Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Yann is back. Local radio station shares his story...

Yann arrived safely back in Cincinnati over the weekend and is likely still adjusting to the time change.  Yann's posts have been very informative and have provided a glimpse into an area of the world and a culture that many of us are not familiar with. We are thankful he was able to share his experiences. Local public radio station 91.7 WVXU spoke to Yann while he was in Rwanda and aired his story on Monday morning. If you missed it and would like to hear the story by reporter Ann Thompson, click on the link below. 


Friday, February 25, 2011

Yann in Rwanda (14) - Final Post ...

The assignment is over and I will be home in a few days.  This has been a tremendous experience, made possible by the generous financial support of many family members, friends, and fellow parishioners, who thus have participated in drinking water improvement in the Kicukiro district of Kigali.  This assignment was the first step to move from the “scoop hole” situation pictured below to sufficient coverage with public kiosks of piped water (shown after).

This small country is the most densely populated of Africa, and with its nickname of the “Land of Thousand Hills” and its drive for cleanliness and business, could become the “Switzerland of Africa”.  Three adjectives about Rwanda come to mind: resilient (overcoming the tragedy of the genocide), resourceful (making do with what they have), and youthful (young, energetic population).

Yann in Rwanda (13) - A Brief Snapshot on Politics

Even though Water for People needed French-speaking engineers, because it had been an official language in Rwanda since the Belgian mandate in the first part of the last century, English has been pushed by the government because after the genocide they had decided to join the English-speaking alliance of Eastern African countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Burundi), and also because the current government had generally spent their youth in English-speaking Uganda before returning in the early 1990s in Rwanda to defeat the radical Hutu-led autocratic regime.

This decision has also other ramifications (intended or not), such as going over the country’s past and preparing them for the global economy.  By keeping both French and English languages, the country would also become the trading partner of most of Africa (Western Africa speaks French).  However, it appears that French teaching in primary and secondary schools has actually been abandoned in the last couple of years to be replaced with English only unfortunately, so the workforce in 10-15 years would not be bilingual. 
Today I traveled to the District of Rulindo (Northeast of Kigali) to witness the election of the Mayor of the District through a long and complex, but highly democratic process (and diverse with 30% of the committees being represented by women).  The picture below shows the swearing in of one of the multiple committees who will vote in the mayoral election.  The elected Mayor (pictured with WFP’s in-country staff coordinator Perp├ętue Kamuyumbu, and WFP’s World Water Corps team lead Monica Brown) has already built ties with Water for People, so the “Rulindo Challenge” (see WFP’s website for more info on this project, Rulindo Challenge) will continue to have strong political support.

The Rwandan flag (show below) was adopted in 2001 (and replaces the earlier one of 1961).  The green stripe represents the natural resources and prosperity of the country.  The yellow stripe stands for the country's mineral wealth and economic development.  The blue stripe is symbolic of happiness and peace. The sun and its rays represent unity, transparency and enlightenment from ignorance.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Yann in Rwanda (12) - Water Treatment Plant in Kigali

Perp├ętue Kamuyumbu (WFP-Rwanda in-country coordinator) managed to secure a visit of one of RWASCO’s water treatment plant in Kigali (Kimisagara) for Guy and me.  The plant, originally constructed in the early 1980s and expanded in 1987 by SAUR (a French water company), treats river water and turned out to be very well operated and maintained.  It is a typical surface water treatment plant with alum coagulation, tube settler sedimentation, rapid sand filtration, calcium hypochlorite disinfection, and serves several areas of Kigali (because the region is hilly, several pump stations are used to convey water to their destination points).

The advantage of a blank slate is that water infrastructure does not have to follow what occurred in the Western world (e.g., telecommunications in Rwanda essentially use cell phones, there was no need to go through the telegraph step); therefore I believe Rwanda can forge its way ahead learning from other countries’ mistakes in a forward-thinking, cost –effective, and realistic manner.  The focus should be on water availability (increased piped supply) first, then on improving water quality.  This means that a master plan should be coordinated with the local jurisdictions and RWASCO (Kigali’s drinking water utility) so this district can move forth from the situation below ...

Yann in Rwanda (11) - Daily Life in Kigali

The bright economic future of Rwanda is almost palpable in spite of the genocide of 1 million people, which took place only 17 years ago.  It is almost as if there was a collective decision to pour themselves into work, business, etc. to avoid contemplating or reflecting too long on the significance of this immense tragedy. 
Kigali itself is a safe (probably because of the strong military and police presence), clean and busy city that has almost Swiss-like cleanliness tendencies: it is forbidden to walk on the grass, no plastic bag is allowed, etc.  That said, pedestrians are at the bottom of the “traffic chain” (as in food chain) in Kigali: they can be run over by anyone, starting with the numerous taxi-motos (you hop on the back of a motorbike and put on a helmet shared by all the previous customers).  Bicycles are very frequent in the peri-urban areas (not so much in the City center and main thoroughfares) and are used to carry anything: bales of banana leaves, cement bags, water jerry cans, chairs, or even … your wife!  
Then cars (which have the driving wheel either on the right or left side depending on which country it was exported) and taxi-minibuses (which need to be filled with passengers to capacity, folding benches included, before they actually leave for the driver-shouted destination) are in the upper echelon and generally drive to the right side of the road, unless there is a traffic jam and then everybody just goes where they want.  Finally, trucks own the road.  The one traffic rule is that size matters: priority increases with the volume you displace …
Businesses vary from small pharmacies and supermarkets (fitting within the ground floor of a building) to selling of cell phone cards in the street (yellow-shirted salespeople for MTN, blue for the competing Tigo), or the numerous taxi-motos (green shirts for one company, blue for the other).  There is also a lot of construction going on in the City (please overlook the OSHA safety violations in the picture below).

When moving away from the City center towards the peri-urban areas, you would find markets where a wide range of goods and items can be sold: traditional charcoal made from eucalyptus tree (which explains the lingering sweet burnt smell as you walk the streets of Kigali), bicycle spare parts, various food items, etc.  Women carry these in baskets on their head (sometimes in addition to the infant they carry wrapped in a cloth around their back!).

Businesses are normally open normal all week (if one is closed on one day, the next door shop would be open) from early in the morning to late at night, except on the compulsory community day (the morning of the last Saturday of every month).  The community day activities can range from building a house of the poor family in the village, to weeding the public gardens, repairing broken pipes, etc.  If a Rwandese does not participate (e.g., goes to its normal work), he is fined and the money goes to the community.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Yann in Rwanda (10) - The 1994 Genocide

Yesterday (Sunday, Feb 20, 2011) I toured the Genocide Memorial that was built in 2004, above mass graves that had been found.  The museum presents in painstaking details the multiple causes and horrific events of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.  In a space of 3 months, there were more than 1 million people dead (out of 8,000,000), not counting the mutilated, wounded, refugees, etc.  The methodical and planned approach of the massacres (e.g., killing 1,000 people every 20 minutes) belies any spontaneity in that genocide, and their preparations were eerily similar to those of the Nazis towards the Jews. 
The massacres are too graphic and heart-wrenching to be included in this blog.  I left the museum deeply shaken by the abysmal madness that had momentarily gripped Rwanda.  If you want to know more about the genocide, you can watch “Hotel Rwanda” or read Romeo Dalhaire’s “I Shook the Hand of the Devil” [Romeo Dalhaire was the UN general of the peacekeeping force who witnessed powerless, because the UN did not give him the means to control them, these nightmarish events]. 
Today, Rwandans are amazingly working side by side and trying to put behind this tragic event.  One of the survivor’s quote in the museum summarizes well the emotional and mental state of the future of Rwanda: “There will be no humanity without forgiveness.  There will be no forgiveness without justice.  But there will be no justice without humanity”.  Below is a picture where the UN peacekeeping force was headquartered.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Yann in Rwanda (9) - Field Impressions

At the end of the previous entry, one is left with an apparent conundrum about development work.  Water for People actually attempts to resolve it by getting the commitment of the served population by employing an in-country coordinator who builds capacity and thus has a long term stake in the projects.  Water for People’s experience in Honduras shows that after 10 years, the in-country office region in the area they first started is ready to operate on its own, with just sporadic monitoring from the Denver office.  In Rwanda the program was started 2 years ago, so there are quite a few years ahead …
The women working in the field wear elegant, vividly-colored dresses that remain surprisingly clean given the work these women are doing.  Six-year old kids carry what looks like heavy burdens on their head (long banana tree branches, 5-gal water jugs, etc.) while the younger ones just stand immobile looking wide-eyed at the jeep passing by.  The ones with most temerity point towards me joyfully screaming “umuzungu! umuzungu!” (“white person! white person!” in kinyarwandese) or are hand-waving while trying out the one English word they seem to remember from school: “gooduh morrrning!”. 

School is divided in morning and afternoon classes, that’s why you would see as many kids in the banana plantations as you drive towards the school, as in the school itself when you arrive to test the quality of its water system.  The photo below is in a school that has 1,800 students total (primary and secondary).  That means there are 900 students for 12 latrines (six for the boys, six for the girls) during the morning or afternoon session.   

Generally people are quite reticent about having their picture taken, and that’s why I don’t have a lot of photos or videos of Rwandans in their everyday activities to show.  Below is a picture of a brick-making oven (just using the local clay and dry wood): the bricks will be ready in 5 to 8 days when the "oven" has cooled off.

Below are a few pictures of Afridev hand pumps (boreholes) that are ubiquitous in the more rural areas of the suburbs surrounding Kigali. 

Waiting at a Community Water Point

In the picture below Jean-Bosco (The Generation Rwanda volunteer student helping me go around) is standing in front of the Nyabarongo River (the one that had such high levels of E. Coli).