on work, hikes, and rights

… if it were happening to us, in our country, I’d hope the world would be behind us, too. 

Hitting the six months in Rwanda mark this week and very much looking forward to what the next three have in store.

Work is a flurry of anxiety and determination. In December, a second Canadian intern, Emilie, arrived. I had been having difficulty getting ‘real’ work – most of the things I was working on seemed to be more busy work than pressing priorities. Emilie arrived just as I was returning from my brief exile to Uganda. Recharged and energized by the amazing Mungudit women, I was ready to push for a more concrete project.

Emilie’s background is in micro-enterprise, so we scoured the CIDA / CCA contract for specific activities that would combine our skills and keep us busy for six-ish months. Enter contract line 5.4.1 – “Support women-specific income generating projects.” Perfect!

We drafted a proposal for a pilot project developing women’s income generating activities (IGAs) that work within the existing cooperative structures and add value to the maize and rice value chains. Surprisingly, we got the green light to from our CCA project managers and UGAMA allocated funding for our project almost immediately, so we hit the ground running.

Since then, we’ve been busy with field visits and proposal calls and have been drafting everything from selection criteria to feasibility studies to social impact assessments and monitoring & evaluation tools. We had over 50 proposals submitted from women’s groups ranging in size from 10-50 women, and together with the UGAMA team, have narrowed it down to 6 groups with whom we are conducting interviews and feasibility assessments. In one week, we should have our final 3 pilot projects !!

Neither Emilie nor I have experience managing a project of this scale or developing any of the tools required to implement it, so we often find ourselves in the middle of stress- and expectation-management conversations.  Worse, we’re both perfectionists and used to North American work contexts, so it’s a challenge to step back and make sure that the project and tools make sense in the rural Rwanda context. The good news is we’re both perfectionists so we spend a lot of time consulting our colleagues and thinking about how the project and tools will be used by the women running it and, which we hope will translate into successful IGAs down the line.

By the time we leave (mid-May for Emilie and mid-June for me) we hope to have all 3 projects operational – equipment purchased and ready to go, governing structures established, project monitoring tools in place, and women trained in business, leadership, and financial skills … it will be a busy three months ! More to come on the specific projects soon.

Sunday Fundays are reserved for recharging in nature, and Rwanda has been an amazing playground to explore! I got a taste of the exhilaration of climbing mountains while visiting my brother in Squamish, BC this summer, and have been taking advantage of Rwanda’s ‘thousand hills’ on the weekend. 

The first mountain I decided to tackle required a short moto ride out of Muhanga. I approached a moto driver who gave me an exorbitant quote — the mzungu price — more than 5x the actual price. I knew it seemed high so I went down the line of motos till I met Fidel, who not only spoke English and French, but gave me the right price, no bartering required. Fidel has quickly become a good friend — not only is it rare to find a moto driver who speaks fluent English or French, but Fidel is a nature-lover himself and has shown us a number of great mountains in the area! #lifeisgood 

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Photo from our hike of Ruganzu’s mountain — the last King of Rwanda 

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Emilie and I looking out over beautiful Muhanga 

Over the past few months I’ve also been volunteering as a grant writer with a Rwandan LGBT organization called My Right Association (MRA). I LOVE the work – applying my writing skills for a cause I really believe in and with an organization full of creative, energetic, and dedicated activists. The last couple of grant proposals I worked on were seeking to educate rural Rwandan youth on LGBT and human rights issues – a new frontier for East African LGBT organizations, and one with huge potential for positive impact.

When the Ugandan government signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act into law two weeks ago, I immediately contacted the Director of MRA to see what could be done to help. Cedy, the Director, got in touch with his Ugandan friends and colleagues, and since then he and I have been raising funds to provide safe refuge for Ugandan LGBT activists. It’s another foray into something I have little experience with – front line activism and fundraising – so also a source of stress, but passion is a great motivator. 

The situation in Uganda is really scary – not only are activists being persecuted by the state, but the population at large has been demonstrating worrisome mob justice mentality on this and other issues in recent months. People are being attacked by so called ‘vigilantes’ carrying out the state-sponsored homophobia, and you can bet their crimes will go unprosecuted.

I sometimes get comments from friends and family on the fact that I’m often posting and ranting about social issues. People sometimes mistake my vociferous nature as pessimism about the state of the world, but I actually feel really optimistic about the world, and I feel we all have a huge power to make positive change. Better yet, it doesn’t take a lot of work.

Sacrifice your morning Starbucks this week, and you can provide safe transportation for an activist from Kampala to Kigali. Take three minutes to sign this petition and your voice will help to influence multinational companies to protect their employees. … because if it were happening to us, in our country, I’d hope the world would be behind us, too. 

 

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me 

– Martin Niemoller

2 thoughts on “on work, hikes, and rights

  1. Always enjoy your emails. Not sure if your mom told you but Amy and Bradley are expecting twins late May. We are over the moon with excitement. Keep up the good work.
    Hugs
    Deb

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

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