Giving me breath and taking it away in an instant, the beauty of each Rwandan vista surpassed the last.
The tea crop creates luxuriant fields of green throughout Rwanda.
As the horizon vanished behind the ‘land of a thousand hills’, I had no question the figure was an understatement.
This spring, I was fortunate to spend nearly seven weeks working at the Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management (KCCEM) in the south of Rwanda, awaking to rolling tea fields and threads of cloud that hung languidly over the hills. It was as stunning as any tableau painted in my mind.
Western has developed strong ties to the tiny Central African nation. Projects like Rebuilding Health in Rwanda and other partnerships with the National University of Rwanda, Kigali Health Institute and the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (see sidebar), have been welcomed by a country keen to move past its recent bloody history and to reinvent itself on the global stage.
Its rich vegetation and abundance of food can mask extreme poverty. Unfortunately, crops and people are about all the nation has in excess. With little industry, 94 per cent of the population lives in rural areas and subsists off agriculture and related trades.
The most densely populated country in Africa, only 40 per cent of its 8.5 million citizens are considered employed, contributing to an average per capita income of only 62 cents US a day. In short, despite little hunger, Rwanda is one of the poorest places on the planet.
With its Vision 2020 goals and Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy, however, Rwanda’s government has begun to implement aggressive strategies to alter the country’s path.
Hoping to become a member of the Commonwealth, it recently announced a sudden shift from French to English as the national working language. KCCEM is just one of many nascent projects seen as having the potential to provide employment opportunities outside farming.
The college was established to diversify the economy through sustainable use of the environment and to provide economic empowerment through tourism and entrepreneurship.
As a volunteer communications consultant, my efforts at KCCEM included developing communications and marketing strategies and key messages, and editing curricula, manuals and other materials. I was also provided opportunities to travel throughout the country to take photographs and prepare materials for use in national marketing efforts.
A nation blessed with astounding beauty, Rwanda can be complex to understand, particularly in light of recent history. Fifteen years after the 1994 genocide and war, the country has tried to move on as best it can. Despite its enduring legacy – or likely because of it – the country is now one of the safest on the continent.
In some ways, history is just that: history. There is much, much more to Rwanda.
Rwanda’s national parks are operated as cooperatives with communities that border them, resulting in financial benefits for families of children like these.
Rwanda is a landlocked Central African nation bordered by DR Congo, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi.
April 6 marks the 15th anniversary of the beginning of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which lasted 100 days and left between 800,000 and one million dead.
The Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management (KCCEM) seeks to be the leading mid-level environment and wildlife management college in the broader Albertine Rift region, which includes Burundi, DR Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia.
Aimed at improving practical skills, training at KCCEM addresses the gap between formal education and field experience, while also serving as a bridge to further university education.
Western in Rwanda
Led by David Cechetto (Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry) and Carol Iwasiw (Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing), the CIDA-funded Rebuilding Health in Rwanda project seeks to build capacity in health care by enhancing nursing and medical education at the Kigali Health Institute and National University of Rwanda (NUR)
Researchers at NUR and the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) have been provided access to a node of the Shared Hierarchical Academic Research Computing Network (SHARCNET), Canada’s largest high performance computing consortium, which is administered at Western. SHARCNET will host Rwandan researchers for a ‘train-the-trainers’ session this summer.
Western Law and NUR Law are currently discussing potential collaborations.
NUR’s Water Resources and Environment Group is initiating research collaborations with Western’s Global Ecosystem Health Interest Group.
Funded by Western’s International Curriculum Fund, students will participate in internships of between two weeks and four months at various institutions and NGOs in Rwanda this summer.
King’s University College is currently initiating capacity building activities with the Social Work program at NUR.
The writer is Research Communications Coordinator with Research Western. He recently returned from Rwanda, where he spent nearly seven weeks as a communications volunteer to the Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management.
See related story:
“Can nature offer a hand up?”
posted April 2/09