Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Rimba Creations: Sustainable Solutions

Rimba Creations is a team of 15 women who are former sex workers now making jewellery together and street vending as a way of making a living.

Our first meeting with the members of Rimba was on a Tuesday morning. We started by  introducing ourselves; we took time to learn about them, their families and what it is they do so that we could get to know each other. By the end of the session, the women were teaching the UKVs the traditional 'cow dance' of Rwanda. It was a great meeting that we all enjoyed.

Volunteer Jemima and Liliane working the Rimba Creation ladies
Time to make something productive...
Since the first meeting, the only way has been up! We meet with the Rimba women every Tuesday morning to aid with making jewellery or discuss with them to find solutions to any issues that may arise. One of our volunteers, Jemima, put forward the idea to produce different items such as waist beads, ankle bracelets and personalised wrist bracelets. So we purchased the necessary materials and taught the Rimba ladies how to make them. This turned out to be a successful idea as more and more orders were coming in. The Rimba women were so excited to see a profit being made from their products, giving encouragement to work even harder. 

Examples of different waist bead designs handmade by Rimba Creations
We are now in week 9 and the improvement has been great! They now arrive to work on time and those who can't make it always communicate with the president of the cooperative. Now, it's clear to see that the women of Rimba trust each other and feel like one team working towards their goal. However, there is still room for improvement in some areas: producing things of high demand on the market and marketing their products well.

Production and Selling
The previous cohort had found a shop in Huye where they can sell their jewellery. This shop already stocks similar products to the earrings and necklaces they were previously making which is why we decided to diversify their range by making waist beads and anklets. This is a trend more popular in West Africa than East Africa, so this should give them their own niche in the market. Additionally, the waist beads are quicker and easier to make which we hope will increase their productivity and, in turn, their profits.

Examples of handmade personalised bracelets by Rimba Creations 

It has taken a long time to bring Rimba Creations together. They have been working with LUTI and ICS volunteers for four cohorts now, but we feel that we have finally found a solution to their issues, giving them a sustainable way for them to make money in the future.
For now, they are still dependent on the accountant of LUTI - Yvette - who still helps them to collect their weekly contributions and deal with their bank account. However, we hope that in the near future one or several of the women will be able to undertake an accounting course in order to be able to deal with their finances on their own.

By Jemima Kakizi and Gianne Pineda
Edited by Keziah Lewin 

Photos by Gianne Pineda

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Kent to Kigali: An Interview with our Team Leader

This week I was inspired to write a blog about our Team Leader – Felicity Martin-Daly. She is the youngest woman to lead a cohort in the history of ICS and it seems quite fitting that she was placed in Rwanda, a country that leads the world in female representation in Parliament.

I sat down with Felicity to ask her about her ICS journey so far.

Felicity and her counterpart Fred
Hey Fliss! Let’s gets started. So, what was it like arriving in Rwanda for the first time?

Scary! I travelled from the UK on my own and arrived at Kigali airport at 2am feeling exhausted and disorientated. It was strange arriving in a new place in the dark too, I didn’t really know where I was until I woke up the next morning to see the rolling green hills of Rwanda. I thought I would experience culture shock, but I felt comfortable very quickly. My counterpart helped me understand some basic Kinyarwanda and taught me about Rwandan food and culture.

You mentioned meeting your counterpart. Tell us about your first impressions of him.

He’s so tall! When I first met Fred I knew we would get along because he instantly made me laugh; we joke a lot and I tease him all the time.  In my first week, Fred was really considerate of me; he realised that I might be feeling culture shock and that things like public transport might be a new experience for me. He also helped me to be comfortable in my host home by explaining Rwandan traditions and what my host family would expect of me.

It must be hard living with a new family, especially since you don’t live with your counterpart, how have you adapted?

I’ve loved the host home experience. Although it was difficult at first because I didn’t have my counterpart at home to help me, I quickly got to grips with living in a Rwandan family. I was really lucky to get placed in a host family who speak both English and French, but we mainly speak in French. I had to adapt to the food; in Rwanda people eat a lot and my host mum expects me to eat much more than I typically would at home. Eventually I had to have a conversation with her and be honest that I couldn’t manage to eat her portions! I’ve also had to adapt to cold showers – my host family are always happy to heat water for me when I want it but I don’t like to add to the housework. Washing my clothes by hand was also a totally new experience; at first I had no idea how to do it and it was a bit of a chore every Sunday. But after all this time, I’ve started to find it quite therapeutic.

Felicity helping street child Jean-Claude with his writing skills
Ok, now let’s get into the nitty gritty of being a Team Leader. How did you find meeting your first cohort?

It was quite a strange experience to be honest. The first cohort arrived early in the morning, so we briefly said ‘hello’ and they went straight to bed to recover from their flight. It was also strange that they already knew each other from pre-placement training and had formed friendships, so I had to make an effort to engage with all the volunteers and form my own relationships with them. I enjoyed training with them and we quickly formed a strong bond. It was exciting to pair them up with counterparts and I really enjoyed bringing them to Huye and introducing them to their host families.
What did you learn from the first cohort and has it changed how you lead our cohort?

I learnt so much from my first team. We experienced all the challenges of ICS together and went through so much as a team, I’ll never forget them. They taught me a lot about my leadership style and through their advice and constructive criticism I think I’ve adapted a lot. In the first cohort I think I was probably trying to be too authoritative; it’s very hard to lead a team of people who are your own age and who you spend all your time with (during work and during social hours). So I felt that I needed to impose myself at work to distinguish work from our free time. But my team showed me that it was unnecessary and that I should be myself. This has influenced how I treat the second cohort a lot; I think I am a lot more relaxed as a Team Leader but I think this also partly comes from the confidence of having already led one cohort. In the first cohort I was still figuring everything out. The first cohort also taught me a lot about supporting my volunteers; although our three months together were relatively drama-free, I still had to ensure the wellbeing of certain members of the team. Having that experience has made it much easier to support this team, and I feel that now I am able to spot the signs of volunteers beginning to have problems and I can help them before their problems become more serious.

Felicity and volunteer Gianne helping to build a kitchen garden
 That’s really insightful, I think I can speak for the rest of the team and say you’re a great team leader! You mentioned the challenges of ICS, what would you say have been the main challenges of your ICS experience?

I think the challenges of Rwanda and LUTI specifically are quite different to any other ICS country or project. Rather than culture shock or the climate, the main challenges for me personally have been adapting to a culture where people are quite private and tend not to say what they think. I think it has been a big adjustment for all the UKVs and it has been the cause of our team disagreements. Professionally, the biggest challenges have been working with a wide range of beneficiaries and working with our project partner. LUTI has not always been the easiest partner to work with and our professional relationship is not the smoothest. Meanwhile, LUTI has a wide range of beneficiaries with complex needs; it has been challenging because our teams do not always have all the expertise that we need, also our beneficiaries’ needs are often far beyond the team’s capacity and budget. Although I’m extremely proud of everything that has been achieved by both my teams, I know that there is still a long way to go for many of our beneficiaries and there won’t be any more ICS volunteers to help them.

Felicity with some of the street children during a sports session
You’ve spent almost 6 months in Rwanda, what will you take away from this experience and how do you think it will impact the rest of your life?

As much as I am looking forward to going home, I know I’m going to miss Rwanda immensely. I’ve learned so much about myself, including my own resilience and strength, but I’ve learned much more about leadership. Apart from all the new skills I have acquired, I’ll be going home with a newfound confidence in myself and my abilities and the knowledge that I want to work in international development and the charity sector in the future. Over the course of the last few months I have made so many new friends within my teams, in our community and amongst our beneficiaries. Although I know I’ll be sad to leave Rwanda next month, I hope that the relationships I have formed and the things I have learned here will stay with me forever.

We’ll be sad to say goodbye to you!  Our experience would not have been the same without your encouragement, passion for the beneficiaries and positivity. Thank you for taking the time to share your journey with us, you’ve certainly inspired me.

By Melissa Lindsay
Edited by Naomi Bodo
Pictures by Gianne Pineda

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Half Way!

Over the weekend the Rwandan teams had our mid-term review. We were all very excited to meet up with the other team and discuss the highs and lows of the last 5 weeks and how we intend to spend our remaining 5 weeks of our placement.

We were lucky enough to spend the day in Nyanza, an hour’s drive from Huye. We had a cultural visit to the King’s Palace which was an enlightening experience, especially for the UK volunteers who got to learn some more about Rwandan culture and history. The replica of the old palace in particular was very interesting; we got to learn about how visitors would come to the palace to present their problems to the King and how the King and his family lived together.

Volunteer Christine posing in the King's milk house

The modern palace where the last king lived is also part of the exhibition however we were not permitted to take photos inside so as to show respect. It was upsetting to learn that some of the original furniture was stolen during the genocide in 1994 however our guide was very informative and helped us to imagine how the palace might have looked before.

After our visit we then presented our work so far to Dinnah and Olivier (the International Service in-country staff in Rwanda) and our friends in the team working with Kopakama in Rutsiro. As a team, we shared our achievements so far and our intentions for the following weeks. During the first half of our placement, we have managed to deliver many sessions to our beneficiaries: 9 Kids Club sessions, 4 Human Rights classes, 2 nutrition sessions and saving skills training. We have also built trust and a good working relationship with the Street Kids and Rimba Creations, allowing us to give them better aid more closely tailored to them. For our Community Health Workers, we constructed a kitchen garden which turned out to be a great success. One of our volunteers, Tom, had the idea to create portable kitchen gardens for the Tailors. Our group of tailors live in rented accommodation, so if they should have to move, they will be able to take the kitchen gardens with them. In the past two weeks we put together 3 of these. Other things we have achieved were completing the running water project for the indigenous group and providing security so that no one can take the water without permission. But for us, the greatest achievement was finding a teacher to take over the school sessions once we leave. This means that the positive impact will still continue. 

Volunteers Carl, Becky and Gianne posing with the King's Cows

For the remaining 5 weeks, we have many things planned that we aim to accomplish. These include building display racks for the cooperatives’ products to better advertise their businesses, purchasing new sewing machines for our Tailors to replace old ones and building an additional kitchen garden. We also have a series of sessions planned for a number of our beneficiaries regarding health, marketing and saving skills, and mentorship sessions for the students at the schools. Some of our intentions of high priority are to connect the street children with NGOs and to find someone to carry on running the Kids Club. Luckily, we recently received a response from an NGO; now we are planning to visit a centre in Huye for the street children. 

After our presentations, we travelled to Muhanga where we had an overnight stay in a hotel with the Rutsiro team; this allowed us to catch-up and rest before the long journeys back to our placements.
Volunteers Tom and Naomi under the Rwandan flag
Through the mid-term review, we have seen how much we have achieved within a short amount of time. It was a great motivator for our team to see how well we have worked together and what we have accomplished. We all look forward to continuing with our plans.

Keziah Lewin and Felicity Martin-Daly
Photos by Gianne Pineda

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Inspiring Young Minds

Cohort 4 are continuing to work with two secondary schools, namely Mubumbano and Regina Pacis, following on from the previous cohort. The pupils at the schools join our sessions during their free time. Regina Pacis is the school closest to our office, only a short walk away, whereas Mubumbano is in a more rural location – around a 20 minute drive on unpaved roads. Some of the pupils at this school have to walk several hours every morning to get to school which affects their concentration and motivation. The students at Regina Pacis (aged 15-18) have a good level of English, meaning the language barrier is less of an issue. However, the pupils at Mubumbano (aged 11-15) have less English skills so a lot more of our work has to be delivered in Kinyarwanda.

Volunteers Naomi and Diane helping their group of students present their ideas to the class

The first session we delivered was at Mubumbano with the aim to raise their awareness of human rights; two of our volunteers, Becky and Glody, took the lead. We started by introducing ourselves to the pupils, then we split them into groups to discuss questions about the topic. These included ‘What are human rights?’, ‘What groups/people in your community work for human rights?’ and ‘How do human rights affect your daily life?’ They then presented their answers to the class. The pupils participated well, demonstrating knowledge on the subject as well as a willingness to learn more. At the end of the session we took them outside to play a game called ‘The Rhythm Master’; we stand in a circle with one person starting a rhythm for the rest to copy while three others would try to detect which person is controlling the change in the rhythm. The children enjoyed this game; they look forward to our next session together.

Team Leader Fred playing Rhythm Master alongside pupils from Mubumbano school.

Our most recent session was at Regina Pacis, where we delivered a similar lesson with a few changes to cater to their age; the questions were adapted to further stretch the students’ learning. We started with an activity called ‘Spectrum Line’. Becky and Christine read out a series of statements, the students would then go to one end of the room, the middle or the other end to state whether they agreed, were unsure or disagreed with said statement. When asked about their choices, they showed a great ability to share their views which also demonstrated their understanding for human rights. This continued to be portrayed through the group work activity and presentations. The volunteers would go round the groups to answer any questions they had while thinking about their answers to the questions. The final activity we did was the ‘Ha-Ha Game’ where we all stood in a circle, the first person would say ‘ha’ then the next person would add on a ‘ha’ from the person before them. The aim of the game is to not laugh, if you laugh or crack a smile you’re out of the game. This created a lot of laughter in the group, giving a nice end to the session

Volunteer Becky leading a session on Human Rights at Mubumbano School

During the sessions we did face a few challenges, the language barrier being the hardest, particularly at Mubumbano, which sometimes made answering the students’ questions difficult for UK volunteers as In Country Volunteers would not always be available to translate since they were already busy helping out other groups. Also, in the Mubumbano class there were a large number of students (around 40), making organisation a bit more difficult thus affecting the flow of the session. The students at Regina Pacis already knew quite a lot about human rights so adding things to the session to challenge them was a little difficult for us. However, despite these factors we were able to successfully deliver the sessions, adding to a positive outcome of better understanding for this important topic.

In the weeks to come, we plan to deliver more sessions based around different elements of human rights. For example, the next session we will do at Mubumbano will be on how human rights affect their daily life. We also intend to implement an English Club to give the students at both schools the unique opportunity to improve their language skills with people who speak English as their first language. Mentorships sessions are also a plan for the future.
Volunteer Liliane watching students present their work to the class

Overall, the two sessions we have done have been a great success not only with raising awareness but also creating a good working relationship between the volunteers and the two schools. The work that we do in these schools has a real positive impact on their learning. We and the students look forward to working more together through future session.

Keziah Lewin and Felicity Martin-Daly
Photos by Gianne Pineda and Shema Isaac

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Kids Club: Challenging Perceptions

Cohort 4 were inspired to work with the local street kids in Rango after the previous cohort had noticed a growing number of young children spending their day around the LUTI office. The children, many of whom appeared to be homeless, are begging for food and do not attend school. After discussing their needs as a group, we decided that a blend of classroom and sports based activities could provide some much needed structure in their lives. This resulted in the launch of the Kids Club!   

The team and the street kids after the first sports session

From our first day in Huye, we met some of the strongest characters to attend our sessions, but also those who seemed to have the greatest needs. Calixte immediately stood out to us, from his physical appearance as the youngest most ragged looking child, but also the loudest and cheekiest of the group. Every morning, we found him waiting outside our office, despite his hardship always wearing a big smile and demonstrating a boundless amount of energy. It was Calixte who made it clear to us that, as a group, the street children were in desperate need of positive adult role models. Mostly in the local community they are treated as second class citizens by adults; they are shooed away from shops and restaurants and feel like they have nowhere to turn. The objectives of the Kids Club, therefore, became to offer an outlet for their energy through inclusive activities which help to build a bond between them as well as providing important life skills.  

Volunteer Gianne taking a break during a sports session with Calixte and Jean-Claude

From the second week of our cohort we began the sports element of the kids club, using local facilities as a hub for our sessions. We were very lucky to have a member of our team with experience in this area, Carl (who the kids have named King Carlo) has been using rugby to engage troubled young people in the UK to make positive life choices. His skills were essential to the smooth running of the sports sessions. So far we have conducted three sports sessions and Carl has been slowly introducing the concept of touch rugby and team work to the children. His energy and commitment to this group of beneficiaries has been the cornerstone of Kids Club.  

Volunteer Carl leading a touch rugby session

We quickly realised that two weekly sports sessions would not be enough to satisfy the complex needs of the street children. While sports sessions give them the opportunity to release their energy in a constructive way (rather than fighting), we discovered that many of them were keen to learn new skills including reading and writing, improving their English and using computers, since they are not able to go to school. It was at this point that we introduced a third weekly session at our office where we lead a session focused on their learning. For example, in this week’s session, each child produced their own ‘profile’ where they drew a picture of themselves and wrote their name, age and favourite things in English. A vital part of all three weekly sessions is to provide the children with a much needed meal and the opportunity to enjoy sitting together in a cafĂ©, something which would normally not be possible for them. Each session they are provided with water, bananas, porridge and bread which we hope will contribute to fighting the malnutrition from which many of them suffer.

Volunteer Davis helping Calixte write his profile

The street children have quickly become one of our favourite but most challenging groups to work with. We have faced serious issues of organisation; the children can find it difficult to engage in a structured environment as it is so far from their daily norms. Equally, as a team we have experienced some challenges due to the language barrier with the children and the fact that we were not prepared for the number of children who quickly began showing up to our sessions.

Street Child Peti's profile

Our work with the street children this cohort is probably our most ambitious plan. We realise that the current interventions, as positive as they are, will mean little in the long run if we leave without ensuring their continuation. We are looking for another organisation with the funding and time to be able to continue at least one of the sessions we have set up. We also hope to connect the children with governmental agencies to help get them off the streets and back in school. We plan to develop the profiles that they made in to more detailed documents to pass on in order to facilitate this. We also hope that the visibility of the sessions we run will begin to change attitudes in the local community, especially since we allow all children to attend so that the street children can mix and build relationships outside of their group.

Street Child Jean-Paul's profile

In just three weeks of implementation, the children have already surprised us with the progress that they have made and we are excited to see this continue for the remaining weeks of our placement. Although our plans are ambitious, the enjoyment we get from working with the children motivates us to ensure its sustainability for the future.

Carl Redgrave, Felicity Martin-Daly and Keziah Lewin

Photos by Shema Isaac and Gianne Pineda

Friday, 18 May 2018

Meet the Final Cohort - 4

Muraho! Amakuru?

We are ICS Cohort 4, the final group to create a positive impact in Huye, Rwanda with LUTI (Let Us Transform Life Initiative) -  a non-governmental organisation , we aim to improve the lives of many, focusing on women and young people who live in poverty.

Our objectives as volunteers is to work with 8 groups of beneficiaries which includes; former sex workers, indigenous groups, community health workers, schools and street kids. We will be delivering sessions to create a sustainable development as we hope to leave all beneficiaries empowered to improve their lives independently.

Meet the team and what we have learnt from our counterparts so far:

Diane, 24 Muhanga
Becky, 23 Nottinghamshire


Christine, 24 Nyamata
Mel, 24 London

Davis, 23 Kigali
Tom, 25 Lanteglos

Glody, 24 Kigali
Naomi, 23 South Wales

Jemima, 25 Kigali
Gianne, 22 London

Liliane, 20 Kigali
Keziah, 18 Birmingham

Shema, 18 Kigali
Carl, 21 Bristol

Team Leaders:
Felicity, 23 Kent
Fred, 30 Kigali

After just 19 days, we have all formed as a team, creating strong bonds together through sharing this unique experience. Already we have learned so much from each other; both transferrable skills for future life and cultural differences between our worlds. Learning how to wash our clothes by hand and cook Rwandan food has been a new experience for many of us. Also, waking up early and managing time has been a difficult but worthwhile adjustment for some of us.

In our first 3 weeks we have already achieved a lot we are looking forward to implementing our plans and creating a positive, sustainable difference over the next 7 weeks.

Gianne Pineda and Keziah Lewin

Monday, 30 April 2018

Beneficiary case study: increasing access to food and water

In Rwanda, 0.4% of the population are indigenous, formally known as twa or batwa. These citizens are classified as historically marginalised by the government. According to the Community of Potters of Rwanda 77% of this community are illiterate, 47% have no farmland and 30% are unemployed.
International Service volunteers with LUTI have developed the partnership with the indigenous group in Rango, who live in public housing. Previous cohorts focused solely on facilitating their knitting co-operative but we identified the necessity to improve their access to water and food. Our first priority was to build a kitchen garden, in which we planted carrots, dodo, spinach, celery and onions. We worked with members of the indigenous group to complete this. It was important because our needs assessment identified that they currently lack a consistent supply of vegetables. The work of the International Service team has been rewarded with an encouraging reception from the beneficiaries. For example, elders of the indigenous community said they would dance to celebrate the completion of the kitchen garden. We have observed growth in the vegetables we planted and expect some will be ready to use in cooking soon.
The team celebrating finishing building and planting the kitchen garden with members of the indigenous group.
In addition, we installed two tippy taps, which are hand washing devices to improve personal hygiene. Follow-up visits were undertaken to ensure each member of the community understood how to use the hand washing stations and were utilising them when necessary. Unfortunately, due to theft, the soap we provided has to be stored separately so people have to go to request it after using the toilet. Moreover, to complement these initiatives, we held sessions on nutrition and sanitation, as well as distributing resources on these areas. In order to enhance the profitability of their knitted goods, the team provided them with new colour palettes and a revised pricing structure. Our work has been linked to the Sustainable Development Goals of no hunger, clean water and sanitation and reducing inequality.  
Jean-Paul (JP) Bikorihana, 40, President of the groups charcoal burner co-operative, spoke about the progress made alongside the International Service team. We are grateful for everything thats been done for us. We had a great time together. Discussing the impact of the different projects that have been undertaken, JP was positive. Even though the vegetables havent grown yet, they will help us to eat a balanced diet and put into practice the nutrition sessions that were delivered to stay healthy. Hygiene and sanitation sessions complemented the installation of two tippy taps. JP said: They will help us fight diseases caused by dirtiness and its a great way of living as even when we don't have enough water we will still have some left to wash our hands. 
JP (far right) and other members of the indigenous community during a meeting with LUTI's volunteers.
In terms of business development, the colour combinations and pricing strategy proposed for the knitting co-operative is now being implemented. According to JP: [The co-operative members] will still need training but they can manage as they have resources. They hope they will make a profit and may adjust the prices depending on the market. With regards to creating products from iron sheets as an alternative source of income for the charcoal burner co-operative members, assistance to purchase the equipment is still required.  
Overall, JP claimed that the International Service team has been successful in making a difference to the lives of the indigenous group. Theres a lot of change, especially in terms of our mindset. We now feel we can be more engaged and try to put into practice all the activities we did together like the kitchen garden and tippy taps. The only request for future cohorts is to follow up on all the activities weve started and to keep training them.
Team member Winnie testing out one of the tippy taps that was built for the indigenous group.
Team leader Felicity said: The indigenous group were the most in need of our help when we arrived and we are happy to have carried out most of our planned interventions with them. Challenges faced in implementing our plans included the marginalisation of the indigenous group among the local community as well as practical difficulties to install a tap in an attempt to increase access to clean water. The team of volunteers strongly believe this group of beneficiaries should be the top priority for LUTI and hope the next cohort follow this lead.