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.

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