Sunday, May 10, 2009

Gardens for Health.

We have been very, very fortunate here in ARC Rwanda to connect with a small but vibrant NGO called Gardens for Health International.

GHI works with people living with HIV/AIDS here in Rwanda, helping them learn about nutrition and how to grow the vegetables that they need in order to improve their health. You can learn more about GHI on their website,

In the refugee camps, GHI's wonderful trainers are helping some of our Income Generation Program groups to develop demonstration gardens to show other refugees how to grow fresh vegetables in very small spaces, either for home consumption or for sale at the market.

Members of our Nyabiheke Camp group pictured here completed their Phase I training earlier this month, and starting this week they will be planting gardens using the bio-intensive agriculture techniques that they studied in the training.

The trainers told us that this is the most engaged and enthusiastic group that they have ever trained, and I'm not surprised. If you ask the refugees what they did in Congo before fleeing their homes, about 90 percent of them will tell you that it was something related to agriculture. Through this training they are learning more about an activity that they already understand, and they appreciate the value of good agricultural practice.

The garden plots that are available in and around the camp are tiny compared to the vastness of the Congo, but the seeds of knowledge planted here can flourish anywhere.

Monday, March 09, 2009

A Time to Mourn.

Today we sadly mourn the death of our wonderful colleague, Louise Bodji, who has been the Income Generation Program Coordinator in Nyabiheke Camp since the program started in 2006.

Louise died yesterday in a hospital in Kigali after a brief illness.

Everyone who worked with Louise B. knew her as a kind, gentle and compassionate soul whose dedication to her work and all of the refugees was nothing short of extraordinary.

I took this photo last year, in the camp, as Louise and I observed a meeting of one of our self-managed savings groups. Louise and her team were justifiably proud of the fact that although Nyabiheke had the smallest population of any of the camps, they had the most savings groups, the largest number of members, and the largest amount of money saved.

But the smile that you see here is one of genuine warmth and affection for the people she served.

Merci, Louise, et bon repos. We will miss you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Peace Island

Finally back in Rwanda, and back to work, but we were able to take some time out last Sunday for a boat trip and picnic at Amahoro Island in Lake Kivu. Amahoro means "peace" in Kinyarwanda.

The lake was as lovely as I have seen it in the many times that I have been to Kibuye, but this was my first time to go out on the water.

The outing was organized by the ARC Kibuye staff to welcome our new volunteer, Robin Weil. She's the other white woman in the photos. She arrived last week from her home in Eugene, Oregon to work with us here in the Income Generation Program in Kiziba Camp for six months.

We're very happy to have her and it looks as if she is happy to be here, too!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cleaning Up.

Finding good income generating activities that are simple enough to undertake in the refugee camps is not easy.

But thanks to one of our ARC Rwanda staff, we found this man, Toucasse, who is a local soap entrepreneur.

He was willing to share his knowledge with some of our refugee groups, and yesterday we completed two days of training on the theory and practice of making liquid soap and shampoo.

Today the groups are working on their marketing plan.

One of the men in the group decided to demonstrate the shampoo by trying it out in front of the others, and as you can see, it seems to have worked quite well!

This should be a great activity for the twenty people in the group, not only for the income that they can generate but also for the knowledge that they gain and the opportunity that they have to help make the camp a cleaner place.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"I Am A Farmer."

This man lives at the very far end of Kiziba Camp, in a neighborhood called Nyabishoro. His house is far from the services in the camp--the health center, food distribution, and the school--but where he lives he is able to rent a small plot of land from the local population for the equivalent of about $20 per year.

And for him, this is a good thing because, as he told me, "I am a farmer."

And an extension agent in Congo, knowledgeable about vegetables and fruit trees and livestock. Here you see him proudly holding up some leeks and red onions from his terrace garden and picking passion fruits from the vine that he has trained to grow over his house, high where the children can't reach. They have to wait for him to pick the fruit and share it with them, which he does often.

In the coming year we are going to be putting great emphasis on these kinds of small agricultural projects that are so important in the camps and yet somewhat challenging in a place like Kiziba where land is scarce.

But we have some good examples, like this man, who will gladly share his love of the land with his neighbors.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Happy Thanksgiving, belatedly, to all of my friends and family in the United States.

We have much for which to be thankful, even in these challenging times, and on behalf of ARC Rwanda I would like to thank the foundations and individuals who continue to support the work of the Income Generation Program.

The work continues despite the holidays. Tomorrow, Monday December 1, I will be going to Gihembe Camp for a three day planning workshop for our 2009 IGP/VSLA Program.

On Tuesday we will have all of the refugee animators from the three camps together to do a small training session on how to support the savings groups that will be sharing out there money at the end of the year. I plan to attend as many of these share out meetings as possible and will try to post photos of that.

Then on Wednesday and Thursday the IGP Coordinators will be meeting to finalize our program plans for 2009, now that our sources of funding have been confirmed.

Deepest thanks, again, to our generous and supportive sponsors. We could not do our work without you.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Weaving A New Tomorrow.

"They say that the tree of loving,
Shine on me again,
Grows on the bank of the river of suffering,
Shine on me again.

If only I could heal your sorrow,
Shine on me again,
I'd help you to find your new tomorrow,
Shine on me again.

Weave, weave, weave me the sunshine
Out of the falling rain.
Weave me the hope of a new tomorrow,
And fill my cup again."

--"Weave Me the Sunshine" by Peter Yarrow

The women whom you see here are refugees, from Kiziba Camp, who have spent the past three weeks in Kigali at the Gahaya Links workshop learning how to weave traditional Rwandan baskets.

These beautiful works of art are sold in the United States by Macy's Department Store through a project established by two Rwandan sisters, Joy Ndungutse and Janet Nkubana, to provide village women with the training that they need in order to make baskets of export quality.

When the training is finished the women will return to Kiziba Camp with a purchase order for baskets and the materials that they need in order to make them. In addition to producing baskets they will also train others, so that the activity can become well established in the camp.

Last week I had the opportunity to go to Gahaya Links to visit our groups. I found a warm welcome and many smiles on the faces of these women who are learning to weave a better future for themselves and their families.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Vote! The Whole World Really Is Watching.

November 4 is Election Day in America and it should be a holiday here as well, as everyone's attention will be riveted on the results from the USA.

Have no doubt, the world is watching, because what happens everywhere is very much influenced by the outcome of our elections.

This headline from Newsweek is just one example--"The World Hopes for Its First President."

So please, treasure your democracy and cast your vote.

Billions of lives depend on it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"A Humanitarian Catastrophe."--UN Secretary General

This is taking place right now, this morning.

Please call ARC Headquarters at 612.872.7060 and ask how you can help to provide emergency funding to meet the crisis.

GOMA, Congo — The exodus has begun.

Women with babies on their backs. Families crammed into cars with coolers and suitcases stuffed to the windows. United Nations trucks. Aid workers. Businessmen. Panicky government troops literally running for their lives.

On Wednesday afternoon, countless people of all kinds poured out of Goma, a strategic Congolese city on the border of Rwanda, fleeing the advancing rebel forces massing on the outskirts of town.

--Jeffrey Gettleman, The New York Times, October 29, 2008

A wave of humanity surged along under the hot sun - women with mattresses and pots on their backs, men shepherding cows and goats, children looking vulnerable, babies crying.

"We haven't eaten in two days," one family shouted out as our vehicle passed by on the road leading into the lakeside city of Goma.

For the last few nights, they had been camped about 15km (9 miles) north of Goma on either side of the main road.

They had fled fierce battles around Kibumba, 30km away (18 miles) - home to a huge camp for those displaced by the violence that has wreaked havoc in this region over the last year.

The trek took its toll on some - one woman had collapsed from exhaustion, people crowded round her trying to tend to her baby.

As darkness fell, it was not clear where the displaced people would sleep.

--Thomas Fessy, BBC News, October 29, 2008

Escalating violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is creating a humanitarian catastrophe and could have tragic consequences for the entire region, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday.

In a statement read by U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe, Ban said "the intensification and expansion of the conflict is creating a humanitarian crisis of catastrophic dimensions and threatens dire consequences on a regional scale."

--Reuters, October 30, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

News from Kiziba Camp.

It seems as if most of the news lately has been from Nyabiheke Camp, so I'm pleased to pass news of some exciting developments in Kiziba Camp as well:

Our beautiful new IGP Center is nearing completion. When it is finished we will have a permanent office, storage room, training room and exhibition area for the craft goods that are made by many of our groups.

Next to the new IGP Center we have for the first time been allocated some space for our IGP groups to grow vegetables. We will be adding new groups in the next few weeks and looking for some who are particularly interested in this activity. We will also be training others in the camp community in intensive gardening techniques that they can use to grow vegetables in even a very limited amount of space.

Two dozen of our Voluntary Savings and Lending Associations are preparing for year end share out meetings, at which each member will receive a cash distribution based on the amount of money that they have saved during the past year as well as the interest earned on loans taken out by members of the group. Most of these groups will start up again after the first of the year to begin another cycle of saving and lending.

And our Solar Energy Project Coordinator is working in Kiziba with a group of young men trained in carpentry to construct our first ever solar oven, which will be used to bake bread.