Sunday, October 17, 2010

Books for Africa, Projects Projects

Part of being a respectable Peace Corps volunteer, other than fulfilling your regular day to day job description, means working on projects that benefit the community. After a year long process of planning, interviewing, IDing issues and fundraising, the books and computers we ordered from Books for Africa finally came in!

Many thanks to PCV Jessica McGhie, who worked her ass off putting this together, dealing with all the paperwork, politics, banking issues and phone calls. Also thanks to the volunteers who helped organize all the books, which took a very long time to separate and label. I also personally want to thank all of my friends, family, and my mom's colleagues for contributing to this project-- your donations were vital to making this happen!

Rwanda has few libraries; therefore students don't have easy access to books, especially in rural communities. The school I used to teach at consisted of students copying down information in their notebooks from the blackboard. When I taught there, I spent hours making copies of books in their entirety so my students would have something long and interesting to read. I was lucky enough to be able to use the Peace Corps office to make these copies for free, which most teachers wouldn't have been able to do. Only one of the two ancient desktop computers that were there worked, which made teaching computer skills virtually impossible. These books and computers will create libraries and learning centers at each of our sites throughout Rwanda, and at various places such as schools, health centers, and community centers. This access to literature and technology will open up Rwandan's connection to the outside world, and change people's education and overall learning experience.

Like all projects of course, this one didn't come without some challenges-- the computers sent didn't come with Windows, so that has to be purchased. Also about half of the computers didn't come with power cords, so we're working on finding some in Kigali for a good price. B4A has been informed of this.

Another project I'm actively working on is Appropriate Projects water charity. Access to water is a huge problem in Rwanda, especially during the dry season. Many people in Rwanda, even in Kigali, do not have running water and fetch water daily in jerricans at the nearest water pump. I'm lucky enough not to do this anymore, but at my old site I remember how so much of my day revolved around getting water, finding someone to fetch it at the top of the hill where the stadium was, negotiating a price, waiting, doing my best to use the water as sparingly as possible, using the hierarchy of water usage: 1) boiling for drinking 2) Cooking 3) Washing myself 4) washing dishes 5) If any water is left over, cleaning the house. I used about a jerrican a day, and I only had to take care of myself and my own needs. Very few people in Rwanda live alone, and therefore need more than two jerricans of water per day for their family. For this project, I'm working with REFTTA (Rwandan Evil Fighters Through Talents), a very motivated and hardworking group of youths who used to be part of the Kagarama secondary school Never Again Club. After they graduated, they decided that they didn't want to stop the activities they had been working on, and formed REFTTA two years ago. They are very active and have been extremely successful here in Rwanda- it really is amazing what they've done at their age-- huge concert and film fundraisers, publications... They've gotten funding and visitors from all over the world, including diplomats from Canada.

I visited the site they had identified as needing a water project, which is in an area of Kimironko, in Eastern Kigali. Together with a group from REFFTA, which included the president, vice president, and members who have been trained in plumbing, we walked around the community, where I spoke with the people living there and took pictures. The problem that the community is facing is that during the dry season, sometimes water is unavailable from the pump for 3 days at a time, and residents are forced to go down to the swamp (which is more like a tiny stream at this point)for their water. This water is both limited and dirty.

The members of REFFTA, along with the inhabitants of the community, told me that they have 1 of 2 projects in mind-- creating a pipe that collects rainwater, and be in a location that is more central to the inhabitants. Another is to have a large water tank that collects rainwater during the dry season. The members of REFFTA will meet this weekend, come up with a budget, and e-mail me what they have decided (I want them to have as much say in this as possible).

The other project I'm trying to get started (I need to turn in the proposal)is to start an income-generating project with young single mothers who are part of NAR associations. It looks like they've decided on making and selling soap. I've seen soap making before, but it would be best if we hired someone to teach it. It's a project with potential because unlike basket weaving and bag-making, this is a product that people run out of constantly, and does not depend on tourists as clients. My time here has taught me that the most beneficial IGAs are ones that depend on the local market. This is a project I'm very passionate about, as it would benefit a population that's very marginalized. Unfortunately, there's still a strong stigma when it comes to young mothers who have babies outside of marriage.

That's all for now. Wish us luck!