Solferino week

8th of May is the International Red Cross and Red Crescent day. That is something that we wouldn’t let pass unnoticed here in Butare, so inspired by last year’s Youth Delegates, we decided to arrange a Solferino campaign.

Daniel, Harald and Jonathan - ready for zebra crossing activity!

Painting. Police is helping with the traffic.

The week lasted from the 3rd of May and was finalized with a big celebration in the Huye Stadium on the 8th of May. Many volunteers were involved, many activities were being done and many new members were being recruited.

Harald making an effort. Precision is key.

Stand in down town Butare.

Membership cards for newly recruited Red Cross members.

We collected food and clothes and other items for vulnerable people in our district, we painted four zebra crossings in the town of Butare, we received 64 blood donations, we had stands were 23 new members were recruited, and we had a celebration were 85 Red Cross volunteers played football, sang songs, performed sketches, proclaimed poems and danced intore dance. We were able to give out the collected items both during the celebrations and in two hospitals after celebration finished . We ended it all with having the committee members, volunteers and participants sharing a Fanta (the Rwandan word for soda) and lovely sambuzas (a Rwandan meat filled pastry).

School boy donating blood for the Red Cross. Reward: cake, fanta and water.

Registering all of the 64 donors.

The celebration day on the 8th of May. Football is essential for celebration. Ready for the match between Red Cross University section of NUR and Groupe Scolaire secondary school. Here the University team in Red Cross jerseys.

Paul Bizimana came from the HQ to attend the celebration. Paying close attention to the ongoing match.

A group of volunteers from Maraba singing the Red Cross hymn before hearing the first speech of the day.

Waiting for their turn to play.

Intore dancers.

Gatagara high school performing their sketch about the Red Cross movement. The street children are paying close attention.

The donations for the vulnerable are lined up in the stadium.

Giving a basin with a plate, a spoon, beans, rice and some clothes to a woman from the village.

The volunteers relaxing outside the Red Cross office in Ngoma, waiting for their fanta.

Well done, volunteers!


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Umuganda – community service!

The last Saturday of every month between 7AM and 12PM everything in Rwanda stops. Or at least all the restaurants keep closed, markets are not operating and public and private transportation is limited.

Wilson, the youth president, is explaining today’s activities.

The reason for this is that the entire country is supposed to take part in umuganda – community service. Digging ditches, sweeping the grounds, making composts, building houses, clearing land, or any other activity that is helping the country becoming better. Some people use this day to have a sleep-in, but at least in the countryside, every family has to have a representative in the umuganda in the village.

My mother with all the children in the village.

We arranged a umuganda in an agasozi ndatwa – a model village, being helped to make a good example in terms of hygiene, schooling, houses and so forth for the surrounding communities. Together with around 50 volunteers from different secondary schools, and some of the university students, we dug ditches, made compost and held a small appeal in the village square to spread information to the villagers when the day’s tasks were finished.

Volunteers digging a hole in the ground for a widow with three children. The hole is to be used for compost to make the ground become more fertile.

The village children were watching us all day.

Umuganda is a very interesting phenomenon. Together with other rather strict rules, like the prohibition of use of plastic bags, being fined for littering, having people cutting grass and sweeping the streets several times a week, it is part of making Rwanda one of the cleanest countries in Africa. Personally, I think Rwanda is the cleanest country in the world…

Red cross volunteers. The one on the right from the village, and the one on the left from a secondary school.

My dad is really making an effort to be better at digging than the young man to his left. People refusing to believe him being my dad because of his young appearance made him walk on clouds all day.


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Long time, no blog. That’s not due to lack of things to write about, it is rather the opposite. Ever since we arrived in Rwanda in September 2009 we heard rumours of Danish long and short-term volunteers based in Uganda. Finally, we were to meet them. The Danes arrived in Kigali and we took them with us to Butare to show them why we are here.

Sharing some serious photo advice before going to the field. Louise Kryger and Harald.

The first thing we did was to have a meeting. It might sound boring, but it was actually the most fruitful discussion I have in a long time. It was super interesting to hear about their projects, how they conduct their trainings and not to forget their views on the way we do these things here in Rwanda.

There are always curious children wherever you go in Rwanda. Here, in the ricefields.

The entire second day was spent in the field. Together with our local contact, Robert, we visited the OVC project in Gisagara run by the Norwegian Red Cross, as well as an Agasozi Ndatwa Model Village in the same area.

In between receiving visitors and going to Uganda, I had a planning session for a workshop on IHL to be held on Gatagara Secondary school.

On Wednesday, after a lot of stress with regards to what are the correct procedures when we are going on an official visit, invitation letters, and budget approval, we were on our way. A 12-hour bus to the Ugandan capital Kampala flew by.  The first project we saw was a Life Planning Skills (the Danish/Ugandan main project – how to plan for a better future with regards to different subjects like sexual health, family planning, harmful cultural practices, school and work) training in the district of Luweero. Ane and Brenda did an amazing job with inspiring their audience.

Finally in Uganda! Louise, Christin and Harald in front of the Uganda Red Cross headquarters.

Then we travelled north. We were very excited about going to the North, where Louise and Christin would show us a newly developed manual on conflict management and peaceful coexistence and how this would be disseminated. What makes it even more interesting is that the North of Uganda is an area that has been struggling with civil war, the abduction of minors to be used in the armed forces and other tribal disturbances over the last 20-so years.  The disseminations we experienced in Apac were amazing to see. The level of skills and commitment was very high – and I felt very inspired.

Harald checking out the Life Planning Skills material in Luweero during a training.

Volunteers being facilitators during a training in Apac.

Besides working, we were also able to experience Kampala together with the Danes as well as going rafting on the Nile. Uganda was an amazing week, and I am looking forward to the further cooperation with the Danes in the times to come.

Conflict management training under a tree outside Apac in Northern Uganda.

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A family of Orphans in Gisagara

I haven’t been the most eager blogger lately, so I think it’s about time for me to post something. The last few weeks have been very good. Had a couple of fun weekends in Kigali, then Lotte, our new Norwegian boss came to visit. We hung out, had meetings and talked about different things with regards to working in Rwanda.

Three of the siblings relaxing in the shade, Diane (12), Delfine (14) and Francois (7).

The 26th of January we also were in for a little treat. Since the information department in the Norwegian Red Cross needed our help in gathering some information about kids receiving help from the Norwegian OVC (orphans and vulnerable children) project, we went to visit a small family in Gisagara.

Delfine is grinding the rice we'll have for lunch later - the first meal of the day.

Before lunch the older children cultivate the small fields surrounding the house with the help from the neighbors.

The family was more accurately five orphans between the age of seven and 18. The oldest girl and boy had quit school to be able to have food on the table for the younger ones. All of the children participate in the chores of the household, and mostly they grow their own food – beans, rice, bananas and cassava.

After each time the rice has been ground the shells has to be separated from the rest.

Emmanuel (16) lights the fire they use to cook lunch for the family - today it is rice and beans.

The support they receive from the Norwegian Red Cross is help with school materials, mosquito nets, cooking utensils, seeds for planting, free medical care, blankets and jerry cans to collect water. The family is living a hard life, but as much as a cliché as it might sound like, they were happy.

You can support the work of the Norwegian Red Cross here.


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Back in business

After a terrible return from Norway (Oslo-Hamburg-London-Nairobi-Kigali – yes, five countries in one day), which ended very nicely with home cooked food at Vincent’s house, I was ready to re-start Rwandan daily life. I must admit it took a while to get back into the old groove. Three weeks of Norwegian Christmas holiday is very tiresome, and very, very nice!

Annemarie making chapatis in our kitchen.

After being back, many things have happened. I have had my two very first couch surfers over. That was a lot of fun. A nice couple from Denmark/Spain, who brought rugbrød from Kigali, spent one night in our guest room. It was a great experience and I even got to practice my Spanish! Bonus. We also had two Dutch friends who live in Kigali over for a weekend – Melo Twist, tacos, This is England, and knitting in the sun.

Maxime is cutting tomatoes for our taco night.

Taaaacos! Norwegian style Tex Mex meets Rwandan ingredients and Dutch cooks.

Work-wise there is quite a lot happening as well. Harald took the initiative to hold a workshop on conflict management (I will blog more about that one later. In the mean time you can check out Harald’s post). And one day one of the volunteers of tracing took me along on a little trip.

We're on a mission in the Rwandan countryside.

The countryside has sunflowers.

This was our mission - delivering ICRC messages.

Tracing is the sending of Red Cross messages between relatives who have lost contact with each other, due to war or disaster. Here in Rwanda there are still people who don’t know what happened to their family members after the genocide. Robert and I went to deliver two messages. It ended up being a four and a half hour trip done on a tiny moped on bumpy dirt roads with shady bridges and steep climbs where we were only able to find one recipient. He received a letter from his sister currently living in DR Congo. We were not able to find the second woman – she might have moved, she might be dead, but hopefully they’ll be able to trace her in the end.

Crossing rivers to get to the recipient.

Curious kids wanting to get a glimpse of the strange mzungu in their village.

Message delivered, answer being written.

Starting the long way home after hours on the back of a quite uncomfy moped. Luckily the views and the mission made it well worth the effort.

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Double field trip – double joy

Last week, kind of out the blue, we were invited to join some of the local staff on two fieldtrips. It is absolutely wonderful being able to see how the volunteer work is being done here in Rwanda. The first field trip was together with Robert, who is in charge of tracing in the office where we are working. He was having a workshop on First Aid in cooperation with an organisation called SPREAD which works with the cooperative of coffee workers in Maraba.

Robert and one of the girls receiving the first aid training in Maraba.

When we arrived, I also realized, to my great surprise and joy, that the training was held at the Maraba Coffee Training Center, where they also had coffee. A lot of coffee. So after watching, photographing and trying to understand some of the Kinyarwanda used in the training session, I went and had a chat with one of the coffee ladies and I had the best cup of strong, newly roasted and newly ground coffee of my life. The day was spent watching the first aid course, having delicious lunch and just remembering that cup of heavenly coffee.

Learning how to bind a broken arm.

The day after we had to get up at 5.15 AM to take the first bus to Kigali. There was an Orphans and Vulnerable Children camp all week, and we had decided to take part in one of the days of training. When we arrived at 8.00 AM we were served breakfast and then we started the long and bumpy ride out to the field, the truck filled with young OVCs, ready to do a days work. The day of training we decided to take part in was also the day when the kids did umuganda, community work. It was great watching and helping to make bricks and clear the land so that houses could be built for the needy. All-in-all, two great days where we got to see two great ways of doing something very direct for the community. I can’t wait to plan and execute my own workshops and maybe taking the initiative to an umuganda here in Butare.

It is tiresome doing community work from six in the morning.

Me making a brick. Ok, the backpack kind of gives me away, and I must admit I only made one.

But many bricks were made for housing people in the village.

Clearing some land with singing OVC children/youth.

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Red Cross Activity Day

Sunday had finally arrived. Meetings, phonecalls, misunderstandings, plannings, invitations, budgets, and more meetings were finally gonna culminate in five hours of pure fun in the local stadium in Huye.

Nothing is like getting a tablecloth made on a manual sowing machine less than an hour before the event is supposed to start.

Getting water for the water race.

Of course, not everything went according to plan, but surprisingly many things did do exactly that. Some 150 volunteers showed up, and up to 300 spectators from the surrounding areas all took part in the event. The sack race was a hit, and the water race, mini-foot and 800 meter racing all received plenty of cheers and laughter from the people in the tribune.

Harald, one of five prominent speakers.

Butare's next Red Cross rap superstar.

Me together with the girls teams from Tumba and Ngoma.

What was the best about the event though, was a very well-prepared sketch about Red Cross’s work in Rwanda and the principles. Amazing props like a Red Cross helicopter and a real live newsreport was hilarious and made everyone have a great time as well as getting a lot of useful information.

Priceless Red Cross Helicopter.

The crowd moved closer and closer to get a better view of the news.

The activity we had on sunday was great, and hopefully all the volunteers felt like they learned a lot about the Red Cross and their work in Rwanda. I can’t wait fot the next event!

Proud winners of girls mini-foot.

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