Waiting room: My personal experience with patience, hope, and surprises

A time like this  in 2012 I came across Global Health Corps’ (GHC) call for applications for the 2013-2014 fellowship class. Actually, it was my second time applying for this opportunity.

This time, I started assembling each and every element carefully, reviewed each position of interest to me many times to weigh it against others, carefully compared my skills, knowledge, and interests against the descriptions, searched the GHC website for important information, and attended both the Rwanda job day workshop where GHC was present as well as information session events, in case further information was provided. There was one more essential step – submitting two recommendations to complete the application.

This application process was long, but it was an opportunity to reflect on and share my contributions to social change thus far, to learn about numerous efforts put in by organizations, and to think about my added value to scaling up efforts towards global health equity. This was an important time to reflect on my core values, passions, vision, and beliefs. Put simply, it was a thoughtful journey of learning and reflection.

The time passed by and I was selected for semifinal interviews. I prepared well and felt ready for the question and answer session. The final hour came, and following a reception, we quickly got to the agenda of the day, went through the interview, and waited for the results. Unfortunately, when the results were published, I was not chosen. I was disappointed, of course, but felt like I had done my best and would wait for the next opportunity. I snubbed voices telling me to give up.

Despite those disappointing times, there was a small part of the story that gave me a little hope – the following short sentence picked from email I received. It reads as follows: “While we are unable to offer you a position at this time, circumstances sometimes change, and there is the possibility that you could be contacted for an interview at a later date. Unfortunately, we are unable to guarantee or predict the likelihood of this happening.” Honestly, I would not rely on unpredictable chance and was thinking about future opportunities, but there was some room for hope. It created a miracle.

On August 6, 2013 at about 10am, I was at home when I received a phone call from the GHC program manager inquiring about my interest in the fellowship. What do you think was my response? “Of course I am!” I replied. The following interviews with PIH staff were not always easy due to some challenges with internet connectivity and dropped Skype calls, delays due to distances separating parties, and busy schedules. But with patience, just a short time after the last interview, an email was sent to my inbox with the heading “GHC Fellowship Offer – Congratulations!”

Due to differences in beliefs, different people will attribute the results to different sources. Some might say it is the law of attraction, others that it is God’s plans. But the important thing is that I am here. I belong to an amazing, knowledgeable, supportive, and caring community. I received welcoming messages from fellows that are evidence of what is commonly known as GHC love. I liked that terminology, “GHC love.”

This is a golden opportunity to join with others who dedicate their time and energy to the cause of global health equity and fighting against social injustice. It is a time to collaborate, learn with people who share the same passion and interests, and walk hand-in-hand towards a common vision of a better world; or, to use Michael Jackson’s words, in the “world we stop existing and start living” (from Heal the World song lyrics).

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From Material Support to Comprehensive Intervention: An approach towards a bright future

In  my last blog post, which focused on the workshop held in Mubuga sector as part of 2012 summer Human Rights Program, I highlighted some crucial education needs that would be addressed in order to improve the situation among potters’ communities also known as Historically Marginalized People (HMP). Those were setting up the space to dialogue education concerns regularly, a need of feeding program and school materials as well.

After reviewing two researches, one studied living conditions among marginalized people across the country and another one which evaluated the challenges to development as well as potentials present HMP in Nyaruguru District, one of the Southern Province districts, Rwanda. I would like to share some figures and thoughts about education and discuss on some issues mentioned as causes of the prevailing patterns.

Before going into details, I want to make a brief recall about historic background of HMP. They are people who, for a long period of time, lived a forest based life characterized by hunting and gathering. Today they constitute poor communities throughout the country with critical living conditions since early 1970s when they were expelled from forests without compensations let alone adequate integration programs that would have enabled them to adapt to newly imposed culture of living.

As far as education is concerned, following are some statistics about school enrollment and dropout rates as well. Research revealed that 76% aged 5 and over are illiterate and out of 51% who were able to attend school, only 34% continued whilst 23.7% being able to read. The study conducted particularly in Nyaruguru district found 88% to be illiterate and only 22% of children of school age were going to school. Researches also provide information about reasons behind those figures amongst which on the top are marginalization, lack of financial means and lack of support from parents’.

Through the remaining part of this post, I would like to focus on issues of marginalization and lack of parents support for the following reasons: 1) those are issues that lack attention (interventions concentrate on material side) 2) their solution would probably require less resources, 3) should they be resolved it could contribute to addressing other issues, 4) financial means could be easily seen as the most challenge whilst it is not. 

To date, interventions which have been implemented to address challenges facing marginalized people are financially related. For instance the advocacy work for HMP led by COPORWA has resulted in creation of associations for income generating activities, issuance of poverty certificates from MINALOC so that children can attend school without paying school fees, and provision of materials particularly to assist them who graduate from vocational training schools to start up their livelihood projects.  Additional to that, there might have been interventions from different organizations whose activities as well as impact were not documented, due to mainly lack of communication between those partners and COPORWA. 

However, despite interventions that might have been taken place irrespective of their area of intervention and whether was documented or not, there is a long way to go, a bright future for HMP is still in dreams and its realization would necessary require the change in current patterns of education figures for which the involvement of parents is substantial.   

When you read that amongst top causes of low rates of school enrollment and high dropout rates concerns lack of support from parents many thoughts come promptly.  I wonder what happens in the morning or when children come back from school. Normally in the morning parents help children by waking them up, helping them to wash, providing clothes and school materials, etc.  Put simply helping them to get ready. When children come back from school mainly parents are interested to know what happened at school through questions intended to know new subjects learnt, the kind of relationship between their children with teachers as well as colleagues, if there is homework given and so forth. Is there the kind of support that children from HMP communities get from their parents? If parents mostly illiterate could not offer that, who else can do that? Is there any mentor available? What happens on proclamation day when other children are accompanied by their parents or relatives? How far can children from HMP communities go?

It often happens that children get bored with school and they start to miss classes in favor of street wandering, and sometimes get lost in child labor, isn’t it what happens with those children? Is there someone to look after them and tell them that they need to go school to keep their dreams alive?  Let alone what they might face at school which was referred to, in researches, as marginalization that needs detailed investigation in order to discern disguised actions from various actors which lead to marginalization. Here I wonder if children from HMP are negatively treated compared to their colleagues, or are they denied their rights? Then if it is true there is a need to know specific actions that make those children feel that way.

Briefly, this is a problem which dates too long, thus needs a long-term solution. It needs more than simply material assistance. There is a need of comprehensive and regular interventions economic, psychological, social support, etc. to ensure its sustainability. And to achieve that beneficiaries need to be involved all along the way, they need to be heard, what their needs, feelings, passions are? Then the next interventions would be designed to meet their needs.

Ceramic products made by potters of Rwanda

Ceramic products made by potters of Rwanda

ceramic products by potters, also known as Historically Marginaized people in Rwanda, photo taken in COPORWA offices at Gikondo SGEEM

Visit to Communaute de Potiers au Rwanda (COPORWA)

On August 27, 2012 Kevin Maxwell and Lambert Mugabo, two Alumni of Global Youth Connect Learning and Action program for Young Leaders visited COPORWA, a local organization advocating for potters in Rwanda.

During three weeks, that is August 2nd-23rd, 2012 Global Youth Connect (GYC); which is a U.S.-based organization dedicated to building and supporting a community of youth who are actively promoting and protecting human rights, and to educate and inspire the next generation to work for peaceful change, and INARA LEGAL AID SERVICES (INALAS);a national, Rwandan human rights and youth organization whose mission is to contribute to the building of a State based on the Rule of Law by promoting equal access to justice have jointly organized a human rights learning and action program that  brought together 29 young and passionate people from Rwanda, United States of America, and Canada.

The objective of the program is to empower Youth to advance human rights by providing them with space to share ideas across cultures, learn effective strategies for promoting human rights and enhance skills through the collaborative development of new project ideas and strategies.

Over the course of the program delegates had opportunities to explore and discuss about human rights through workshops, visit various sites to learn about experiences in Rwanda which highlight both violation and promotion of human rights, and take 4 days to volunteer service with Non   Government Organizations (NGO) that have already taken action to advance human rights.

In line with the objectives of the program which regards the development of strategies or projects, many delegates come up with various ideas either individually or collectively, and one of the idea is concerned with helping Communauté des Potiers au Rwanda (COPORWA), an organization advocating for potters, to advance the human rights among communities of potters. I accordance with the idea, on August 27, 2012 two delegates, namely Kevin Maxwell from USA, and Lambert Mugabo from Rwanda visited COPORWA offices and held a meeting with Jeanne D’Arc Mukasekuru, who is also a GYC Alumni and secretary of COPORWA, and Zéphyrin KALIMBA, the Director of COPORWA.

The objective of the visit was to get insights into COPORWA’s work, raise the awareness around idea of GYC Alumni to advance human rights of Historically Marginalized People, and to explore different ways in which projects can be directed.

The meeting was fruitful for the objective was achieved. At the arrival around 3 pm we were warmly received by Jeanne D’Arc who took time to take us through a brief presentation on COPORWA’s work.  COPORWA is legal representative of 35, 000 potters in Rwanda. It has various departments including education, income generation activities, as well as human rights.

In Rwanda potters face many challenges in daily life. Few of them, only 15 persons, have completed university level, their access to land is very limited, and most importantly it is believed that since 1970 when the legislation outlawed hunting and they were driven out of the forest, which had been their main source of livelihoods, yet they have not adjusted themselves enough to cope with the modern living style. During our meeting the Director was quoted as saying” The main problem we are facing is that young people are not motivated to fight for good life, they drop out school”.

During the period from 1995-2006 COPORWA used to assist students to get school fees and materials, and has even cared for them by visiting them to school and bringing them together during holidays so that they could share their challenges. However, since 2006 the program stopped particularly due the lack funds, and those who attend school are mainly assisted by the Ministry of Local Government (MINALOC).

On our arrival we saw some members being provided with some materials for tailoring such as tailoring machines and raw materials,  and others were provided with constructing tools, and we learnt that those are them who attended vocational training and upon the completion are assisted to get materials to enable them to find a job.

Furthermore, as far as income generating activities are concerned, we learned that despite beautiful and unique ceramic products notably cups, plates, candle holders, bowls, etc. made by potters, which is the main source of income of potters in Rwanda,  there is still a challenge to get access to market for the products. During our visit we were informed that they used to have exhibition room for the products, but after the death of the person who used to exhibit the products they are stored in COPORWA offices. Another point is that they have difficulties to find customers who are willing to pay a real value of their products.

The meeting ended around 5 pm with a common understanding that there is a need of an appropriate research that focuses on psychological and social aspects and planned for another meeting scheduled on September 4, 2012 and which shall bring on the board all COPORWA staff, Kevin Maxwell, Lambert Mugabo and Isaie Mihigo, a clinical psychologist, and shall go into the details of the intended research to be conducted.

Relying on the collaboration of COPORWA officials we sensed during our visit, and the compassion, commitment toward the creation of a more just world, skills, as well as the knowledge of GYC Alumni; we hope to ignite the change among Historically Marginalized People in Rwanda. We do not have to wait for others to change the world; the change should start within ourselves. “You must be the change you want to see in the world” Mahatma Ghandi.

Thank you for taking your time to read this post, and your feedback is welcome, and most importantly I encourage you to spread the word.

From right to the left, Kevin Maxwell, Lambert Mugabo, Zephyrin Kalimba and Jeanne D’Arc Mukasekuru.

Education challenges among Historically Marginalized People(Potters) in Rwanda. A case of Mubuga sector, District of Karongi, Western Province, Rwanda.

In a country like Rwanda where natural resources are very limited, arable lands are few, and still a big share of the population particularly in rural areas is occupied with subsistence agriculture, the hope for future or the realization of one’s dream is highly relied on adequate education, which is means to get to one’s destination.

Education in Rwanda is one of sector that the government has taken care of as it is recognized to be the key for the pursuit development. However, despite the efforts of the government of Rwanda to advance education — including the recent extension of basic education from 9 years to 12 years, as well as the increased promotion of science, information and technology — there are still plenty challenges to overcome. This is especially true in rural areas such as the Mubuga sector, Karongi district, where a delegation of human rights activists from Rwanda, United States of America, as well as Canada visited on August 8, 2012 during a Human Rights Learning and Action Program for Young Leaders Organized by Global Youth Connect (GYC) in partnership with INARA Legal Services (INALAS).

While all interested kids in the community were invited to come together to discuss education, the target group was children who come from the Potter community (also known as Historically Marginalized People) in the Mubuga sector. We focussed on this community for specific reasons: 1) this community as other communities of potters scattered through the country has been left behind as far as development is concerned and still they are not fully integrated in Rwandan Society, and 2) if they are to have better economic and social prospects, here are patterns in their behavior and attitudes that need to be addressed.

The literature shows that these people have had a forest-based life believing that the forest was the source of all their needs. During 1970s when legislation was passed outlawed hunting, they were driven out of the forest without compensation and alternative means of earning livelihoods. Consequently, some of them became beggars, landless labourers, but specifically most of them shifted to pottery as the main source of income regardless of its small financial returns.

During the session held with the children of Mubuga which focused on education in particular, they mentioned various challenges that prevent them from succeeding in their studies: hunger, lack of materials as well as inability to pay of school fees were mentioned among the top challenges that make many kids drop out or not even go to school at all.

On the other hand, there are other crucial mental issues that were observed which hinder the advancement of education especially in communities of Historically Marginalized People whose history is tied to forest life. Those issues include delinquency whereby young kids instead of going to school look for jobs that provide them with a small income, careless parents who are not concerned at all about education of their sons and daughters, and lack of family support particularly for orphans. Furthermore, upon the session held with the kids, it was observed that there is critical issue concerning their motivation; many kids are not motivated enough to go to school.

When kids were asked about various activities that human beings do, their answers reflected on what they see in their community. Most kids referred to activities such as cultivating, cutting trees, fetching water, constructing, cooking, washing, playing, etc. and though few would hardly mention that human beings go to school, there is lack of connection between the education and one’s dream; there would mention going to school as anything else like cutting trees or cultivating.

Education needs of the potters’ communities

  1. Provide children with the space to voice their concerns about education.
  2. Educate both parents and children about the benefits of going to school.
  3. Organize monthly workshop which focuses on getting children motivated to go to school; reflect upon what a prosperous future for them might look like, and establish the relationship between education and realization of their dreams.
  4. Provision of school materials and clothes.
  5. Feeding program to address the problem of hunger.

 Following the visit and the workshop with kids, delegates had their hearts touched, therefore  committed   themselves to take actions toward the improvement of the situation, whereby in collaboration with  Communaute des Pottiers Rwandais (COPORWA), a local Organization advocating for Potters in Rwanda, Vanessa Colomba and Lambert Mugabo, and many others have come up with ideas to address some challenges stated above and we shall welcome any contribution to improving living conditions of potters.

Image

Some of the Human Rights delegates and kids (Group1) during a workshop on August 8, 2012

Spoken words are fleeting but writings are long lasting

Hi everyone,

I am writing this blog on June 1, 2012. It’s 1:45 pm and it is sunny day in Kigali. I feel better and I have fresh mind as I did not have much to do today.

After reading one of my friend(Kira)’s post  on WordPress.com, it inspired me and I made up my mind to create my website with WordPress.com; and I name it tellfreely. I am thinking that in our daily lives we go through different situations, ins and outs, ups and downs, we face challenges and look for solutions; so that we have a lof to share.

However, there are plenty things which come and go unrecognized because we don’t seem to care, especially we, africans there is saying that if you want to hide something from African you write it, albeit  spoken words are fleeting but writings are long lasting.

I am writing this blog as my first step towards the change, and I promised to myself that I have made a cornerstone and I will keep it up; I will be sharing ideas,views, and will encourage others to do so because this will help us through collective development and will enable us to grow, stay young with young ideas and will help us to protect our belongings.

Thank you for reading this article and I hope accompanion will be with me.