Friday, July 25, 2008
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
As is the norm, we arose at 6:00 am yesterday and, after a light breakfast, met the renowned Pastor Deo Gashagaza, who is intimately affiliated with the amazing organization Prison Fellowship of Rwanda. Pastor Deo and some of his colleagues requested that we visit one of their cooperatives, Ntibizongere, in the town of Gayonza, and consider adding them as an Indego Africa partner. Gayonza is about 75km outside of Kigali, and the drive was beautiful. Matt and I were more than pleased to sit in the back seat of the Pastor’s truck and watch the stunning Rwandan scenery pass by as the wind whipped at our tired faces.
Ntibizongere is yet another example of the remarkable determination and character of the Rwandan people. Made up of genocide widows working side-by-side with the wives of men who killed their families, their focus is on unity and reconciliation through economic development. Many of you may do a double take at my previous sentence: how can one forgive in such circumstances? I am personally unable to answer this question, but it’s been on my mind quite a bit.
Not surprisingly, the women at Ntibizongere were wonderful, and they even gave me an introductory lesson on how to weave their beautiful and aromatic banana leave baskets! On our way back to Kigali we stopped in for a meeting with the Vice-Mayor of the Kayonza District, Mutesi Anita, a vibrant woman working tirelessly for her constituents.
Now, with regard to the title of this post, I want to discuss what may be my favorite part of this trip so far: Matt’s superhuman – and, in certain Rwandan sectors, infamous – haggling skills. As Matt explained in a previous post – “Frugal, Yet Effective” – Indego Africa intends to turn the common perception of the international NGO on its head, starting first with an intense focus on making every dollar (or Rwandan Franc) count. From taxis to fans, Matt does not settle for prices normally offered to the “mizungu” (which, as a matter of political correctness, I will just say means foreigner). The highlight was late yesterday afternoon when we went to Gakinjiro, the bustling local market, to purchase two cabinets, two chairs and a desk for our partner cooperative Covanya. We were outnumbered, facing off against roughly eight local Rwandan merchants determined to overcharge Indego Africa. But through charm, brains, and toughness, Matt, as he always does, got the right price. I speak neither French nor Kinyarwanda, so my job is to stand by and shake my head disapprovingly throughout the process. The haggle lasted for at least half an hour, with various feigns, jokes, lowballs, highballs, threatened walk outs, actual walk outs, lots of laughter and, finally, an excellent deal for Indego Africa. Matt, I’m in awe.
Today we stayed in Kigali, jumping from meeting to meeting. Our first stop was at the Rwandan Invest and Export Production Agency (RIEPA) to meet with the Handicraft Coordinator, Jean De Dieu Hakizimana. We accomplished a great deal, from training agreements for the women artisans to starting some exciting legal initiatives regarding social enterprises. Indego Africa is thrilled to work closely with RIEPA towards our shared goal of spurring investment in Rwanda.
Our next stop was at the Free University of Kigali, Rwanda’s national university, where we met with Dr. Venuste Karambizi, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, to discuss the possibility of an exciting educational collaboration between Dr. Karamabizi’s students and a Modern Africa class at the University of Houston. Dr. Karamabizi was gregarious and insightful. It was a pleasure to make his acquaintance.
Tomorrow is a big day: installing a computer center and office at Covanya. Time to get to bed…
Sunday, July 20, 2008
It was then on to our partner ANGE, where we made a new order for their vibrant wine coasters (which you can BUY HERE), finalized some paperwork, and started to compile some media for our website. ANGE is located in a very poor area of Kigali way up at the top of a dusty hill. I have never seen such extreme poverty, and it was very difficult to absorb. But I was deeply inspired by the women and their commitment to the opportunities provided by Indego Africa to help them rise out of such difficult circumstances.
Matt and I also brought some paper and crayola markers for the children at ANGE, which resulted in an explosion of smiles and laughter. It occurred to me later that it this was probably the first time that many of these children have ever drawn in color. It’s hard to wrap your mind around little things like this.
Yesterday Matt and I were invited to attend the dote, or dowry ceremony, for our friend Alexi and his soon-to-be bride Alice. I’ll just take a moment here to note that I never realized how many friends I had in Rwanda! Everyone here is so wonderful and kind. From Alexi to Alfred to Anaclet to Esperance to Issac to Carlos to Welcome to Emmi to many other wonderful Rwandans, it has been great to meet you! The dote, as Matt explained in a previous blog post, is quite a spectacle. The two families haggle (lightheartedly, of course) over a wide variety of issues, such as whether the groom is handsome enough for the bride or the appropriate number and quality of cows offered by the groom’s family. It was a day of laughter and music, and we were very grateful to be part of such a special occasion. To the right is a picture of me, Matt and Alfred in the traditional Rwandan dress mushanana.
Last night, through the profound generosity of Josh and Alissa Ruxin (who own the beautiful new restaurant Heaven and run the Millenium Village Project), Matt and I joined the ONE Campaign delegation to Rwanda for an intimate dinner. The delegation is led by former U.S. Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle and Bill Frist and also includes John Podesta (founder of the Center for American Progress), Mike Huckabee (former Governor of Arkansas), and Cindy McCain. To put it lightly, this was a very special night for Indego Africa. I discussed with Susan McCue, former CEO of the ONE Campaign, and Governor Huckabee how Indego Africa contributes to African development in an innovative way: not only returning 100% of profits to its partners - thus engendering in the women a sense of pride and ownership - but also conducting training that imparts essential long-term skills. Then the Governor and I lamented that he hadn’t brought his bass guitar and that I had left my harmonica at the apartment. We were both in the mood to jam. Also joining in our conversation was Senator Daschle, who had just arrived in Rwanda from an incredible trip to the Arctic. Matt spent the evening speaking with Senator Frist about their shared experiences in Africa, including their mutual interest in handicrafts as an income generation tool for poor women and their families. From our delegation to theirs, we want to thank them for visiting Rwanda and focusing attention on a country that many describe as the hope of Africa.
Working for Indego Africa has been a very important part of my life up to this point, but only since I arrived here have I begun to fully comprehend the beauty and promise of Rwanda and the impact Indego Africa is having on so many wonderful people. Keep the donations and purchases coming! This is a cause that you can feel in your heart. I can’t believe I’ve only been here two days!
To see blog photos in high resolution, click on them.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
Sitting on the bus once more, where I do the majority of my strategic thinking, I was reminded of what makes Indego Africa a great place to donate or volunteer. We’re frugal. Why is this important? Let me list the ways:
(1) Trust-Building - Because some of our operating expenses come from sales revenue, it shows our partner cooperatives that we’re trying to bring as much back to them as possible. For every dollar we save, they earn a dollar in capacity-building and training. It’s an issue of good faith.
(2) Breaking Stereotypes - It is easy for foreigners to be seen as money machines. The old development paradigm – simply giving things away – did too little to discourage that notion. When our partners see us traveling or working like them, a new appreciation and a fundamental re-think is occurring.
(3) Stewardship – Donor-investors want to know that Indego Africa will squeeze the maximum social impact out of their donation. When we get the same done on a smaller budget, you know who’s benefiting from your gift – the women in need.
(4) Closer to Reality – To truly understand the reality of where you’re working – for your partners and staff – you have to spend some time doing what they do.
Like what you hear? Consider contributing towards what we do every day: CLICK HERE
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Conversely, sometimes it’s the non-existence of things that intrigues you. Take garbage and critters. Everywhere I go in Kigali and the Rwandan countryside, I see ZERO garbage and no other varmints like rats or roaches. Rwanda has even taken the drastic step of banning plastic bags. And I haven’t even seen garbage trucks (Naples – you now have no excuse), so I don’t know how it’s done. The cleanliness is remarkable. Alexi would say that it’s his constant vigilance – he actually takes about 30 minutes a day to drive around the city and look for transgressions – and I’ve seen him call in an unauthorized pile of gravel at 10:30pm without hesitation. But there’s another element at play too. Rwandans seem to be showing an unparalleled respect for themselves and their city. I’m not even sure which number we’re reached, so I’ll just say Reason #73 why Indego Africa made the right call with Rwanda. Learn more about our Hand Up program: CLICK HERE.
Note: One exception might be sticker graffiti but it’s so funky – “Who Jah Bless” – how can you complain?
Friday, July 4, 2008
To get to Nyamata and many other towns, Anaclet and I take the public bus. Indego Africa doesn’t have its own vehicle and we take pride in travelling like everyone else in Rwanda. It’s more than that, however. As they say elsewhere in Africa: “It’s a pleasure.” I’ve noted before that the bus is a time both for reflection and, ironically, joyous merriment. It’s also a form of artistic expression. Rwandan buses are often colorfully-decorated and even more colorfully-named (see photos). I can't explain "Texas Salon". Anybody have an idea? Here is a selection of some of my favorite bus names:
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
We arrived atop a very tall hill and looked out over Alfred’s land, more than 50 hectares and probably six entire barren hills – top to bottom. The surroundings took me by surprise – pine trees and cool breezes. Then the pitch began. It took Alfred eight months to clear the trees and plant grazing greens for his cows – of which he has about 50. I’m told that a cow produces 30 liters of milk per day, which can be sold for 3,000 RwF ($5.50) per liter. For as little as $1,000, you can get started with a hearty Holstein cow and be part of the Kayiranga Association – projected to be “at least 2,000 cows”. Alfred clearly has a passion for his cows: petting and cleaning them affectionately with brush, uprooting foul-tasting weeds by hand (yes, he knows which ones), bantering with his eight ranch hands, gulping unpasteurized milk. He’s looking for American investors, so consider yourself apprised of a great investment opportunity (Alfred’s e-mail certainly available upon request – that’s him with a Texas Longhorns hat below).
There are no superlatives sufficient for the next part of the day. We drove down a new Chinese road towards the town of Kibuye, looking out over many fascinating things: an Israeli methane conversion plant, a large Congolese refugee camp, and the incomparable Lake Kivu. Several large islands dot the lake as far as the eye can see, which is quite distant from 9,000 feet+ elevation. In the low and hazy sun, together with a cold Primus and weary legs, there’s no more relaxing sight. Lake Kivu is being developed into a major tourist site and for good reason. I was reminded at times of driving through California to arrive at a more dramatic version of Lake Tahoe. Add one more destination to your next Rwanda trip.