Friday, June 27, 2014

The in-and-out-ernet

It's making me realize how tied to the internet I really am.

A broken (but fixable) water tank on KHA's current land holding.
No WiFi up here, but Boneza just got electricity!
My smartphone doesn't beep, vibrate, or provide me the satisfaction of clearing the little red dots next to the app icons.  I have to sit at a hotel restaurant and act like a guest when I ask "Can I please have the WiFi network password?"  And then when the my devices don't connect to the internet I have to try to explain that the router needs to be refreshed.  They often don't know what I'm talking about because I'm not sure of the word for "router" in Kinyarwanda, so I ask to see the "box for internet" and I will refresh it.  Then, when my devices connect upon return from regions that don't even know about the internet, my phone floods with notifications, and emails that require my attention.  I will spend hours reconnecting with the outside world...checking soccer scores, posting blogs, replying to emails, and satisfying my unease through this 13.3" window.
The view from outside Volcanos National Park in the North.
A typical breakfast:
Passion fruit, pineapple, Japanese plumb and banana.

I suppose it is good for me to be in places where I simply can't engage with the culture in which I'm comfortable?

Tea plantations high up on the Congo-Nile Divide road
(like the Continental Divide in Colorado).
During the past couple of days we have been in Boneza and Musanze following rough, roads through small villages, past tea plantations and volcanos.  We have punctured our gas tank, eaten like (healthy) vegans, and really begun to hear the needs of the poorest of the poor.  Greg and John tracked gorillas and hit the jackpot in the rainforest--seeing three silverbacks, including the dominant male.  While they did that, I toured another Technical/Vocational Training school.

A visit to one of ARM's new pre-schools.
76 kids in one tiny classroom.
I've been driving in Kigali and across country now for a few days and have not hit a single person.  Roads here are not just for cars, and although people give the right of way to cars everywhere, they also have an unhealthy level of trust that these vehicles will not collide with them while passing petroleum trucks on a blind curve (no joke).  And how far people walk!  Everywhere, people walking.  In the dark, for miles and miles, for water, to market, to home, or just because there is nothing else to do.  I think if the air pollution wasn't so bad and the water cleaner, these would be the healthiest people in the world with how much exercise they get and the organic diet they consume.

Greg and John before tracking the Gorillas.
Greg left today after what seemed to be a wonderful and eye-opening experience.  As a business leader in Northern Colorado, his perspective on Kivu Hills Academy, micro-finance, and the effect of small-businesses in alleviating poverty, was invaluable.  We shared many good times in the last week and I wish he could have stayed longer.

Secondary students (S4 Level = Sophomores) studying for the national exams.
Kids cooking lunch...wishing they were at school.

John and I now enter the most intense part of the trip now as we head back into "the bush" (aka. "no internet") next week for sustained and focused attention on the needs of Boneza, the evaluation of schools in the area, assessing the potential land and resources available, and putting together a timeline for the school's development.  Please pray that God would help us meet the right people, ask the right questions, and say the right things.  That He would be Builder and that we would count the costs well.  I'm excited to be a part of the opportunity to bring opportunity to this community and I thank you all for your support as well.  We are all in this together!
Local pastors sharing with us the needs of the community.

The center of Boneza sector (ish).
The top of the hill is a possible site for KHA

Monday, June 23, 2014

What in the world am I doing here?

There are several logical answers to this question of course, however the fact that I am writing this to you from the edge of The Democratic Republic of Congo--the poorest nation in the world, while sipping from the fountain of high-speed clearly not logical.

I've asked myself this very question several times in the past couple of days as the newness of my adventure has worn off a bit.  After the initial high of charging off to Africa, I am quickly overwhelmed with the vast differences, the enormous need, and my own inadequacies.  Call it cold feet, sobering up, or just whiplash, what sounded like a good idea for the past 6 months all of a sudden is dwarfed by the reality of the actual work to be done and my smallness in a continent that has gone on without me for some time.  Since I've been asking myself this question, I thought perhaps some of you may be asking the same of I will oblige you :)

Logical answer #1: 
Hitching a ride in the land of a thousand hills.
I first became involved with Rwanda through the fortunate funding of a professional development fellowship offered by Fund for Teachers in order to gain practical perspective for a curricular expedition involving math and poverty.  Moved by my experience, I joined the Board of Directors of Arise Rwanda Ministries -- which was started by my fellowship host John Gasangwa.  If you haven't read his story then you simply must (stop now and go to, and then you'll know why I simply had to be a part of what was going on here.  As the last two years have carried on, I quickly saw my involvement increasing and my heart longing to see the educational opportunity grow for the poor children in Boneza.  We're talking about a region with 20,000 people, 7,000 of which are children who have no secondary school opportunity when they are finished with 6th grade.  That means back to the way things have always been.  I was approached by the BOD and asked to consider a month-long trip to really dig-in to what it would take to build a secondary school for a population that desperately needs it, but doesn't really need the status quo.  So that's what I'm doing here.

Logical answer #2:

John, Greg, and Kevin outside OI's Rwandan branch. 
Now that I'm here I've been learning a lot.  We've interviewed teachers, school leaders, the Dean of the College of Education, top scholars and their NGO sponsors.  I've been fortunate to get a hold of a resource created by an organization called Teach a Man to Fish which has done some amazing work with creating financially sustainable schools in rural contexts by using viable enterprises at the center of the curriculum.  Today we visited Opportunity International -- a microfinance bank which has provided opportunities for small-scale entrepreneurs and will likely be a partner in the school-based social enterprise.  We're identifying key people who we want to be a part of Kivu Hills Academy, and John (ARM's founder) and I have had countless discussions about the cultural context and possible considerations for a school.  It's all about gathering information and the deeper we look the more certain themes arise.  We're talking to the community to discern their values for the school and brainstorming ways in which the linkage between a sub-par primary education and a new secondary experience will work out the best.  So that's also what I'm doing here.

Spiritual answer #3:

The final reason I'm here is maybe not so logical as it is spiritual.  I would be remiss to have you think that this project and my journey this summer is motivated strictly by a secular desire for some naturalistic advantage (financial gain, status, career advancement, etc.) or even simply an un-tethered ethic toward "the greater good."  No, Africa is not a place to test your secular fortitude (defined as the will required to hold at bay any feeling or realization that the world may be actually more than what is seen).

Just some of the photos of children murdered during the Genocide.
I visited the Kigali Genocide Museum again yesterday and the Nyamata Mausoleum and it was a clear reminder that we live in a truly broken world.  Evil is not cliche' or fiction here, and neither is God.  Over 90% of the population follow Christ and point to Him as the source of their strength to forgive and pursue reconciliation instead of hate, revenge, and bitterness.  And this even in light of the fact that many Christian leaders were also key perpetrators of the Genocide.  "...for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God..."  (Romans 3:23)

Indeed it is remarkable that only 20 years after the Genocide, virtually all perpetrators have been allowed back into society via the traditional Gaccaca court system simply based on their willingness to confess to one another, and the reciprocated forgiveness of their victim's families.
A solemn parade of commemoration and mourning.
How can one explain this without supernatural mercy?  Perhaps some will try to explain it without God: (ie. altruism and cooperation as behavioral traits leading to favorable natural selective fitness for those who would pass on their genes within the population), but I dare them to make this case to the widow in Boneza who has chosen forgiveness for the man who killed 70 people including her entire family, and meets regularly with him to comfort his guilty conscience!  For me, walking the streets here, meeting the people, hearing their stories, visiting the sites of atrocious and devastating evil, I can not explain this outside of the reality of the spiritual.

The Nyamata Genocide Memorial -- Once a Catholic Church where over 40,000 Rwandans were locked inside and left for slaughter.
What am I doing here?  I am here because I believe God wants to tell this story around the world so that many will know Him and the account of his own forgiveness and love.  I am here because I don't want the Genocide to happen again.  I am here so that educated Rwandans may know they are loved by those who follow Christ, and that they may have a better chance to succeed and thrive.  Many of you do not believe as I do, and yet we still call each other friends, family, and colleagues.  I understand and respect that, and yet I wish you could be here to understand things through my eyes as well.  Perhaps you'll at least stick around on the blog! I'm not out to change your point of view, I just wanted to set the record straight for what in the world I am doing here.

Worship this Sunday at Christian Life Assembly in Kigali.  Africans sure know how to worship!

To God be the Glory!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Salmon were made to swim upstream, but it doesn't make it any easier.

The road to Rwamagana from Kigali seemed much shorter this time in John's car and not crammed into a bus or on the back of a bicycle.  Our destination was the same as it was in 2012...Rwamagana Lutheran School--a private secondary school (middle and high), but this five-year-old school looked much different.  Our mission was different as well.

This may be the only school in Africa using the Expeditionary Learning Model (, although only in practice, not in name.  Our mission for the day was to interview teachers, students and it's director and founder, Robin in hopes of getting the down and dirty, nitty gritty, tough-love kind of advice that we need to start a private school on the other side of the country in an even more difficult context.

The realities of any private school in Africa are mostly not pretty, and throw in with that the fact that this school started with 22 out of 24 students taken right off the street.  RL still subsidizes 70% of student tuition fully five years into the process and is seeking to use the innovative Expeditionary Learning model in a country that is by and large still using (and testing to) a traditional, content-heavy system.  With limited resources the school has very few amenities and yet still manages to attract and pay for some of the most talented teachers in the country.  So talented and well-trained in fact that they've created another problem--4 of the founding teachers have been recruited out of the school and into the University of Rwanda's College of Education in the last 3 months.  This means that the huge investment in human capital and institutional knowledge necessary for leading an innovative model into stability is just suddenly...gone.  No doubt these teachers have gained valuable skills and a pedagogy that will benefit the entire country through their jobs at the university, and one can't blame them for pursuing higher wages, but herein lies one of the reason why education evolves so slowly!

Like a salmon in its upstream battle for the goal, innovative education models will struggle on, against the current, in hopes of realizing the investment for change.  It is in all reality the story of any innovation, any positive change, anything worth doing.  The question for KHA then is how to face this reality and if not solve the problem, reduce the negative impacts and increase the positive ones.  By using donor investment to attract quality teachers, logical contracts that retain them and a financially self-sustainable school operating structure to pay them, we're hoping to wisely and carefully ensure that our most important investment is protected...the teachers.  Teachers are the heart and soul of any school and make the most difference in whether is goes somewhere or falls on its face.  A good teacher can still make a huge impact, even if the classroom is under a tree or in a tent.  Just as a church is not the building, but the people in it, a school will thrive with the right people no matter where they are.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Getting our hands in the world of vocational training.

Day two of June's "not-so-dry season"
Students learning to lay bricks...with mud.
Just a few pictures from today's adventures in the rain.  John and I visited a technical training school and had some really solid conversation with the teachers and students who are learning construction and electrical trades that will hopefully lead to good jobs in coming years.  It felt good to hang around with some middle-school and high-school aged students (afterall it's been almost 3 weeks since my own students headed out for summer), and it is just remarkable how kids are so much the same no matter where you go.  Full of life, looking for their place in the world, longing for approval and acceptance, and funny as heck.  These kids spend 80% of their day doing practical, hands-on-learning and they absolutely love it.  The other 20% is the academic theory behind it.  Vocational training is getting a huge push from the Rwandan Government but still struggles to overcome the stigma and funding challenges which continue to produce low enrollment... but you wouldn't have known any of that if you saw these kids at work.

Uh...I can't do that.

Kivu Hills will most likely provide a similar model but within a more entrepreneurial context to its students who lag behind the more elite academic high-schools in the country.  And yet when I asked the teacher who himself attended the MIT of Rwanda for civil engineering, he said that students here are more engaged, less of a discipline concern, and generally love learning what they're learning more than their "smarter" peers in prep schools.  Perhaps our continued prejudice about what constitutes "smart" as a civilization is still in need of some reconstruction.  Oh wait, that's already happening...the Rwandan government just embarked on an 18 month curriculum and testing overhaul that will, "help students gain skills and have a competitive edge regional and international labour market." ( That of course doesn't mean throwing the baby out with the bath water, but it is recognizing that there is more to memorizing content and rote learning. Learning by doing is the model that always has and always will get results. Right on Rwanda.

A classroom at The University of Rwanda's College of Finance and Banking.  Professor John Gasangwa showing me where he teaches, except for when he takes his students outside to work on projects--where the learning really happens.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Rwanda will change you for the better...even if you're Canadian.

Somewhere over the Atlantic on some day, at some time.
I slept like a baby last night after a beer, a USA victory over Ghana, the loss of 8 timezones on a plane heading north, then east, then waaaayyyyy south (picture the number 7), and a rare dry-season downpour in Rwanda. I awoke to the oddly familiar sounds of Kigali and the faint smells of firewood hanging above the many kitchens in this sub-saharan city.  I'm in Africa, and it is awesome.
The view from John's driveway.

After the usual purchase of a cheap cell phone (which costs less than 10 minutes of usage in Rwanda on my U.S. Verizon smartphone plan (which will remain on airplane mode for the next 30 days)), some local eats, changing of currency, and a few visits to old friends, John and I decided to stop into a foundation from which we wanted some information.  We didn't have an appointment, but that is simply how you do it here.  People here are the real kind of people.  They actually want to see you--to invite you into their office and spend as long as you need for the reason you came.  After stumbling through an explanation of our reason for coming to two different gentlemen--both of which dropped everything and pulled up chairs to entertain our inquires--we got introduced to Richard and Jeff -- both Canadians.

John watching soccer at Hope Haven
Richard Taylor of Wellspring Foundation
These genuine Christian Canadian dudes, have been involved in Rwanda for over 10 years.  Fresh out of college and wanting to make a difference in a hurting country, they and their organization have come alongside the Rwandan dream for high-quality education and have built an amazing academy.  The Wellspring Foundation now heads up the Rwandan Education NGO Coordination Platform created to unify the voice of some 60 NGO's for the betterment of both public and private education here, and are heading to Burindi to improve education there as well.  Even 10 years later, and countless challenges overcome, these passionate individuals still had the palpable balance of humility and purpose that has no doubt led to their success.  These kinds of chance encounters and the building of relationships with people who seem so "in the moment" lead me to believe (once again) that Africa still has a lot to teach the rest of us stressed-out and insecure Westerners.

A courtyard at Wellspring Academy
Don't get me wrong, there are a whole lot of reasons that aid and assistance have been moving this direction for a long time, but all it takes is a day in a culture like this to see the riches of balance and contentment that many of us lack in the day to day.

I'm blessed by all of your support in sending me here well prepared and with lots of love. I look forward to sharing stories of progress--not only toward the goal of developing a secondary school in the Kivu Hills, but of also my own progress toward being a better human (like not being as judgmental of Canadians anymore).

I'll be giv'n her my best effort at least, eh?