Sunday, June 24, 2007

Update for final full week

We have reached the end of our time in Rwanda, and it has come too soon. This past week our professor Judge Lange, who originally got us interested in doing human rights work in Rwanda, flew into town to see our progress.

Kelly and I were invited back by the school’s principal to work with the teachers and students one last time. We went through another human rights lesson, and it went wonderfully. The teachers were very accommodating to structuring the teaching in the only way that we believed it would work well. Working with a couple hundred children in a field as large as two football fields is next to impossible (this was proven last week). The teachers split the children up so we were working with 30 – 50 students at once in a small corner of the field. Because of the smaller group and more seclusion we had a much easier time keeping all the children involved. We were thrilled at how the lesson went with all three groups we taught. In the end, the teachers were so appreciative and sad to see us go. We are touched by the sincerity of their complements. There were emails and phone numbers exchanged so we can stay in touch and send them more lesson ideas.

We were so fortunate to meet with the US Embassy in the early portion of our time here. Because this past week was a full week of meetings with NGO’s thanks to the wonderful, the lovely, our new best friend, The Embassy Intern (she knows who she is, THANK YOU SO MUCH!). We were able to meet with LDGL (largest local NGO serving Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo), Haguruka Association (women’s and children’s rights legal advocacy group), UNICEF, and the Red Cross. There were a dozen more contacts with groups that we were given but simply did not have the time to squeeze in before our flight home. With UNICEF and Red Cross Kelly and I perfected the technique of walking through the front door and waiting in person to make an appointment. We learned that when working within the human rights community it takes much initiative, directness, and patience. Everyone is so busy and short-staffed because of lack of substantial resources.

Other contacts we made this week included: the designer of a Professionalism Education Program with the National Police Headquarters; Jean Baptiste, an activist for children; Never Again, a non-profit founded by Rwandans that promotes genocide prevention activities and outreach for youth; and the Acting Director of American Refugee Committee (which has headquarters in Minneapolis).

Because we have been working so hard networking and running around Kigali for meetings we have yet to SEE Rwanda. Kelly and I decided to splurge for the safari experience at one of Rwanda’s wildlife preserves. We shopped around for a great deal to have a driver take us out to Akegara National Preserve on Friday and Saturday. By watching our spending and being frugal we thought we could treat ourselves to this amazing experience. Hope to see lots of giraffe, elephants, and zebras!!!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Making Contacts on the Ground

Kelly and I arrived in Rwanda and said with much apprehension to ourselves "are we going to be able to meet anybody?" Being the highly-scheduled and organized law students that WMCL has made us, we felt like laundry hanging out just blowing in the wind, barely pinned down with contacts and appointments. We have been overwhelmed with contacts that we have been able to make through networking here on the ground, and some contacts our host has been able to make for us with educators. I have only written of our first meeting with Sisters of Rwanda. In this blog I will avoid that much detail as I want to list all the meetings we have had to date (Thursday, June 14).

After Sisters of Rwanda on June 5, we met Orphans of Rwanda on June 6. Simply figuring out where we were going was a nice little adventure - there are NO street signs in downtown Kigali, no building numbers either. We were given directions from a starting point of a commercial building name, then down a dirt road, and across from a restaurant. Jennifer, recently arrived from the US, was a wonderful resource for learning about getting around Kigali, places to eat, stay and things to see. We learned that the work Orphans does has really no relation to our project, as they work to get orphans from the genocide into University. But Jennifer was able to get us some good leads to other organizations and contacts at the Ministry of Gender and Family.

June 7: We met with the chief economic policy at the US Embassy. Learning the official role of the embassy and how it must play its role as liaison was very interesting. It must balance requests of information from Congress for reports with being sensitive to the Rwandan culture. Therefore we became aware that because of its role with government, the embassy was not necessarily able to access or maybe disseminate sensitive information concerning human trafficking. However, we met an intern working at the embassy for the summer who was given a project to learn about the human trafficking and violence against children situation in Rwanda. She was very open to sharing information and including us in meetings that she arranges with NGO's and possibly government ministries.

June 9: We didn't have any meetings, but I wanted to mention an activity related to our human rights manual. Saturdays are the day that many street kids show up to our host's church for organized activities and meals. Kelly and I were able to meet with them, and through a translator, we talked to them about human rights and taught them a few of the excercises from the manual. The children responded remarkably well! We had a blast teaching and working with the kids as they were so very respectful and attentive. Hopefully pictures will be able to uploaded to this blog soon.

June 11: Nandita, of Never Again, had dinner with us and our host. Kelly was given Nandita as a contact because she is over here as a theater fellow and is in a masters program at NYU. Her work is in putting together a theatre education program for the Never Again organization, which has youth groups throughout the country. She invited us to a dinner with her various friends connected with the theatre scene in Kigali the following night.

June 12: We met Tineke, the Legal Liaison, of International Justice Mission who we were referred to through Sisters of Rwanda. She worked for a big law firm in London for a few years before deciding to join IJM. It was great to get a lawyer's perspective and career path for working with an international human rights NGO.

At the dinner party we were invited to by Nandita, we met the founder of Never Again, who is from Rwanda. We also met very interesting people including a young man that is a social worker from Kigali who is doing a fellowship with UNICEF. His work is incorporating theatre in teaching street children. We learned about the group Right to Play, which is an organization that teaches human rights. So hopefully we will be following up on that contact with a meeting next week.

June 13: We had a meeting with Veronique at the Ministry of Gender and Family. She was mostly a french speaker and wasn't very open about sharing how policy is made in Rwanda. It was disappointing that she had not even prepared to have an english copy of the government's policy available for our meeting. Also, it struck us as odd that she did not have a contact at UNICEF which she recommended that we get the policy from. We saw many binders on the shelves labled "UNICEF Reports." Hmmmm.

Our host set up a meeting with the Sectretary Gen’l of the Ministry of Education for the evening. It was very impressive to meet with a former teacher, who is now the head of Rwanda's education programs. We think our host had great aspirations for this meeting, such as a buy-in by the Secretary with our teaching manual. In our host's mind, this would enable us to go back to the States and be able to do massive fundraising if the manual would be incorporated into the curriculum. Kelly and I had a much lower expectation for the meeting, and came away with a feeling that the Secretary was being gracious to meet with us, as he only praised our efforts and dismissed the idea that the manual would be useful in the curriculum. His one comment that "they already have this information in their curriculum" was staggering to us, and very telling of the culture and how we are being perceived. There is NOTHING like these human rights theatre and art lessons in their curriculum. Period.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Driving and Other Man Things

The culture of Rwanda has been unfolding before Kelly and I slowly as being very male dominated. When having a conversation men were speaking almost exclusively to me, making very little eye contact with her. I have even found this after she pointed it out to be the case of women talking to us. Kelly was even finding most translators spoke only directly to me and she was having trouble hearing. When we have been shuttled around I noticed very few women drove. I started counting and it took an entire day before seeing double digits of female drivers. It should be noted that Kigali is the capital city, very dense, and the traffic is often bumper to bumper morning to evening. Thereby, plenty of counts for the statical analysis.

Over dinner tonight Pastor made a very open statement when asked by a visitor, Cheryl, from Australia. He candidly stated that boys don't want to learn how to cook because it is "women's work." Ironically, a young man, John, was at the table and said he could cook! He lives alone of course, and also is an orphan, so presumably it has been a matter of necessity for him.

Along the lines of "man" jobs must be driving. Last summer there were three female law students that were visiting. We were told that they had a driver, Fred, who took them anywhere and everywhere they needed to go for the four weeks. But just after one week Pastor handed the keys over to me! He didn't ask Kelly if she could drive. I have been entrusted twice now on taking his kids with us to the church, and have apparently been a relief driver tonight as he sent Fred off to enjoy the evening himself while I drove our guest from Australia home.

Along with these observations, we have noted how the boys and girls are asked to do different things around Pastor's home. Everything is starting to weigh heavily on Kelly. She has more than once told me she has had to bite her tongue. I think that we shall be moving out of Pastor's home the final week to avoid a trainwreck of emotions spewing forth.

Host Family's Children and Our first attempt to teach

I have not written yet about our host's children. Today is the perfect opportunity after our experiences trying out our theatre exercises on them last night, Wednesday, June 6. Living with a house full of children is completely new for Kelly and me. Our host has seven children, four boys and three girls, and a girl who we believe is a niece. The eldest boy is away at university in Uganda. Living at home are boys 17, 11, and 8 and girls 15, 11, and 4. The two oldest are in secondary school much like our high school, while the other children who are in primary school. Kelly and I have developed a habit of enquiring whether the children have eaten while we sit down for dinner. The table is only set for three, our host and us. What we observed was after we finished the children would then be summoned to the table. First the baby girl, our host often feeds her from his plate or makes her up another. Then the eldest boy is summoned, followed by the other boys. After they have plates of food then the girls are invited, oldest to youngest. Kelly and I wonder if the children are excused from eating with us because our host wants time just with us to talk, which we don’t do much of over dinner. Perhaps it is formal to dine with guests alone, or simply he is thinking he is being polite and protecting us from the rambunctious activity of the children. But when we ask whether they have eaten, he always answers us that the children have already had plenty to eat out back. Out back is the multi-purpose concrete patio that is partially covered where the wood-fired stove is located, the meals prepared, and presumably eaten. Also the patio holds the massive water tank that supplies the home for all water needs. The wash is also done on the back patio and hung along clotheslines there. I believe some bathing is also done there as hot water is boiled on the stoves. The patio is also the soundstage. When 5:30 in the morning comes the singing soon after begins with the children waking up and getting ready for school. Many church songs are sung from the top of young lungs throughout the whole process of getting ready in the morning. The children have been our rooster.

Last night Kelly and I had a blast teaching them a few of the younger children theatre exercises: Spider web, Colombian hypnosis, and Great Game of Power. The middle girl has pretty decent English language knowledge so she was our translator for the other children. However, there were some key language gaps that left us showing the kids what we wanted them to do, and they mimicked us. For instance, the language barrier for “hypnotize” was pretty drastic as they had no concept, but we were able to describe what it meant to “act” hypnotized so they caught on to the idea. The language barrier was even more difficult we found with the Great Game of Power. Pieces of furniture are to be arranged by the kids so one item is the “most powerful.” Oddly, “powerful” as a concept or even “authority” was very difficult to get them to understand. They understood when we analogized to the President and how he was most powerful. Eventually they were able to parrot the examples of arrangements that Kelly and I created, but never really created their own concept. I think that the lesson concept of how certain people gain power by manipulating others could work very well with full translation by their teachers. We were pleased that the activities themselves were enjoyed by the children and could even be understood at a certain level even with language barriers. Next week’s meetings with school teachers should be very productive as we can report that some of the exercises were definitely enjoyed, which will help gain buy-in to the program. Receiving ideas and feedback on how the instructions translate will be exciting.

I have one more thought to discuss about the children. When the children arrive home after school we have seen Pastor shake hands with them in greeting. This mannerism Kelly and I have discovered to be rather odd. What seems so odd about it is the fact that as a culture they are so unbelievably affectionate in a physical way. They lay their hands on arms, shoulders, hands, and legs, even while just making a simple comment and explanation. When they shake they often hold your hand for a long time gently afterwards, or often embrace. But Pastor only shakes hands with his children, except for the baby, little Esther. He regularly hugs, kisses and holds her. The formal shake greeting seems at odds with a general culture of physical affection.

*** It has taken many days to find internet working well. It is now Sunday 10. I drove us into town and while chatting with our host we learned he has MORE kids!!! The eldest is actually has been around the house a couple times, but says very little. He has only really been visible at night a few times, so I assumed he was friends with the 15 year old boy and just hanging around the house. Also, there is an older girl that is a niece of our host that has been living with him since she was a little kid. Her parents were killed many years ago, back when our host was in exile in Uganda, and thus she has been with him most of her life.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

the flight and first cultural experience

Our flight out of Amsterdam was delayed with us on it, at the terminal, for merely five hours. At that point the mechanics gave up trying to fix it. There was some major confusion as to what Kenya air was going to do with us all since the next flight to Nairobi wouldn't leave for another 19 hours at that point. Captain mentioned hotel, then just food vouchers, a possible afternoon flight out. Through it all the primarily African contingent on the plane remained calm, and even with some jovial. Wise cracks and jokes were made. Patience prevailed. We remarked how it would have been impossible for American passengers to respond nearly so well. Especially with the comedy of errors that eventually transpired. We had boarded at 11pm, finally deboarded at 4:30am; then given meal vouchers for use in the one and only cafe remaining open at 5:30am in the airport; and eventually were herded as a pack throughout the immense Amsterdam airport at 7am to stand in line to pass through customs and head to a hotel. The plane was to be fixed and we would have to take a bus back to the airport a bit after 2pm for a 4pm flight. We all came to the lobby at 2pm to find a sign saying the flight was cancelled and we would leave at 11pm!!! Again, primarily calm and patience remained. Perhaps we were all so relieved to gain a few more hours of sleep. The real pain and frustration arose upon landing in Nairobi. Despite having over 24 hours to reschedule and book all the passengers NOTHING had been accomplished. Many missed connections throughout other parts of Africa for another 24 hours. Kelly and I were fortunate to be boarded onto a flight for Kigali, Rwanda. Oh, but when we boarded and looked at the computer map of our projected flight path it occured to us we were heading for Burundi!!! Yes, instead of flying 30 minutes to Rwanda first, we flew to Burundi in 1 1/2 hours, sat, then flew onwards to our destination.

Pastor Paul and our driver/guide/translator/shepherd named Safari (really Fred) were at the airport smiling and greeting us. Finally. Arrivee! We were spent but immediately Pastor Paul whisked us off to a meeting at his office with his two main managers/organizers with his church that run the student operations.

Must run to our first meeting with Sisters of Rwanda, a Lawyers without Borders org. We are extremely excited!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fenced In

Here I am up at 4am creating my blog the night before leaving for Rwanda. I blame my fence. Two days of slaving away tearing down and rebuilding a portion of my fence. I can claim victory over it, two minor cuts my only wounds, but it was a time suck.
I have nearly everything packed up and all necessary docs at hand. There will undoubtably be excess baggage fees resulting from all the school supplies. Most likely a sore back and shoulders from lifting it all.
I'm ready, excited, and on the verge of falling down out of exhaustion.