Saturday, July 12, 2014

Mission accomplished!

A beautiful early morning looking East over Akagera National Park
Pastor Venuste and John with a promising bunch from ARM's
first preschool.
Today is my last day in Rwanda for a while.  It will have been 27 days since I've seen my kids and my beautiful wife and boy am I ready to be with them!  Staying this long was part of the plan, of course, in order that I could ensure that I would see things as they really are, and meet a ton of people.  We have definitely done that.  During my time here I've visited over 10 different schools, met with top leaders in the Ministry of Education, sat with pastors, local government officials, children, parents, and people who I would now consider friends.  John and I have become professional question-askers and listeners in order to take the pulse of what is really going on and what the needs really are on the ground.  That was our mission, and I feel great looking back knowing that we made it happen.

A couple of "long time friends," John Bosco, and Esther. I
met these students in 2012 in Rwanda, then they visited my
school in CO that same fall.  These kids have the future of
Rwanda in their hands.
There were some pleasant surprises along the way that only God would have for us and I'm grateful for this element of any adventure.  In the West we're so pre-planned, so thought-out, and our expectations are so high for everything--relationships, work, even pleasure and play.  We have what C.S. Lewis describes as "the horror of the same old thing." In other words, our expectation is that every day is a thrill, every relationship with a fairy-tale ending, ever minute a responsibility to exploit for gain or pleasure.  We're addicted to change.

A warm welcome at Jean Pierre's home.  The kids even got to
take the day off from school because of my short visit!

What I've experienced with people here is different.  While they have high hopes, their expectations are realistic.  Regarding work and chores, they are just part of life and contentment is possible within.  Regarding relationships, no-one is perfect and mistakes happen.  As an example, the traffic here is insane, and yet I haven't seen a single person flip-out on someone else.  Regarding pleasure, entertainment, and time off, there is an expectation that these are the exception and not the rule.  I really do think that this is the secret to the quiet joy within even the poorest of the poor.  It's all about expectations.

Kevin drawing with some of ARM's preschoolers.  
For me, I've battled my insides countless times to repel the "selfish Kevin" who so often wants to creep out.  Whether it's the typical 1-hour waiting for food at just about every restaurant, having to take a cold shower in Boneza, or forgotten appointments with people, I've seen how my expectations steal joy and take me out of the moment.  Not to say that everything in Rwanda is slow, unscheduled, or inconvenient, but there is certainly a different expectation on what is necessary and what is just fine.  Rwandans want to improve, they want to grow, they want opportunity and they're ready to "run instead of walking," as their President urges them.  I just hope that in this next era of development for Rwanda they would not have such high expectations that they lose their sense of relationship to one another and the source of their peaceful joy.

A giraffe in the wild, how cool is that?!
The beautiful tea plantations high up on the Congo-Nile Divide
In the Western Province.

To close out the trip, John took me East into Akagera National Park to see some of the more archetypal images of Africa.  It was exciting to drive through the wild places and come close to animals that until now were synonymous with zoo animals for me.  It was an amazing experience I won't forget.

Kevin talking with some students at an O-level school in Boneza.
A huge thank-you goes out to all of my friends and family who have supported me and prayed for me in this research adventure.  To my wife for keeping the family machine running as a single-mom for a month.  To my friend John Gasangwa for hosting me here and taking good care of this Muzungu.  To the BOD of Arise Rwanda Ministries for their dedication and leadership to see ministry in Boneza thrive with wise investment and prayer.  To Jesus Christ for being a God who loves the poor, lost and hopeless; pursuing them relentlessly as a shepherd with his one lost sheep.  As He says himself, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Mathew 5:3)
John and Kevin visiting John's old high-school in Kigali.

If all goes well I'll be back in the land of milk and honey known as the USA here in a couple of days.  Please pray that I may carry the memories, stories, and a new set of hopes and expectations with me for many days after that.

Sawa, sawa.  Ngaho murabeho. Tuzasubira!
We "borrowed" this old fisherman's canoe to paddle out to an island in lake Kivu.  Talk about a fish out of water!

My Rwandan futbol team.  Claude, who is John's roommate (in green, second from right) brought me to play with his team
on a Sunday morning before church.  I held my own but was sore for 3 days.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Boneza or bust!

"Welcome to the sector of Boneza.
Many good things coming soon."
Seriously, that's really what it says.
Just getting back into town after a productive time in the Boneza Sector.  I’m looking forward to getting some antibiotics going as my stomach has not been loving life for the past 5 days or so.  Thankfully it hasn’t been so bad during the day as we’ve been going hard with lots to do.  We’ve gotten to tour some possible land sites for KHA with an architect and the local land broker.  Have a look…
The view from Lake Kivu at sunset.  One possible site for the KHA Agricultural/Lake campus is across the water to the left

Our friend Jean Pierre (right) and the headmaster of a
government O-level school
We’ve had the privilege to tour many schools, interview teachers, students, parents, local leaders and the folks we’ll likely be working with on the KHA project.  Over and over the educational need comes up for hands-on technical/vocational skills that will translate into jobs.  In this small rural community you don’t have many people asking for a college-preparatory education, but instead the training in entrepreneurship and trades that can provide a living.  90%  of Boneza is farming, and yet most farm only enough for themselves and their families.  The community lacks the business training to develop a product or a service that can be taken to market for a profit.  And so things stay the same.  

John getting the students thinking at a government primary school.
One figure that really stands out to me after talking to the teachers of an O-level government school in Boneza (grades 7-9) is this:  Although 98% of all their students will past the Senior 3 National exam (after 9th grade), only 15% will be able to attend High School (A-level) on a government scholarship.  That means that essentially 85% of those students eligible for a high-school education will be finished and will go back to their parent’s homes or start their own homes doing the same work that their parents did.  The main barrier is cost.  Only the top 15% can get the scholarships that they need to go to large towns for A-level.  And there is no guarantee even for these students that they will pass the Senior 6 National exam; which would make them eligible for university.  These rural kids, even the best and brightest don’t have a fighting chance competing with students from private schools in the larger towns.


Secondary students at a new World Bank funded Technical Secondary School in Kibuye, Rwanda
What if there was a High School (A-level) only for the community of Boneza?  What if that school only charged a small amount of tuition in order to create a sense of ownership but that kept education accessible?  What if students learned by “doing” and in the process gained practical vocational skills.  What if these students put those skills and knowledge to work running small school-based enterprises that generate income for the school—covering the costs  and putting additional profits into the savings accounts of students and teachers alike?  Now, see, a student graduates with practical skills, the entrepreneurship know-how to run their own businesses, and a deposit for a micro-loan to get a small business off the ground when they graduate.  A spot at a university is just a bonus.  In the end, students’s have options that will move them forward in several different directions.  

The "muzungu" with John Deux--a particularly
curious young man...just the kind of kid we want
 in KHA!
I’m exhausted from being the center of attention everywhere I go, but grateful for the warm hospitality that is unique to Rwanda and especially the rural country.  I had the privilege of giving the sermon at a community church yesterday and enjoyed worshiping with them (even if I couldn’t understand anything).  John and I took the afternoon off after church and went swimming out on Lake Kivu since the water was so calm and the day so hot.  I decided to swim out to an island about 500 meters away and we “borrowed” an old fisherman’s canoe so I would have a support vehicle in case I cramped up.  It was a fun swim and I made it in about 18 minutes.  Halfway out there the owner of the boat came looking for his fishing vessel but was dismayed that we had taken it out for a tour.  We assured him we’d make it up to him, and did so by covering his costs for the evening so he could just take the night off (it was Sunday after all).  

One more week here and still lots to do.  We have a couple meetings tomorrow with the big wigs at the Ministry of Education and I’m leading some professional development back at the Rwamagana Lutheran school on Wednesday.  If there is any money left we’re going to go out to Akagera National Park after that to see some wild animals.  I have lots of video and audio recording to pour over and many reports to write for the ARM Board of Directors so the work is definitely not over.  I have a 41 hour flight itinerary (with four stops) to look forward to on the way home so I’m sure I’ll be getting some of it done then.  

Having tea and with ARM's pre-school teachers and encouraging
them in their great work with about 275 kiddos in Boneza
I hope you all are doing well out there!  Props to my family especially who’ve been carrying on with life in my absence.  Lynelle, I can’t believe how hard you work taking care of the family.  My sister had a baby while I was in the bush (again), and one of my brothers drove into the middle of nowhere to tow my other brother and family back to Fort Collins after a squirrel chewed through the gas line of their car.  Wow, so much happens in a week. Miss you all so much! 

Thanks for following along, and for your prayers and support!  Much love!

Sawa, sawa.