We love Constance

Hello friends!

 

Anna here.

 

Wow! Time has flown by! The ETL team only has two days left in Rwanda. So far, we have completed over 39 interviews with people of all backgrounds, providing us with a variety of perspectives on Rwandan women in agriculture.

 

A few months ago, Megan came across an inspiring story about a woman named Constance who used livestock as a peace-building tool after the tragic genocide. Many women were left without their husbands and were catalysts in the reconciliation process. Megan contacted Heifer International and talked to the author of the story, and eventually managed to set up a meeting with this incredible woman.

 

Today, Megan and the rest of the team had the opportunity to meet with Constance. We heard her story and had the opportunity to see the association she built up from the ground. There was a bank, bakery, and more. Kate Spade even employs women in the community to make designer bags. 

 

Constance’s success story illustrates the benefits that can arise from collaboration.

 

Sending our love from the beautiful hills of Rwanda. See you soon, Minnesota! 

Hot Wheels

Today was a whirlwind day! The rainy season has come to an end so the weather is getting continuously hotter, and our ride for the day was a van with no air conditioning and only the two front windows that opened, so all day we were roasting. We started off with a closing interview and wrap up with the Global Communities staff. They have been so helpful in our endeavors, and they just kept helping! They set us up with a meting with Agnes, a crop production and extension specialist from the Rwandan Agriculture Board. She was an incredible- a great woman in power to add to our list. After re-caffeinating at Neo, a local coffee shop, we went on to our third interview of the day with Caroline at Gardens for Health. She was a little nervous in front of the camera, but after she warmed up she shared some great stories. After, we made our way back to The Women's Bakery to get some shots of their first day of training. The women were so excited to show us how all their hard work was paying off! To finish off our day we met our new friend Joseph at the Ministry of Agriculture to meet with the Director General of Agriculture, Dr. Charles Murekezi.  Remember, we had been driving around in a sauna in wheels all day, so we all tumbled out sweaty and exhausted and somehow managed to pull ourselves together and look professional for the Ministry. We had a great interview, but unfortunately he didn't feel comfortable appearing on camera so we didn't record any of what he said. Still, he wrapped up almost everything we've been told throughout the entire trip into one conversation and was wonderfully helpful just to hear how everything fit together. The best part was that a woman from the One Acre Fund was also there meeting with the Director General, so we exchanged info with them as well. That has happened a lot on this trip; someone knows someone who connects us with someone else who happens to be just perfect. At the end of the day we stopped back to Meze Fresh for another team dinner and headed back to Yambi. Overall it was an exciting day and I can't wait to see this all come together when we get back!

 

Grace

Baking and Hiking

Dear Friends,

Today we started the day off going to The Women's Bakery in Kigali to interview two women apart of the program and a few of the staff members. The Women's Bakery was founded by Markey and Julie, with the goal to to educate women in Rwanda and Tanzania on how to start and maintain a business. The two co-founders found that baking bread has been a great business for women to get in to, explaining why the organization is called The Women's Bakery. We learned a lot from the women about the organization and how it has empowered them to contribute to their communities. The interviews went very smoothly and which allowed us to be done with interviews for the day around noon. 

We then went to lunch at Rosty's, where we relaxed and enjoyed excellent African style cuisine. With the afternoon wide open, we had time to share our thoughts on how the trip has gone so far and what we've learned. It was great to finally sit down and have lunch like normal people. We then went back to Yambi to regroup and get ready for our busy weekend. 

At Yambi, we were told by our hostel owner Patrick that there is a great spot up the road to eat and watch the sun set over the beautiful city of Kigali. We headed up the road and the promised fifteen minute walk ended up being around thirty minutes up hill. Although we were all pretty tired from the hike, the view of the sunset over Kigali was unbelievable and made the trip well worth it. It was a great way to end our day and get ready for the busy day ahead of us tomorrow. 

~ Brennan

Back to the feild we go

Today we returned to Gardens for Health for another field visit. We met with a mother and her child to learn more about how she has been able to use her kitchen garden to improve her family's health, and increase her household income. After our field visit, we headed home to prepare for our next day of interviews. We finished the night by watching the documentary Ghosts of Rwanda. We learned more about the Rwandan genocide and America's position on the conflict. This helped us gain a little more context and helped us prepare for our upcoming interviews. 

With less than a week left this trip is flying by! I can see all the pieces of our film beginning to come together and can't wait for the final product!


Talk to you soon, 

Grace

New friends and new stories

Dear friends, 

Today we met with Gardens for Health International, an NGO that provides agricultural solutions to childhood malnutrition throughout Rwanda. After meeting the organization's staff, we drove to their field offices and met with Liberatha, a beneficiary of the program.When we got to the house, children piled around the car curious about who we were and why we had cameras and equipment. Liberatha welcomed us with her bright smile, holding her daughter, Noelle, and standing proud in front of her home garden. As we interviewed the mother, she explained the different crops she grows in her garden and how Gardens for Health International has helped empower her as a women, enabling her to provide healthy food to her family. 

Afterwards, we returned to the main office for lunch. Local women farmers cook a mix of delicious beans, rice, kale, and dodo all grown in the organization's garden. Everyone is welcomed and accepted, no matter their socio-economic class. The volunteers and staff eat lunch outside on a long, wooden farmer's table. We were lucky to receive an invitation to join them and hear more about the GHI's inception, mission, and success stories of beneficiaries. 

ETL is notorious for having moments of serendipity and dumb luck. One of these special moments occurred today when Julie Carney, co-founder of Gardens for Health, surprised the community by visiting from the U.S. while on Holiday Break. Julie's humble and warm spirit is contagious and apparent from the first time you shake hands with her. She allowed for our team to ask her to interview her, giving us a better look at how GHI was started, and the impact it has had on the community over the last few years. She emphasized the impact agriculture can have on the health of one's family such as combatting child malnutrition, being able to afford medical insurance, generating an income, and sending their children to school. A New Jersey native and globe trotter, Julie described the strong connection women farmer's around the globe share in the hard work they conduct day-to-day under the scorching sun.

Tomorrow we will meet with other families and beneficiaries of the Gardens for Health International program! 

~ Brennan & Anna

Change in plans

Today we were up and ready for an interview with an agribusiness professor when he last minute had to reschedule. In an effort not to waste yet another day, we made a phone call to headed back to Musanze to visit one of our contact's farms. He had said he had some land and we could stop by at any time but we didn't know much more, so we weren't sure what to expect. 

After a 40 minute motto ride we were beginning to wonder what we'd gotten ourselves into, until we saw the farm. Our jaws hit the floor- it was a farm and house with the most beautiful view overlooking lake burea. Even our motto drivers were amazed. We not only got some amazing shots of the farm and animals, but also were given a tour of the library he was building. It will be only the second in all of Rwanda. 

The entire community was so welcoming and invited some of us to play a quick 5 minute game of football with them. I gave everyone high-5s on the motto ride home. We ended the night with a team pasta dinner and headed to bed to prep for the upcoming full day of interviews.

New year, New memz

Happy New Year!

Because most of our contacts were celebrating the holiday, we decided to take a break from interviews and take the opportunity to shoot some much needed b-roll. We met with one of our translators, Ayubu, who suggested we check out Akagera National Park. We spent the drive learning about Ayubu's long history of working with various film crews and listening to his wild stories of filming everything from Bono making a visit to Rwanda, to working on the movie, The Last King of Scotland. There is never a dull moment when Ayubu is around!

I don't know what we were expecting, but this park certainly exceeded any of our wildest dreams. We saw just about every animal imaginable: giraffes, zebras, 4 different kinds of antelope, baboons, hippos, crocodiles, lizards, water buffaloes, warthogs, elephants, and more. We drove through the hills bordering Tanzania and tried to take in every last moment. 

The team visiting Akagera National Park.

The team visiting Akagera National Park.

Everything was going smooth until we got a little too up close and personal with a few elephants. The first elephant we saw was flapping its ears and our guide told us that meant it was about to charge. We quickly sped around the corner to get out of his way only to come face to face with a herd of 10 elephants blocking our path! Our guide popped the vehicle into reverse and we lurched back out of their path. This sure got our hearts beating, but was also the coolest thing I have ever seen!

Some new friends.

Some new friends.

By the end we were exhausted after the day's adventures and crashed into our beds when we got home. I can't imagine a better way to spend the first day of the year!


Until next time, 

Grace

Looking ahead while Remembering History

Muraho from Kigali!

After a great night's sleep and a team meeting, we were ready to tackle the day. Around 9:30 we left to meet with some students in the Bridge 2 Rwanda program. The program identifies high performing students and connects them with scholarships so they can return after college to become the future leaders of Africa. This might sound like a big task, but after only a few hours of talking with them, I know they will be ready for the job. They were some of the smartest students I've ever met; one is already accepted to Princeton and another to Rochester. It was so cool to get the chance to connect with other university students, and get their perspective on agriculture in Rwanda. Many of them have come from rural communities, and told us stories of the role agriculture has played in their life. I was especially excited to get the chance to talk with one of the students who wants to study environmental sciences. It was awesome to meet someone from across the world who shares my passion. 

The team conducting interviews with Bridge2Rwanda students.

The team conducting interviews with Bridge2Rwanda students.


After we finished our interviews for the day, we visited the genocide museum. This is a tough experience to sum into words. We studied the genocide as part of our research for the trip, but I didn't truly understand the full weight of what happened  until I was  hearing testimonials from survivors and reading horrific stories of families and neighbors turning against one another. The halls were filled with information on the conflict, family photos of victims, and words of hope for a more peaceful future for the world.

The entrance to the Genocide Memorial.

The entrance to the Genocide Memorial.

 

Outside the museum is the  burial ground of over 250,000 genocide victims. This is completely unfathomable to us, but it is the final resting place of many people's loved ones and it is a place where their legacies can be remembered. While we will never fully understand the trauma caused by the genocide, we can now understand a little more about the Rwanda's history, and appreciate the immense progress they have made since then. The entire team was moved by the experience. 


After our afternoon at the memorial and a long group hug, we lightened the mood by going to the market for some supplies for mini pizzas. We spent the night enjoying each other's company and ringing in the new year. 


-Grace

Woo-HUYE

Dear Friends,

Today (December 30th) we woke up early, after a long day of hiking, traveling, and stinky feet, to a delicious breakfast made by Patrick, our hostel owner and breakfast engineer.  We then hustled to Global Communities in Kigali where we met with Laurien Jyambere, the Rural Livelihoods Senior Team Leader for the USAID EJO HEZA Project.  We had a meeting with him and learned about the EJO HEZA Project.  The EJO HEZA Project covers 8 out of the 30 districts in Rwanda and focuses its attention on impoverished families struggling to live healthy lives. 

After our meeting we split up into two teams and headed to the Huye district, near the southern boarder of Rwanda, to interview women farmers that have been affected by the EJO HEZA Project.  The two and half ride there was full of beautiful rural Rwandan scenery and a stop half way through to try my first samboosak, or meat-filled wonton as I like to call it. When we arrived to the neighborhoods of the women we'd be interviewing, we were welcomed with song and dance. The women were happy for us to be their and eager to share their stories of how the EJO HEZA Project has helped them out of poverty and into a healthy and engaged community member. 

The ride back was even better then the ride there; the sun was setting and their was a haze in the valleys that made the mountains seem even bigger then they are. We got back around 9:00 and spent most of the night debriefing and reorganizing for the upcoming days. After a long day of interviews we sat down for a family dinner. Nothing says traditional Rwandan cuisine like Tai take-out. Everyone ate to their heart's content and we ended the night with an impromptu dance party to "Born to Run" at midnight to start Anna's birthday. It feels like we have been here for a month because we are so tired, but we are having an awesome experience and love everything about Rwanda. Luckily we get to sleep in a little tomorrow before we meet with Bridge 2 Rwanda. Goodnight. 

Women participating in the Ejo Heza program.

Women participating in the Ejo Heza program.

- Brennan and Grace

Hiking and buses and meetings... Oh my!

Dear Friends,

Today we woke up bright and early on our final day at Red Rocks to hike the mountain nearby. On the way up we made some friends that made the trek with us and laughed at us for being so tired and sweaty, it turns out they make the hike up the mountain every morning to go to their school at the top. The view from atop the mountain was beautiful but was short lived due to the scheduled bus we had to take back to Kigali.  

The bus ride was cozy, in fact maybe a little bit too cozy, but the scenery of the mountains were gorgeous. When we got back to our hostel in Kigali we only had only a few minutes to unpack and head over to the Heifer International office building to have a meeting with representatives of Heifer. They told us about the great work their organization is doing in Rwanda, specifically by empowering women promoting the community to work together for the greater good. We set up a meeting to interview Constance, a local teacher and farmer who has worked with Heifer, to share her stories of farming as a woman. 

After the meeting and the unexpectedly long bus ride back to our hostel, we hurried to meet a Rwandan Bennie, Ynis Isimbi '16, at a local Kigali restaurant to have dinner with her and meet her friends. It was nice to see a fellow Bennie after our long day of travel and meetings. I am exhausted. Goodnight.

~ Brennan

12/28/15

We found a Bennie in Kigali!

We found a Bennie in Kigali!

Bao showing off her art skills to our new friends during our hike. 

Bao showing off her art skills to our new friends during our hike. 

And so the journey begins

Our first couple days in Rwanda have felt surreal. After we landed in Kigali, we made it to our hostel without a hitch, and made ourselves at home. Our internal clocks were a little off after 24 hours of traveling, so we tried our best to get a good nights sleep. We woke up to quite the view, and we were overwhelmed by how beautiful this city is. Our hostel owner's business card reads "breakfast engineer" and he definitely earned that title! We have been treated to omelets with fresh avocado and tomato, coffee, and local fruit every morning. After breakfast, we put on our explorer gear and headed out to take on the city.  We conquered the public transportation and got our first experience of Rwandan daily life.

 


Later that afternoon, we caught a bus to the northern part of the country and made our way to our second hostel in Musanze. When we arrived the locals were throwing a celebration to thank the hostel owner and we were pulled into the fun. Lots of dancing and music all around. 


On Monday morning we met with Jean D'Amour was the founder of Pamoja Action and our time with him was incredible. He was so knowledgeable, fun and enthusiastic. All the women we met with were so kind and shared so much with us. We really felt welcomed into their community. They sang for us before and after the interview and everyone joined in. It was a very special moment for me and I will remember it the rest of my life. ETL is off to a great start and we can't see where else this adventure takes us!

 

Until next time, 

Grace