, how much water they consume in the wet and dry seasons and how far they go to collect wood. The real task as a researcher came in when we got to pose our own set of questions once the formal survey was over. I asked questions regarding meals, schooling for the children, sources of income and membership within the church. It is a terrible thing when your curiosity gets the best of you. Once the truth was exposed and I was left sitting with families of 6 or more people crammed into a 2 room mud house, living off of two or less meals a day, reality became a very difficult thing to be grafted unto.

widowed woman who takes care of 7 children

Day three troubled me the most. The first two days I felt useful, like I was contributing to something of worth and then we visited Rubaya... It was here that I met a lady who was suffering from a tooth ache that had turned into a complete disaster. When we approached her place I could tell something was wrong with her face, each cheek was painfully swollen to an unimaginable size. Then, to top it off, she had two scabbed holes right on her jaw line that was dripping out pus from her infection. I could hardly look at her when we were going through the interview. The smell that was emitted from her wounds, plus the continuous leaking infection brought me to the point where my stomach started to turn and I was afraid I was gonna lose it. She told me of the pain she was in and how the clinic, the medicine and even traditional healers had not helped her at all. I knew I had to offer her the only thing I had... prayer. I got a chance to pray over her face and for the pain she was experiencing and when I was finished she told me that she was starting to feel better already. She told me that she believed that God would heal the rest of her face that day, she had such confidence and faith. I found this entire exchange to be rather ironic because her name actually means Mercy. It was beyond encouraging to see this woman radiating with joy as we exchanged our goodbyes.

another kind family that I spent time with interviewing
Even though looking into the faces of poverty was heart-wrenching and difficult, I found each interview to be rather enjoyable. At times I felt as though, through the beauty of their language, that they were singing to me with their words.

greeted by a group of curious faces
The final two days of our time in Mpanga consisted of a compiling of all our data and a break down of statistics. The last day we got the opportunity to present our findings to the village leaders and locals. We had three different groups that worked together, created different posters, and presented the issues and statistics we had found. We then got to talk with the local leaders about what has been done for some of the big problems (like lack of water, food and hygiene) and also what needed to be done. They wanted answers from us, which we weren't anywhere near to having. But we also got to spark ideas through the questions we posed. It was a great way to finish off a challenging week, seeing the fruit of our labor.

me and my classmate presenting on the summary of our vulnerable household study

village leaders and members that showed up for our presentation
As a final note on this long post, I have some very exciting new that I want to share...
Tomorrow we leave for Uganda where we are going to spend 3 days in the capital (with a nice little adventure of white water rafting in the Nile). And once we leave Kampala on Thursday we are heading for our practicum sites. While we were in Mpanga our SLC's and practicum coordinator placed us at the sites where we will be living for the next month annnnndddd *drum roll please*

I am returning to Hoima, Uganda to live with the family I spent a month with last year!!!!!

This is basically all I had dreamed of and prayed for when I knew I would be returning to Africa. I can't begin to describe how much I have missed that family and the people that I quickly grew to love. I am BEYOND excited to see them again and partner with them in their ministries. Not only that, this time I am bringing three of the other students with me to work and help out with their different projects. I'm not sure yet all that we will be doing but once we're settled in and if internet is available I will be updating you all about what we're up to from my new home.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

I have seen a lot of beauty.

Beauty in my fellow housemates. In their life stories of difficulties overcome. In the sweetness of my friendships with them and the laughter that we share. Beauty in the landscape. A country of a thousand hills, layer upon layer of green gardens, banana trees, small huts and rock walls. Beauty in the bodies of water. Fresh crystal blue lakes, mud soaked rivers, and even kids bathing each other in watering holes. Beauty in lives of the Rwandans. Smiling faces shining like diamonds, tired feet resting on the side of the road and communities gathered as they sit and share life together. Beauty in the Creator for giving me eyes to see and a heart to experience it all.

 I couldn't be more thankful.

We just arrived back this evening from a weekend at Lake Kivu in the western region of Rwanda. It was like a vacation really, despite the 2 1/2 hour long bus ride, twisting through the mountains. We stayed in a lovely hotel overlooking the beautiful lake, got to take a boat out to some of the neighboring islands, went on a few hikes and swam till my arms about fell off. Now, tomorrow we ship off for another long bumpy bus ride to the eastern region in Mpanga where PROCOM's farm is located. We're going to spend a week camping in tents there and participating in a research project where we'll be carrying out household surveys and compiling data for PROCOM (who is a NGO located in Kigali). I'm really looking forward to actually participating and contributing to some of the development work that they've been spearheading. I'm sure I'll have plenty to share once I return!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"you have come to a country where every house is a ghost"

These quotes tell a story. A story of my learning, of the lessons and lectures I have sat through. Some difficult to swallow. Many lessons that were disheartening, disturbing and discouraging, while it wasn't intentional, they were only speaking truth. No one really sugar coats anything here. Some days I would leave our classes feeling close to hopeless, wounds too great to comprehend. The past has been hideous and now the future too seems maimed. So much pain with so little progress and no easy fix. Most of these quotes are from my professor who is a Rwandan Pastor, others are from guest speakers we've had visit. All tell a story... A story that binds itself together in the issues of peace and reconciliation.

"If you knew me and you really knew yourself you would not have killed me" -Felicien Ntagengwa
"Don't kill him. Kill what is in him."
"Dead bodies had become a common place"
"The people who should protect you are the very people who kill you. You see... that was an issue."
"Being a refuge is a terrible thing because you have no right to yourself... you are an inferior person." 
"Rwanda had become worse than the animals. Even a dog had been more friendly to a human." 

"don't look at my physical, I am dead while standing"
"They have built a fence inside themselves and cannot open"
"There is this silence in others that has caused them to suffer within"
"You have not killed but you have not helped"

"you can feel angry about something unrighteous or unjust"
"God shapes events in history, some are fortunate and unfortunate as well"
"...trying to revive the values in human beings"
"will this justice be justice?"

"I have been killing you within my heart because of my hatred towards you."
"Forgiveness detoxifies the memory. It purges the poison from the offense"
"people have come back to being people"
"seeing where we are now is a miracle"

While the beginning weeks have been overwhelming, we're now seeing glimpses into the sweet redemption of God's moving hand. It's been a difficult and painful journey to reach this point but the reward is and will continue to be worth it.
"healing invades when we accept the suffering of another."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

This was my day today...

Usually I'm off to play futbol with all the boys but i've been noticing more and more that there is a huge separation between the girls and boys when it comes to sports. One of the things that have drawn me into sports education has been the specific aspect of empowering the girls and women. All of that to say... I spent today dancing, being laughed at, and playing excessive amounts of tag with all the girls.
This game here was outrageous! We all played it in a group and the foot you put out challenges the other players foot and if you do the same one you lose. Let's just say they were really graceful when they pulled me into the circle and I couldn't c-walk like they could.
Then they played and sang so many great songs with me. Some of them we would join hands, spin, stop and drop to the group. All of them brought me waaay too much laughter and joy. On the other side of that we played tag for days. I think I probably ran like 10 miles with those crazy gals and it didn't make it any easier that they were all as fast as lightening! We even played a game known as "stick" that is basically a relay where you again run your life away. I definitely got my fair share of exercise today. Eventually, after a good hour and a half of running and tag I vouched for some sitting games. I'd like to say it's probably the elevation at 6,000 feet that leaves me so winded but in reality I think the delicious food here has done me in.

Monday, September 5, 2011

part of a bigger family

This Sunday our group experienced our first traditional Rwandan church service! 7 songs, 3 preachers and 4 hours later the service had came to an end. Oh, and did I mention that they had our group do a song special for the congregation? We decided seconds before we walked in without practice or really even remember the lyrics fully but it was still hilariously great. Then to top it all they had us dance on stage with them, which I clearly seized the opportunity to reach back to my non-existent African roots. Regardless, it has been one of my favorite experiences yet. Afterwards, we got invited to our friend Justin's home to share a meal with his family (he's the one in the plaid) which the Rwandan hospitality was such a treat. The last picture is from tonight... me and another one of the girls took a bus to a hotel to listen to some live music. It is the actual hotel that the movie "Hotel Rwanda" is based on. Always enjoyable getting out of the house and enjoying the company of another.

We all got pulled up on stage to join them for a group song with plenty of dancing!
Group picture on Safari
 Blues and Jazz night at Hotel Del Mille Collines.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Past couple of days

This week has been pretty rich with activities... movie nights, life stories, writing papers at hotels, late night ice cream shop hunting and the rest is told through the pictures!
This is our group... an awkward bunch.
Genocide Memorial at a church.
Donuts every saturday at the greatest place in Kigali... Africa Donut Co-op! Seriously the biggest expat hangout around. I've never seen so many white people in one shop. After two donuts and a bagel sandwich I entered into the realm of gluttony.
Our usual weekday hangout with the kids that we play soccer with.
some of the boys from the soccer team. Best homework break we could ask for!
Lastly, our own trip to a National futbol game at the stadium right by our house. Rwanda vs Cote D'Ivoire