Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rwanda, Gashora: Team Leader Shannon's thoughts and reflections

September 8th, 2010

Today is our third day in Rwanda. It is 7:47am and the team has just headed off to work for the day. I have stayed behind a few minutes to organize my budget and our teams day. As I reflect over the past few days I am not sure how exactly I am feeling. This trip has been over a year in the making for me and having previously been here, at a different project, I feel overwhelmed with emotions. My first time as the Team Leader places a unique spin on my role in the group and I have to say I am enjoying it. The team that I have is absolutely incredible. I am proud to have 14 such hardworking, dedicated and caring individuals to share this experience with. I was originally worried about having three 17 year olds in the group…however, they have blown me away with their positive attitudes and playful nature. Their energy warms the group. One member has been suffering with back pain. This has not slowed her down once, she works so hard and stays so positive I am humbled by her. On the job site yesterday each person quickly picked up a shovel, wheeled wheel barrows, heisted boards to the roof and sawed logs without a moments hesitation. One member is even teaching English to the Covaga basket weavers – to help them learn to communicate with future customers. Overall, I am deeply amazed with this team!

It is a strange feeling coming back to Rwanda for a second time. Flying into Kigali I felt déjà vu arriving into the same airport, filling out customs forms and anxiously waiting, and praying, that our bags all arrive – and they did! Greeting Lama in the arrivals area I was grinning ear-to-ear. His warm smile, patient/laid-back nature and good heart reminded me of one of the many reasons why I fell so in love with Rwanda last year. Even better, Claudine, Lama’s girlfriend, is here to work with us. She is from Brundi and speaks English very well. It is like having two Lama’s! Leaving the airport I was also reminded how warm Rwandan’s are. A simple greeting of “Bete” will always spark a big smile from women, children or men who quickly thank you and in Kinyirwanda ask you how you are. I also remember how safe I feel here. There are no swarms of locals trying to sell you things. The country feels very peaceful. Despite the hundreds of people that fill the streets in this tiny overcrowded country – they seem to peacefully interact and go about their business.

On the worksite the locals welcome us. They seem very connected to this project. The Covaga Cooperative of women have elected officials who democratically make decisions for their cooperative. They will help out on the project in their beautiful traditional dresses and some even have babies tied to their back. The project works together with the Green Helmets who teach skilled trades to locals at the Nelson Mandela Education Centre just a few minutes away. Their students are working on their practicum and come to work with us each day. They can communicate in broken English which makes communication an easier job for us. On the job site there is hard work, laughter and pride. At one point we made two long assembly lines to pass tiles off a truck into a pile. The teamwork was impressive and the locals shouted out in Kinyirwanda “Go Development! Go Covaga! Go Development! Go Covaga” over and over. It was amazing!

Overall, I am humbled by this experience. I am inspired by my group, and I feel so much love for Rwanda and these remarkable people. This is all I have time to write now as I must get off to work.

Shannon Ritchie

DWC Team Leader
Rwanda 2010