Life in Rwanda, One Year Later

Happy Anniversary, Health 6!

As the title suggests, today marks one year since my cohort arrived in Rwanda!

To celebrate, here’s some music…of course!

[I’ll be upfront with you…this post may get a bit sappy. This is a bittersweet anniversary.]

We left JFK on the 3rd of June (last year) and ended up in Rwanda, around 7:00PM, on the 5th. I didn’t have a long wait for my luggage and ended up being the first one out the airport doors. I distinctly remember this petite, curly-haired blonde girl grinning wildly and shouting “Peace Corps!” (Nikki, of course.) I had no regulator for my emotions and probably didn’t have a coherent thought for the next 48 hours.

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Check us out! Health 6, twenty-three in total & beautifully diverse.

Though exhausted, we were all happy to discover a nice Rwandan meal waiting for us at the hostel. (I kid you not, some blogs we’d read had mentioned goat testicles and we were terrified. I should mention, here, for any potential Rwanda visitors…I’ve never had the privilege of being served goat testicles.) During dinner we got to meet Bryan, our DPT (Director of Programming and Training) and were informed that he was also the Acting Country Director. This time around, Health 7 (who arrived five nights ago, ya’ll!) were greeted at the airport by Jen, our Country Director. They’re coming into a Post that’s not new…but certainly in the midst of big changes. The Health Program staff has worked hard to prepare for their arrival (in terms of site development and program development). They’re also going to be surrounded by PCVs who are genuinely excited for a new infusion of energy.

On Thursday, five of us Health 6ers in Kigali met up with the new Health group for dinner at their hotel. It was entirely surreal being the “oldies”, but soon we all realized that…though bombarded with a variety of questions…we knew all of the answers. It was so much fun getting to be surrounding by new, beautifully diverse faces and buzzing energies. I think I speak for most of the other Health 6ers when I say it’s going to be a good 14 months with the new group.

Though they had traveled 30+ hours, Health 7 had some great questions that brought me back to last year. (I can’t remember being that curious or put-together on the first night, so shout out to them.) Here are some of their questions:

  • “So, we actually live with a host family?” (Yes. I was freaking out my first night. Until my host mama realized I could potentially melt down and had her niece translate ‘You must be tired. You can go to rest now, no problem.’ Go mama!)
  • “What’s the internet situation like here? I feel like you always responded to our Facebook questions so quickly.” (I LOLed internally. I used to have very fast cell service at my site. Those days are long gone, but I’m still very much attached to my phone. Rwanda’s telecommunications game is pretty strong…and getting better.)
  • “I’m excited to try Rwandan dishes tonight. What should we try?” (I wish I had a better answer than…’It’s pretty much all carbs and veggies, stewed with sauce.’ I wish Rwanda had more national dishes and that they were served in hotels more often.)
  • “Do you feel safe here?” (I’m so grateful to be able to answer this question, ‘Hell yes.’ In all honesty, I often feel safer in Rwanda than I did back in my college town [using night-time activities as my frame of reference]. Theft happens everywhere. But I do feel very much like Rwandans look out for one another more so than Americans do.)

After saying goodnight to Health 7, my cohort (minus two) decided to head out and celebrate our anniversary. We spent the night dancing to Reggae and re-telling dumb stories we’d all heard a hundred times (Health 6 spends too much time together).

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Vanessa, Grace, myself, Angelique (Health 6, minus Lavar and Tracy)

To say it was a bittersweet celebration would be a great understatement. So much of what we’ve accomplished in the past year was because we were a tightly-knit, fairly large family group. Though we’re still tightly-knit…we’re much smaller. The losses we’ve felt in the last two months run deeply; naturally, those losses are felt even more when we get together as a group. At the end of the night, I was grateful to look around and see the dedication in my fellow Health 6ers eyes. We’re all here for the long haul; we’ve got each other to make it happen. Fourteen months until we COS or extend. It’s happening, ya’ll!

IMG_8855Now let me skip back a bit to May:

All Volunteer Conference

Last month, after the trip to Musanze (the northern regional town), I headed to Kabgayi (near the southern town of Muhanga) for All Volunteer Conference! [I know these town names mean nothing to you; I’m sorry! Even if I included a map, it wouldn’t help…In the past couple of decades, the government of Rwanda has changed many of the town names. So Musanze and Kabgayi aren’t even on many of the maps. Eek.]

The All Volunteer Conference isn’t something every Post has; we’re just lucky that our VAC and admin staff deem it necessary for our well beings. (After this April, it certainly was!) We spent a half-week doing trust exercises, having development discussions, learning about potential NGO partners, and just having a raucous good time. We even had a trivia night, a dance party, and a talent show (who knew Rwanda PCVs were so talented!).

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50 of the ~73 Volunteers in country. (Don’t mind me…just hanging out behind that poll.)

There were two discussions that really stuck with me.

The first was about Volunteer Diversity. (The second…you’ll read about next time, because this blog is already getting too long.)

For those of you who aren’t sure, these are Peace Corps’ three main goals (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to just Google these for the correct wording):

  1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women
  2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served
  3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans

Now, completing the second goal looks very different for each PCV. For me, it involves a lot of talking and showing of pictures. Why? Because I happen to look like a stereotypical American (blonde hair, blue eyes). I’ve been asked “Do all Americans look like you?”, which inevitably leads to a conversation much deeper than the asker intended. But it’s a conversation that needs to be had, as much of the media that finds its way over here depicts rich, white Americans. It’s not the rich part that gets me, since…in terms of what we can afford here in Rwanda…we are rich. It’s the white part that gets me. And, of course, it’s worse for Volunteers of color. Their identities are questioned every day; it’s a whole other level to Peace Corps service that Peace Corps doesn’t often talk about. (But that Rwanda’s Post is getting much better at!)

Though PCV diversity isn’t talked about often, Peace Corps does have “diversity recruiters” (I’m not sure that’s the actual title, sorry!) back in the States. The difference in cohort diversity from before the hires and after…is quite noticeable. (It was such a necessary shift if we’re actually going to teach our host countries about America.)

Looking at it in selfish terms, I am so fortunate to have had such a beautifully diverse Health 6 family. From day one, they were teaching me about acceptance, love, privilege, and…most importantly…hair. In selfless terms, the more diversity, the better for achieving Goal 2! The new group, Health 7, appears to be more diverse than any group that has come before them. This is going to pose new challenges for them, but will ultimately help in teaching that America truly is a melting pot of cultures (with our own, very deeply rooted, issues with race and ethnicity).

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Health 7, karibu! (Yeah, their picture’s a lot better-looking that ours.)

For now, Peace Corps Rwanda is doing everything they can to help with the teachings. Our team has even prepared a presentation about American/PCV diversity and they will be showing it to each and every potential site…to avoid the disgusting, if infrequent, request of “We want a white Volunteer.” And, ultimately, the changes are going to need to come from us…the PCVs. Which leads me to…

WASH Implementation Plan

So.

At the end of last month, Angelique, Vanessa, and I designed and facilitated our very own Training of Trainers!

We had our facilitators from each of our sites come into Kigali for a Ministry of Health training. (My facilitators are Elie (top row, far left), Rugamba (black shirt, tan pants in the back), and Protogene (bottom row, far left). They spent a week learning how to be the very best hygiene and sanitation facilitators in the wooooorld. (Yeah.) From what I gathered (it was all in Kinyarwanda), they got a lot out of it. It sure helped that the instructors from the Ministry of Health were lively and are actively working to help us with this program.

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Last day of WASH ToT!

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My facilitators drawing a map of our town…which is hilarious since I’m the only one who actually lives in the town.

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The fabulous Nicole who did just about everything for us during our Kigali ToT!

At the end of the training, the Ministry worked with our officials to set deadlines for the upcoming work (and boy is it a lot of work).

  • June 8th (today): Orientation with Village Chiefs
    • It went really well. So well, in fact, that the Chiefs was to increase the number of Community Health Clubs in each village. Unfortunately, that’s going to have to wait until next time…this is still the test run, ya’ll! Let’s start small-ish.
  • June 15th-19th: Formation of Community Health Clubs
    • Basically, the Village Chiefs are going to go house-to-house, looking for particularly leader-y individuals who will form the 7-person Leadership Team. This Team is who will be trained in teaching the weekly hygiene and sanitation lessons. The Leadership Team will then look for 50-100 community members who will comprise the Community Health Clubs.
  • June 22nd-26th: Village Training of Trainers
    • My facilitators and I will host a five-day Training of Trainers…where the facilitators who were trained in Kigali will now teach the Leadership Teams about hygiene and sanitation. (I know it sounds a little convoluted, but trust me-there’s a set process.) At the end of this Training, the Leadership Teams will be well-prepared to teach weekly lessons to their Community Hygiene Clubs.
  • July-December: Implementation of Weekly Lessons
    • Each week, each of the nine villages in Kibilizi will have a Leadership Team-led hygiene lesson. It’ll last for twenty lessons and, at the end of it all, they will receive…of course…a certificate!
  • P.S. There’s a lot of M&E (Monitoring and Evaluation) going on in here, as well. We have a baseline household inventory survey and a two-month follow up. Because, well, if WASH doesn’t work (which Zimbabwe and Malawi have told us it has)…we need to know. Best case scenario? We’re successful in improving the hygiene and sanitation of our villages.

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Do I look hard at work? I’m not. Ruga and Elie did all the work!

If it sounds like I’m busy…that’s because I am. (Because all of us Health 6ers are, really.) We’re all actively involved in this experience; if we weren’t, we certainly wouldn’t have made it through April.)

In all honesty, it doesn’t even feel like I’ve been here a year. Sure, there have been days that have crawled by, but by and large it’s flown by. Everyone keeps telling me that the second year goes by even quicker. How is that even possible? I feel like I’m just getting started; just getting into my groove. Though I’m tired of the food “choices”, that’s really all I’ve got to complain about. I get to talk to my family every day (thanks, Viber!). I get a hot shower every now and again…I don’t even really miss them anymore. (I’ve just come to terms with being just a little dirty all the time.) I bought a new bed and my sleep-time is happy once again. I’m doin’ alright here in the Land of a Thousand Hills. Feeling like this is exactly where I’m supposed to be…and it’s still making me happy, every day.

We’ll see how I feel in another year, I s’pose. ;]

Until next time!

4 thoughts on “Life in Rwanda, One Year Later

  1. Extremely well written and explanatory-I truly cannot believe it’s been a year myself but feel it in my heart each and every day…Great job to you and ALL of your Health 6 group for holding it together when you had so many reasons to fall apart. Love to you all and to all of your families who are missing you like I am.

  2. This is one of the best “one-year” posts I’ve read, and I have read MANY. I loved all the pictures. They were placed appropriately and I love your writing! Thanks for sharing 🙂

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