Friday, August 5, 2016

Umuganda or Bust

A few of us participated in Umuganda that last Saturday. It's a national community service day. The last Saturday of every month, citizens are required to participate in sweeping up roads, weeding, clearing trash, painting, you name it.

I love the concept...neighbors and communities coming together for a common purpose; to care for their surroundings. It's not someone else's problem. It's a matter of pride and responsibility. And once the work is done, the community gathers to discuss various issues.
Kids watching Umuganda work. Last Saturday of every month, Umuganda is held. It's a community service day, required of all adult citizens, even President Kagame.
In fact, I wish more neighborhoods in the States had this community spirit. Sometimes you find it; but in my experience, not that often. I realize in Rwanda, this activity is not voluntary as it would be in the U.S. Even if you cannot work Umuganda for health reasons, you show up. But when you speak to people about Umuganda, you find they don't seem to mind it. 

People tell me they generally like the event because it is a way to know their neighbors, and they feel some reward by taking care of their neighborhoods together.
A wall in the school yard where we experienced Umuganda.

Unfortunately, our participation in Umuganda was a bust. 

We were told we were invited to work alongside the Mayor of Kigali, and that staff from the Korean Embassy would join us. We'd be painting a cross walk for a local school. 

But when we stepped out of the bus, there was confusion. Yes, the Koreans were there. They were delighted to see us. But then, they asked politely, why are you here? We said, "to work with you and the mayor."  

The expression on their faces said, "Huh?"

Turns out the Koreans had organized the cross walk painting as their own event. They were not expecting us. They mayor of Kigali was not there. They had invited her, and "hoped" she would come. It was clear there was no work for us. Nothing planned or organized.

I asked a man for a hoe. He gladly gave me one. I worked alongside a lady who didn't speak a word of English. She and another lady seemed to find my attempt to use the hoe rather amusing. They acted a bit puzzled as well.

I worked alongside this lady for a while. She was rather amused at my attempt.
I admit, it was pretty hard work. It was heavy. I had no gloves. But they didn't either. So I gave it my best shot. I felt happy to do a little work alongside them.

But in the end, there wasn't enough for us all to do. No tools. It was awkward for the team to stand around and not help. But we were stranded. During Umuganda the streets are closed to traffic. From 8 a.m. to Noon. 

My SAP colleague Martin digs in, helping to remove trash from drainage ditch.
This is the way most Rwandans get their clean water. Hauling it to their homes in yellow containers.
We ended up hoofing it back to our hotel. An arduous 6.5 mile walk. We wanted to get back to the hotel as quickly as we could to enjoy the rest of our day, so we went at a pretty fast pace.

Did I mention how many big hills there are Kigali?

Lots of steep inclines...and it was hot that day. But we made it. Sometimes we would pass people walking to work. Including a young man named Olivier. He started walking with us. He really seemed to want to talk.

Olivier said he has no family--his parents died in the genocide. He told us he is in a program that is funded partially with US aid, which will allow him to go to Kenya to study at university. Part of me didn't buy his story. But, if it's true, it makes me happy to know that he has a chance to be educated and make a life for himself.

The day didn't turn out to be what I'd hoped for. But I'm glad I went to see Umuganda for myself.

The crosswalk we had hoped to paint. The Koreans got the job done without us. 

Morning Rituals

Each day starts the same here. Our band of 12 meets for breakfast every morning anywhere from 7:30-8 a.m. It is often the culinary highlight of our day. It's dependable. You now what to expect. And a lot of the food is similar to what you eat at home.

Dinner for breakfast. I stick to yogurt.
The one big difference is that in addition to breads, cereals, fruit etc., they have a full menu of hot foods. Some folks like the stews, baked beens, cooked vegetables and other hot dishes they serve. I can't make the leap to dinner for breakfast like that. 

I stick to a yogurt, maybe a fried egg, and always a big plate of mango and pineapple. The fruit is so good here. So sweet. I'm not a huge mango fan. At least, not until now!

The other thing that is great about breakfast is the wait staff. Berlin and Benjamin are our two favorite waiters. Always smiling and helpful. When I arrive each morning they know I want a cappuccino. I don't even have to ask. 

One of my colleagues told me that he was having breakfast one morning, chatting with the wait staff, and it came up that his daughter was sick. They came to him some time later and asked if he needed money to help with her medical bills. He told them thank you, he was able to take care of it. How touching, given they know without a doubt that was have so much more financial security than they do. I couldn't believe it. Such unexpected kindness and generosity.

Berlin and Benjamin, my two favorite waiters. 
Then we zip off to work. Every day, our driver Bernard arrives at 8:45 sharp to take me, Van and Richard to ICT Chamber. He doesn't speak much English. He seems to be a man of few words anyway. And sometimes we can't tell if he likes us or not. Especially when we are late. But then, being late is par for the course here.

We go down cobblestone streets here in our expat-filled neighborhood - Embassy and NGO families mostly live here. We turn a corner and we start to see real Kigali. Ladies juggling all sorts of items on their heads. Workers, mostly seniors, in blue smocks sweeping the streets and other tasks. They are employed through a government program to keep the streets tidy. 

We also see a family living in a dirt lot. It has a cement wall around it. And a small building that they call home. Cut outs for windows and the door. Dirt floors no doubt. Two small children playing, while mom is hanging laundry. Chickens and goats complete the picture. I wave at them every day and they usually give me a smile and a wave back. 
A family home just around the corner.

We also start to see the moto-taxis zipping around. Young men (and some women) on motorcycles who have carved out a swift business for themselves. The first week here, I would see these guys, with ladies in dresses and heels sitting on the back. I thought, "Wow, so many guys on motorcycles here, and they all seem to have girlfriends."

Then I realized, these are not girlfriends. Just paid riders. Ladies on their way to work. Duh. I guess the red vests these guys wear should have given it away?

I'll chock that one up to jet lag. 

Typical morning commuter on moto-taxi.
They say there are more than 10,000 of these moto taxis, mostly men ages 18-35 who have migrated into Kigali from rural areas. I learned that some drivers are the grown children of adults who participated in the mass killing here.  Adults who in some cases were sent to prison, leaving children behind who were ostracized in school. Paying for the crimes of their parents. So they leave school andcome to Kigali to make a new life.
Moto-taxis are everywhere. This is a typical commute.

Apparently the moto-taxi industry - which is informal and not part of the official public transportation system -- is thriving and the drivers do pretty well. They are not considered "poor." There is even an Uber-like mobile app now to help you find the safest drivers to get you where you are going. SafeMotos.
Traffic jam in Kigali. No, those are not parked cars to the left. This is a four-way intersection.

That said, traffic accidents are the number one hazard for visitors in Kigali. I saw--and heard--a moto-taxi collide with an SUV one day on my way to the office. I will not ride a moto-taxi, but a few of my brave colleagues have. They say it's super fun. I'll take their word for it.

Time now to go have one of my typical breakfasts, comforting, almost familiar, before I start the rest of my day which is rarely par for the course. Moto-taxis not withstanding. I wonder what I will see today.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Knowing God in Kigali

Last Sunday morning, Aidan, Coco and I decided to attend services at the Evangelical Restoration Church. Aidan had heard that church music in Rwanda is "not to be missed," so we decided to check it out.

Manuella, a young lady I met here, sings in the chorus. She loves it, and is at church every Sunday to sing from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30. That's a lot of standing and singing, and she loves it she says.

I wasn't sure what to wear. I went conservative with my dress - sleeves and below the knee. I already knew I would stick out among the crowd, and I certainly didn't want to make a spectacle of myself by wearing something eyebrow-raising by Rwandan standards. 
Waiting in line for church.

 I worried for nothing. I saw more high heels and skirts above the knee at one church service than I have seen in total since I've been in Rwanda.

We got there just as the 8-10 a.m. service was supposed to end. But there really isn't an "ending" per se. The chorus continues to sing right into the start time of the next service. Music dominates the two hours. It's uplifting and feels as central to the service as the sermon itself. And everyone sings along.

When it was time to go in, we passed through metal detectors. We have gotten used to metal detectors, x-ray machines and bag searches when entering office buildings and hotels in Kigali. But I wasn't expecting it at church. But at least this time, no armed soldiers or security guards, just church members getting it done, smiling and welcoming you as you passed through.

This is a big church. They do music right. There are acoustical tiles on walls and the high high ceilings. The lighting on the stage (not really an alter) is perfect for showing off the vibrant white shirts and brightly colored skirts the chorus wears. It's decorated with flowers and donation pots. Really pretty.

The choir sings through two services, a total of more than four hours each Sunday.
It was an inspiring service, even though we couldn't understand much of it. It was in Kinyarwanda and French. A few minutes after we got there, the pastor came to us and welcome us. Not sure how he knew we were from out of town. (smiley) But he offered to have us sit in the front and a translator would help us. 

The music was a modern folk, and a blend of Christian hymns, some pop influence here and there, drums and guitar. It was uplifting, you couldn't help but tap your foot, sway side to side, raise and sway your arms, and smile. Big screens on either side of the stage show the lyrics so you can sing along. 

At one point I excused myself for the restroom, and my timing was such that the littlest parishioners were headed to the basement for Sunday school. The young ones, maybe ages 4-6, couldn't stop looking at me. I honestly am not sure they'd seen a white person before. They didn't smile. But even so, they were adorable.


I didn't go for the religion, I went for the music. And I felt more inspired just from the music than I usually do at mass back home. You can see how central spirituality is to the people there, and for many Rwandans.

Even the teenage boys in the audience we attentive, if not singing. You just could tell that everyone wanted, almost needed, to be there. There is a connection to God that they cling to, and it seems to brings them peace.

Admittedly, in a way, I don't quite understand it. Churches, most notably the Catholic Church, was complicit in acts of genocide here to a very large degree. Many were chased from their homes and told to go to churches for safety, only to be massacred inside these places of worship while priests and other clergy stood by.

Later in the week, Manuela and I were talking about family and church, and being a young person in Rwanda. I asked her if her parents, who are devout Christians, had been affected by the 1994 genocide. Yes, they had.

Both came from families with 12 children. Of 12 children, Manuela's dad and one sibling survived. For her mother, she was the only one in her family of 12 to survive. Manuela's parents were already married at the time. A white priest helped them hide until the killing was over.  She was born two years later.

So while there is documented proof that churches were actively involved in the genocide, it seems there are small stories of compassion as well. 

Because of genocide, Manuela's mom says it is important to know God. It's part of the healing. I feel pretty sure most of the crowd at church here feels the same way.

So while in some ways it is hard for me to understand, in other ways, it is not hard at all. I am glad that families like hers have a place to go that gives them such joy. Where they can know God. I am glad I got the chance to see it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Week 3 - Play Like Steph Curry

Teamwork with a view. Our regular morning meeting.
Wow, we are in our third week already. Only five working days left before we give our final presentations on the project! It's hard to believe. Like a colleague of mine says when he's off to play basketball with friends, it's time to "regulate" (i.e., kick some a#$).

Each day we spend completely focused and immersed in our projects. It's a luxury in some ways, as it is not often at my real job that I can focus on one strategy or project. Here, we focus on a single the goal---many deliverables, but all centered on that single goal.  We're working at a fast pace. Everyday we accomplish a little more. We're getting there.

I love the teamwork --- working side by side with Van and Richard, two techies and me, the marketing gal. We didn't know each other three weeks ago. Now we rely on each other for support. We respect each other. We joke and rib each other for comic relief. All in good fun.

We don't talk over each other or assume one of us knows more than the others. We listen with openness to ideas and consider them fully. Sure, we get frustrated and don't always agree. And I suppose if we were here more than a month things might be different. But here and now, there are no politics. No jockeying for position. I like it.

Being here in Kigali, discovering new information though meetings with Ministries, CEOs, the young talents at kLab, and our ICT Chamber staff has been the key to getting what we need. We are surrounded by sharp minds and a willingness to help.

Running a brainstorming session to find a name for our site.

On the other hand, we must deal with communication styles that are different from ours. Learn to "work on Rwanda time." Being patient with the slower pace here, while still trying to produce results quickly, aka US/UK/Germany speed---has also been an opportunity for, shall I say, "personal development." 

My favorite part of the day is returning to the hotel, sitting outside with our gang of twelve, recounting the day, bouncing off

ideas, having some laughs. Taking our group walks to the grocery store. Occasionally out for a nice dinner, or here at the hotel. We're in it together and we've made progress on all fronts.

So the pressure is on! We have made much progress, and as long as we stay focused and work hard, we will meet our requirements. My biggest personal goals:

    Van and Richard working with the kids at kLab on SQL database stuff.
  • Give ICT Chamber a plan that CAN and WILL be carried forward - our contribution to the country's economic goals
  • Leave young people at kLab and ICT Chamber with new skills and knowledge they didn't have before
My new friend Ruti at kLab stopped me at the coffee bar this morning to say hi and ask me how it's going. He is a Steph Curry/Golden State Warrior fan. Recently he bought a Curry jersey to wear when he plays basketball with friends. First time he wore it he was so excited, hoped maybe it would bring him good luck. But, he couldn't score a 3-pointer to save his life and his friends got a laugh. 

Anyway, I thanked him for taking part in our branding brainstorming session last week. He said it was ok, he and the others did it for themselves in a way. He said, "No, we thank you, for coming here and helping us."  It made me feel like what we are doing is worthwhile. I am terrible at hoops as they call it. But right then, I felt like I'd just scored my own 3-pointer.

That's is for now...I have a marketing plan, a business presentation and branding guidelines to complete. Gotta go regulate.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Rwanda Really - Interesting Facts

Every day I learn something fascinating about what it's like to live here. I thought I'd share a few:

  • Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa
  • Rwanda population: about 12 million people
  • English became the official language in 2011 (a shift from French)
  • The native language is Kinyarwanda
  • There is no word/phrase for "you are welcome" in Kinyarwanda - so in English, when you say "thank you" people often say "thank you" in response
  • Rwandans never really had telephones in their homes. They went straight to mobile phones, around 1998
  • 7.7 million people today have mobile phones; only about 50,000 households have fixed lines...and that number is shrinking
  • Most mobile phones in Rwanda are basic phones. Smart phones are still too costly.
  • The most popular way to pay for things among people ages 18-40 is to use "mobile money" - they pay with their phone  
  • Few Rwandans drink coffee, even though it is their number one export (and delicious, I might add)
  • Speaking of coffee, a new store, Bourbon Coffee, is all the rage. It's popping up everywhere in Kigali---a Rwandan Starbucks
  • There is only one cinema in the capital city Kigali, and it's not usually very crowded. Except when Star Wars came to town

Week 2 - Starting from Scratch

After a great team dinner Friday night and day of fun on Saturday (for me that meant going on Safari!) we started off fresh and ready to roll on Week 2. 

Sunday morning, we took part in an Africa Code Week event -- teaching Rwandan school teachers how to code with a program called Scratch - designed by MIT. If you are curious or have kids, check it out! It's a great way to make coding fun for them, and introduce them to a skill that can be very useful later on.

It was inspiring to see these women dress up and show up on a Sunday to learn something new that they could share with their students. The trainers were very good. They conducted the classes in Kinyarwanda and English, as not all the teachers are fluent in English.  The ladies were bright, and Scratch is simple. But if you've never used a laptop before, or have limited knowledge, it's not so easy. But they did it!

I enjoyed the class. I can now say I have learned to code! I have a walking kitty cat animation that says my name and meows as it walks back and forth on screen. And a stick figure that can jump rope. Thanks Scratch. 

After the training our team was invited to a special VIP lunch. We heard inspiring speeches from the Minister of Education about the need to increase digital literacy here in order to create a better future for all. We heard from a young woman from Intel who is working with the ministry to digitize classrooms across Rwanda. 

The head of SAP's Corporate Social Responsibility team in EMEA, and the MD of SAP Labs in Ireland both spoke about the promise of Africa in ICT, and why SAP is making such heavy investments in education and awareness, for example, sponsorship of Africa Code Week. 

Monday's Building Blocks
Monday was productive. Van, Richard and I were working on all cylinders, making great headway. We got to see our young Web developer's first try at a structure for the site we are building. We are now working on a wireframe and site map.

We had a very interesting discussion with a representative of the "National Capacity Building Secretariat."  This government entity is tasked with upskilling the Rwandan population in seven key sectors including agriculture---in which most of the population is engaged. 

Our contact there had some intelligent questions about the viability of our project. Alex, in turn, had extremely compelling arguments supporting the vision. It was a productive exchange that helped us validate both the challenges we see, and the great potential.

Tuesday - Adding On
Meetings continued, this day with the CEO of RwandaOnline. This private company has a 25- year contract with the Rwandan government to digitize services across all ministries. Things like paying fees, applying for a passport, etc. can be done electronically--online and on mobile phones. At the end of the 25 years,  the company will hand the platform over to the government. 

The meeting produced some very interesting information. In fact, we may have found a solution to one of our greatest challenges---establishing "channels" for getting our learning portal out to the masses in the key industries we are targeting. More to come.

Wednesday...Ah, we progressed with the wireframe, and the guys got some great advice from Mark from our Sabbatical team about designing databases---I stayed away from that conversation. All I know is that it is essential to developing the back-end of our site. I need not know another thing. Ha!

Tomorrow we are conducting market research at the big marketplace here in Kigali. Should be quite interesting and fun. It's been a great week. We have research, mockups, wireframe and more. We know a lot more now about our target audience. 

We no longer feel we are starting from scratch.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

See Saws on Sabbatical

Week 1 down!  What a whirlwind. Highs, lows, and in-betweens. Day 1, you are excited. Highly motivated. Day 2, reality sets in. You have some light anxiety. A lot of uncertainty. But you can't wait to get started.
Jurie told us during our group debrief on Tuesday evening, "That's about right. Feeling a little unsure, or overwhelmed, uncertain about your chances of success, is natural."
This is where he expected us to be at the end of two days.  

The way that SAP Social Sabbaticals are designed, the group of 12 is split up into groups of three to work with a specific local client organization.  Each team has highly diverse skills, and each teammate may have very different communication and work styles.

Richard, me, Alex and Van at our Monday kickoff meeting
Making it all come together, with a non-profit client organization---one with very different goals and resources from that of SAP, is part of the experience. 

 Let the Work Begin

It all started Monday morning. We got suited up to meet our clients for the first time. (Well most of us – a few of the guys “forgot” their suits.) We started by the pool with coffees and African tea (tea, milk and ginger - really nice!). 
My partners, Richard and Evangelos, and our client, Alex Ntare from the Rwanda ICT Chamber, hit it off right away. We were struck by how articulate he is, and how young he is. He looks like he's in his 20s but of course we did not ask.

Later, at the ICT offices, Richard, who is Scottish through and through, presented Alex with a good bottle of single malt Scotch, as a gift, but we quickly learned that Alex is Christian, born again quite a few years ago, and doesn't drink alcohol.

I therefore decided that the bottle of California wine I'd brought for him would stay in my suitcase.
ICT, by the way, is an acronym used in Africa and elsewhere to refer to the information technology/high tech industry. I was a bit disappointed when I first learned I would work with a technology-focused non-profit like ICT Chamber. I wanted to work with an organization in healthcare, or more directly involved with education and youth.

Alex gives us a brain dump on day 1, with Miriam an intern, looking on.
But the Sabbatical program director, Alexandra van der Ploeg, told me to keep an open mind. After meeting Alex from ITC Chamber, and listening to his presentation on the first day, I felt more optimistic that the project would be something meaningful for the people of Rwanda.
Alex wants to launch a digital business learning academy for Rwanda. To help educate tomorrow's talent; create demand among businesses for solutions; and therefore grow jobs, help the ICT sector grow, and bolster the Rwanda economy.

He personally is dedicated to the goal of 100 technology companies in Rwanda in 10 years. And to the SMART Rwanda goal to make Rwanda the technology hub of East Africa. He is super smart, very well educated, and you just know from talking to him, this guy is really good at what he does.

The first afternoon was spent in discovery with Alex. Learning everything we could about what he was trying to accomplish and why. "This sounds awesome!"
Our "office" is not yet set up, but we see the potential right away.

But my colleagues were not so sure. It became a running joke that Richard and I are a see-saw...I'm optimistic, he's cynical. Van helps to even us out. It works, us three.
Can we actually do this project and succeed? Is the client expectation realistic? What is it exactly that Alex wants? Does he know that none of us are programmers or website developers?

Fresh Ideas and Optimism

Across the hall, ICT Chamber has a workspace called kLab, where young people go to work on their own technology ideas. This seems to be where some of the best ideas for our project might come from.  

Young software developer gives a demo of her accounting
 application at kLab, a special workspace for young ICT talent
KLab is busy every day, filled with young people ages 18-24’ish. They spend time side-by-side on their laptops, creating new things, working solutions on whiteboards, and generally finding company and motivation to help them realize their dream solution or application.  
Coffee bar, fooze ball, balcony with a great view, lots of space to work and collaborate. It’s a great place for these young people. Especially because, in some cases, their living conditions at home are poor.
Our “office” on the other side of the building is a balcony, overlooking Kigali. It’s the only space they had for us. We are enjoying being outside. By end of Week 1, we had our “scope of work” document done.

We have a 180 view of the city from our "office." Here's a peek.
We continued all week to discuss, to try and figure out what Alex really wanted. We asked, who is the main target audience? He said in jest, "All of Rwanda." 
With Alex, we eventually reduced it down to students in high school, young entrepreneurs with big ideas they want to make real, and non-technology companies who don't yet realize what technology can do for them. 
But then, on Friday, the target had been narrowed down again, to non-tech companies only. At least in phase 1.

At end of week 1 we had a scope of work, a mission and vision for Alex's
online digital business academy, and a set of user requirements.
It was a challenging week, understanding the requirements, the immediate goals, and how to work best with Alex. There were bumps in the road that we are still trying to smooth out. But I remain optimistic.

We delivered our scope, drafted a presentation for stakeholders, and finished a set of baseline requirements for the side. Even though none of us has ever developed a website before.
Given everything, it was a productive week, and the hope is that a weekend of fun will help us reset and be ready for a great Week 2. I'll be ready!