It was raining heavily in Kathmandu. I was in dilemma whether to go to attend iVolunteer Overseas orientation session or not. Finally, decided to attend it. The session motivated me to apply for international volunteering. I applied and went through the recruitment and assessment procedures. My VPA (Volunteer Placement Advisor) Preshu offered a volunteering opportunity in Rwanda as a District Disability Advisor.
On 12th February, 2013 I started my journey to New Delhi from home by bus. On that day I experienced mixed types of emotions first time in my life. I was feeling happy some time and at another I was totally gripped with fear. I was trying to control all the feelings centered on one basic question “what will happen in Africa?”
Keeping my fingers crossed, I landed on Rwandan land on 14th February 2013. It was 9 AM. The sky was covered with clouds. It was raining. My mind suddenly asked “Where am I – in Rwanda or in Nepal? Am I dreaming”? I saw hills everywhere and I stood speechless at the door of the plane. “Sir this way” – the Airhostess’s voice brought me back. I went to VSO Office with the Program Support Officer who had come to receive me at the airport and was formally introduced to the entire staff. After a weeklong In- Country orientation we started they journey to the placement district “NGORORERO”, enjoying a curly, mountainous road. The District Social Affairs Vice Mayor along with District Disability Officer, Health officer, VSO education volunteer and other staff received us in the district premises at around 5 PM in the evening.
For the first three months, we were only two of us – James from Kenya (Teaching Methodology Advisor) and I in the house that VSO had arranged for the volunteers. Later Gift (Education Leadership Advisor) from Zimbabwe joined us too. Villagers and neighbors used to call our house where we were staying – an International House. 🙂
It took me around three months on understanding the work environment and making my counterpart comfortable to work with me. It was the most challenging part of my placement in a new country, which was different in so many ways – culture, behaviors, language, social beliefs etc.
During this difficult phase, what really helped me to build their confidence and trust in me was the first workshop that I conducted. It was a professional training on “Training Delivery and Workshop Design” to National Council of Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) and the audience included District and Sector coordinators. It was observed by several senior officers – the Ambassador, VSO East Africa Regional Director, VSO Country Director and the district representatives. I cannot say that all the participants can now deliver training but I am sure at least 12 among 22 participants can deliver effective training when they are provided the training manual.
“Now onwards we don’t need trainer from outside to conduct district/ sector level sensitization and advocacy workshops. We have ourselves become resource persons from now onwards” – were the words of Verien, District NCPD coordinator and member of District Council.
“It reminds me of my past days of volunteering and doing lots of similar workshops.” commented the Regional Director which encouraged all other participants in the hall.
Subsequently, with the effort of all NCPD members, we were able to establish Ngororero Disability Resource Center which is a place that has all disability related material. At the Center, we conducted research on assistive devices for identification of persons with disabilities, cooperatives run by PWDs and Direct Support Programs provided by the government. These documents are now baseline and provide hand on information to influence District development plans. We developed a Sector/District coordinator mobilization mechanism in order to collect grass root information on the situation of PWDs at village level. This helps Sector /District officials to plan inclusive activities for PWDs although there are lots of challenges in implementation. There were several other activities that I completed before finishing my placement – capacity building of cell executives on disability mainstreaming, mass sensitization on PWDs issues, cooperative field visits, set up child libraries in 3 children centers and organized small grant support for 12 cooperatives. I handed over all remaining activities to Brain who replaced me. We were together for three days in Rwanda. Besides these disability activities, I worked as a resource person for the education initiatives with Teaching Methodology Advisor and Education Leadership Advisor.
Besides work, there is lot more that I gained from my placement. I experienced important aspects of working in a new environment and culture. It is not only work that shows the impact of what we do. It is our capacity to socialize, friendly behavior towards others and high values that help to build trust, confidence and bring people together. I feel very lucky because I received warmth from everybody, developed good brother sisterhood and stayed as a family member of the District. The people there had hearts of gold, full of love and care. We were always invited by the District in all its functions and festivals. District staff used to invite us to their family functions too. Not only them, as we were four (Fred, Livelihood Advisor from Uganda joined us later) from different cultures, we used to celebrate our festivals together. During the celebration we used to invite friends, district staff and neighbors. We were so happy when the Mayor, Vice Mayor and District staff gave us visit in our home.
During my placement, we not only shared our professional knowledge but also exchanged lot of other things – life styles, cultures, food, drinks, religion, beliefs, rituals…. I observed closely marriage ceremonies, newborn baby ceremonies, baptism and different social and traditional beliefs, languages………
Landscape of Rwanda is much similar to Nepal with lots of beautiful hills, clear sky and fresh air. Most of the time I used to go for hiking in the hills alone and observed the village life there. Ngoorero is the only district in Rwanda with hills; it is a lovely place with beautiful hiking spots, villages, tea plantations, delicious local food and drinks. Its panoramic views automatically embrace you in its lap. It generates romance in the heart and makes people fall in love with nature. We travelled to many other beautiful places too like Giseni which is very famous for Lake Kivu, Musanze city, Butare…. It leaves permanent unforgettable memories in the mind and heart.
We were all emotionally touched in the farewell get together organized by the District staff and NCPD members separately. I was feeling proud when District awarded me with the appreciation certificate on the occasion of World Disability Day, recognizing my contribution in the socio-economic development of PWDs in the district.
Rwanda is called the country of thousands hills. It’s a country with thousands of wonders also. It is almost difficult to explain. So I would recommend to any volunteer who is offered a placement in Rwanda that without thinking accept and enjoy your assignment……
Nar Bahadur Ale, Nepal