Saturday, January 29, 2011

Local Elections

Every city, town, and village in the world experiences some form of violence. I don't care who you are or where you are from.

I feel that Kigali, and Rwanda as a whole, is a pretty safe place. However, just like any city in the world, it is not immune to violence.

Below is a message I received from the Peace Corps Rwanda administration that was given to them by the US Embassy in Rwanda.

Please see the warden message sent out last night from the US Embassy.

Please remain calm and vigilant.

Warden Message

U.S. Embassy Kigali, Rwanda

Grenade Explosion

January 28, 2011

The U.S. Embassy in Kigali learned that a grenade explosion occurred in the Remera-Giporoso area of Kigali near an Engen petrol station at approximately 7:00pm this evening. Two people are dead and more than two dozen have been injured. The Embassy urges U.S. citizens in Rwanda to remain vigilant, exercise caution, and avoid crowds, demonstrations, or any other form of public gathering.

This is not the first time an attack like this has occured. They happen every few months, usually around elections or important dates that are observed because of the genocide in 1994. This is, however, the first time I think I have mentioned an attack like this in my blog. I mention this attack because some people have seen the 'Rwanda News' section on my blog and have asked me about it.

This was the worst attack that I have seen so far. Peace Corps Rwanda takes these attacks very seriously and has policies and procedures in place to protect volunteers from situations likes these.

What was the cause of this last attack? Well, April 2011 will be the 17th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. So there is that to consider. Most probably it was because of the local elections that are taking place this month (February). Below is a message I received from the Saftey and Security Officer of Peace Corps Rwanda.

I wanted to remind you that the local leaders’ elections are scheduled to begin this Friday, 4 February 2011 at the Umudugudu level throughout the Country. Every Rwandan at the age of voting and who has the rights to vote has been called to be at the designated site by 7am that day. It is expected that people will be done late in the morning and go back to work.

The elections will continue in the indirect way to choose those who go upper in the structures up to the District level, and all voters country-wide will be called to vote again for the District Advisory Council on February 21st.

It is expected that these elections will go smoothly and fast. But, please remain cautious about your safety and avoid any interference in this important action for Rwandans.

Please check with your supervisor and the counterpart to know whether you should go to work. Otherwise stay at home, at least for the morning.

Again, these attacks are very infrequent. They may pick up a bit as April approaches and they may continue until the end of June. No one should be worried or scared, but merely cautious and, as the US Embassy has advised, vigilant.

Rwanda is an awesome place to work, live, and visit. If my previous blog entries haven't made that clear, then the fact that I have willingly chosen to continue my service in Rwanda should. However, there is just as much danger here as any other country in the world. Even Chicago, the city that I will always, ALWAYS call home, is no more or less dangerous than Kigali. So, to potential volunteers and travelers my message is clear: Visit, Have fun, but BE SAFE.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Two Years

This weekend marks the end of two full years in Rwanda...and the beginning of a third.

I am currently in the process of wrapping up my life in my village. I am saying goodbyes to people; organizing my farewell party for the nurses with whom I have been working; coordinating the graduation ceremony for my English class; and enjoying my last "Big Brother/Little Brother" time with Rutambi.

I am also in the process of completing my Close Of Service (COS) paperwork. I have to do a few reports about my work, my site, and, especially, my health. In fact, the week after next I am going into the capital to have a three day-long physical exam. They are going to test EVERYTHING. That's good, though, because I need to be medically cleared to officially finish my PCV service AND to start my third year.

Speaking of my third year, I was able to sit down with PC Rwanda's APCD (Associate Peace Corps Director) during my COS conference in Gisenyi earlier this month. Our conversation focused a lot on my duties as the very first, official PCVL for the PC Rwanda program.

So, as you know, I will be moving from my village in Rubona (in the East Province of Rwanda) to a little border region called Rusizi (in the West Province). They want the PCVL out there because it is so remote. It takes 8-10 hours to get from Rusizi to Kigali, the capital, where PC Rwanda HQ is located and, thus, the nearest staff member.

The position will be for a full year. I will be in the states all of April to visit and I will return to Rwanda in early May to begin my work. I will still have volunteer status, but I will be part of the full-time staff as a para-professional. It sounds like most of my time will be in the West and South Provinces of Rwanda fielding volunteer questions, comments, and concerns. I won't bore you with too many specifics; everything that the APCD and I spoke about regarding the position's duties can be summed up in two important objectives: Site Development and Volunteer Support.

Site Development means prospecting and preparing sites for future volunteers. This includes traveling around Rwanda and introducing myself and Peace Corps to prospective host communities; and meeting with local government officials, authorities, and prospective partner organizations (NGOs, NPOs).

Site Development also means surveying each prospective site for possible safety and security issues. These duties include, but are not limited to, researching and evaluating: the community's need for a volunteer, the community's receptiveness to having a volunteer live and work with them for two years, the volunteer's housing situation, and the volunteer's proximity to food, water, and health care. This is all just a taste of how I will be 'developing' sites for new volunteers.

Understand, however, that I do not have the rubber stamp of approval on all this. I collect and compile the data; I do not actually approve the sites myself. I give my recommendations, but PC Rwanda professional staff have the final say.

Volunteer Support is also a broad sounding objective too, isn't it? But it is just what it sounds like. Once volunteers are placed at their sites, I will be visiting and contacting them regularly to make sure the volunteers are safe, healthy, and meeting programming objectives. This may mean lending knowledge and experience regarding cultural integration or programming; or it may mean assisting volunteers with issues regarding safety and security in their workplace, homes, or personal lives. This will also mean that I will have to do some PC Rwanda policy and procedure enforcement, but in my conversation with the APCD I was told that the PCVL position wasn't to be one of a 'PC police officer' or, at the other end of the spectrum, any kind of errand boy for the volunteers. The PCVL in Rusizi is to act as a resource for the volunteers to receive meaningful advice and prompt, efficient assistance.

All-in-all my conversation with the APCD was very exciting. This kind of work experience will be very helpful to draw upon as I continue my career in foreign service and international development. I was very happy to hear that my expectations and his expectations of the position were pretty much the same. Next week I have some time with the Director of PC Rwanda and I look forward to speaking with her about the position. I am sure it will not vary much from what I have already been told.

Anyway, I am very excited to be continuing my service in Rwanda. I loved my experiences in Rwanda as a PCV. Recently, however, I have been feeling like it is time for some kind of change in regards to taking on more responsibility and work. Therefore, I am very much looking forward to starting my new position.

Most importantly, I have been feeling like it is definitely time for me to visit home. Speaking of which, I come home in two months! See you all soon!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mail Call

Just a quick post...
I am on my way to my Close of Service (COS) conference in Gisenyi so I gotta be quick.

Christmas and New Years were fun.
Phase 3 of the Rubona Water Project has been completed (picture of the new sink in the women's hospitalization ward).
I have my COS conference this week (more to come).
I do not have more information about my 3rd year extension (more to come). I'll probably have a lot of specifics about it after this conference.

The most important thing I wanted to post here was to remind people to STOP sending packages to me. If you send them now, I will not receive them before I leave Rwamagana. When I leave Rwamagana in March I am closing my P.O. Box and when I return to Rwanda in May I will NOT have the same mailing address because I will be on the other side of the country. Please do NOT send anything until I post my new address.

With that said, THANK YOU to everyone who has ever sent me anything: from the biggest care-package to the smallest letter of encouragement. From the bottom of my heart, Thank You and God Bless You!