Saturday, June 19, 2010

And the work begins...

There is so much that has happened in the last little while, I hardly know where to begin. One blog may turn into many, and for this, I am sorry.
I am finally beginning to settle into life and work in Rwanda, and with that comes early wake-up calls and days filled with activities that leave little time for writing. But, writing is important for my own wellbeing and for sharing the joys and accomplishments of my life with you, so I make the time. It may be 11 o’clock at night, but the thoughts from processing the day are swimming in my head and preventing me from sleeping. So, I am writing them down.
Where, oh where, to begin.
Settling into life. I am figuring out my routine. I wake up at 6 in the morning and do chores around the house before I go to work. I ride my bike into work around 8 each day. People in my neighborhood are beginning to recognize and know me. Especially the children. The moment I begin my day, they are watching from under my gate. When I push my bike out onto the road, they are waiting for me. I greet them before mounting my bike and pedaling away. They have made it a habit to run beside my bike at least as far as the house on the corner of my road where I turn onto the main road that brings me to town. Instead of shouting “Muzungo, muzungo!” they call out my Rwandan name, “Muhorakeye! Muhorakeye!” People on the road greet me as I ride by, and many of them also know my Rwandan name. Sometimes, the ride to and from work puts a huge smile on my face because it confirms that I am welcomed and integrating into my community. Plus, the children are just so dang cute. That alone would put a smile on anyone’s face.
I am a Rwandan workaholic. The joke is on me. Now that I am settled in one place for the next two…or more…years, I officially change my status from traveloholic to workaholic. My new blog title may be confessions of a workaholic. That’s okay.
The workdays are always filled with surprises and new activities. That’s okay, too. It keeps me on my toes and prevents me from getting bored. Right now, I am in the process of setting up a youth center in Kiramuruzi. We are starting completely from scratch. My dad received a frantic phone call last week when I was entrusted with the responsibility of writing a strategic plan for the youth center. First, I had never written a strategic plan before. And second, I felt it was a sink-or-swim situation. Here I was, starting work in a new organization, and they were giving me such a large and important job. It was a little overwhelming. I felt like they were testing me, but not so much in a sneaky way, as a polite way of seeing just what I could offer. I was either going to impress them, in which case they knew they could trust me with a significant amount of responsibility, or I was going to fail miserably, in which case they were going to ask themselves what they were going to do with me for the next two years. I am happy to say that the former was the case. I spent two days in Kigali conducting research on strategic planning and collecting information about Rwanda to include. Then, I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. It felt like I had returned to university, except this time, I was the one conducting the on-the-ground research and that is so much more exhilarating. With a backbone for the strategic plan written and a team from the youth center, we poured our energy into brainstorming about the future course of the youth center. The results of our efforts are quite impressive and I am very excited about the project.
To give you a quick summary, the vision of the youth center is a world in which children and youth can imagine a better future. Our mission is to give children and youth the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and resources they need to improve their lives. The youth center in Kiramuruzi serves the children and youth of the Gatsibo District. The programs we will offer at the youth center are:
• Education, Discussion, Empowerment and Advocacy through Culture, Art and Media Program
The program gives children and youth the opportunity to express their opinions and raise awareness on issues related to children and youth through culture, art, and media.

• Life and Employment Skills Training Program through Interactive and Innovative Teaching
The program gives children and youth the skills they need to be competitive candidates on the employment market and improve their livelihoods through income-generating activities.

• Youth Village Savings and Loans (VSL) Associations and Cooperatives, Income-Generating Activities and Small Business Development Program
The program works to expand and develop youth village savings and loans (VSL) associations and establish youth cooperatives. It gives youth the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to improve their livelihoods by engaging in income-generating activities and developing and managing small businesses.

• Higher Education and Career Development Program
The program encourages youth to continue in education and successfully complete school, and empowers them to aspire to higher education and careers. It gives youth the resources they need to attend and succeed in school and achieve their professional goals.

• Ladies from the Land of 1000 Hills Program
The program targets issues that are unique to girls and young women in Rwanda. It empowers girls and young women to take pride in the their sex, discuss issues affecting them, and participate in improving the status of girls and young women in their country. It also gives girls and young women the opportunity to share their experiences with other girls and young women in the country and around the world.

• Big Brother/Big Sister Program
The program targets orphans and vulnerable children, child-headed households, and other marginalized, isolated, or disabled children who lack family support and structure. It pairs younger children with older youth, who act as mentors and provide support, while at the same time gaining companionship, child care skills, and a sense of purpose.

• Discussion and Debate Program
The program gives youth the chance to research and debate about controversial issues in Rwanda. From the program, they will be able to conduct research, form opinions, and present and debate their point of view in a logical and strategic manner.

• Educative Travel/Field Trip Program
The program gives children and youth the opportunity to visit sites of interest and learning in Rwanda and neighboring countries. Field trips give children and youth the opportunity to learn in a hands-on and participatory manner. During these trips, children and youth will be able to share experiences with other children and youth, learn about countries and cultures, and visit schools and businesses.

• Parents Education Program
The program teaches parents about family planning, early childhood care and development, family care. By targeting parents, the aim is to improve the lives of the children and youth they care for.

The concept and institution of the youth center is very new to Rwanda. As a result, the opportunity is huge and the possibilities endless. It will be a lot of work, but the result will be nothing short of amazing.
Our second task has been conducting stakeholders’ meetings to find out more information about our target group and the services they would like the youth center to offer. With this information, we can complete the strategic plan and begin implementation. The experience working with stakeholders has been enlightening. First, many ideas that we never considered were brought to the table. Second, giving children and youth the opportunity to express the issues they face is heartbreaking. Suddenly, I have developed a much deeper understanding of Rwanda and realized how much opportunity there is to help and how important the help I am giving is. That realization was a major kick in the butt to get moving and work hard. It is also why I am up all hours of the night, and breathing and eating thoughts of the youth center. I keep a notebook, pen, and flashlight by my bed so I don’t lose the thoughts that come to me in the middle of the night.
The youth center team has been incredibly welcoming and friendly. We have become easy friends, spending time after work sharing fantas, and, with the World Cup taking place in South Africa, soccer matches. Every day, our friendship grows deeper and stronger as we share stories about our lives. Patrick, a manager for PAJER, the local NGO we are partnering with on the project, is an achiever and workaholic, like myself. He is so helpful and encouraging. Nepo, our field manager, is a giggler, and every time he laughs, his smile lights up his face. Faraha, his assistant, is warm-hearted and open. Aaron is always coming up with ideas and sharing them. He is always saying how I excite him about work and that they are blessed to be working with me. It is actually them who gave me my workaholic status. Today, two coordinators from my program with the Peace Corps came on a field visit to check up on our status and learn about what we are doing as volunteers. It was during this interview that I realized the meaningfulness of the exchange that we are having. Tomorrow, the youth center team is coming over after work for tea. I think they are curious to see how an American/Canadian in Rwanda lives. I have a secret. I am a little bit nervous about what the outcome will be.
Just for the record, I have never been happy or felt that I have had a greater purpose than I do right now. There is so much to be done, and I love doing it. This is exactly the life I envisioned as a Peace Corps Volunteer.


Nancy said...

Arielle - Haven't read you for a while, but it sounds like you are doing an amazing job, and are healthy, wealthy in friends and life, and becoming very wise. Rwanda sounds like an incredible place with incredible people!
Lots of love,

Kris said...

hi arielle, YOur experiences sound enriching. What a blessing you are to the Rwandans and it sounds like they are to you. The youth center will be great and go on for years. What a legacy. We want a youth center here on the island. By the time you get home maybe it will be a reality and maybe your expertise will be desired. Matt Ellingson begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting take his (our) family to Haiti so 2 of our babies are gone. amandy shows up next week with another,