Sunday, July 28, 2013

A shamefully late update from Rwanda

I apologize for the lack of updates while here in Rwanda but my access to internet is limited and when I get it I'm typically busy typing my scholar's blogs, doing my reporting for ThinkImpact and trying to stay in the loop with news and Facebook. I look forward to putting something together to cover the eight weeks of the program when I return stateside but I'll give a quick summary to tide you all over and there are scholars blogs, photos and updates on the ThinkImpact webpage (

The Institute focuses on social entrepreneurship, innovation, design thinking and sustainability so scholars go through several stages (Mind, Immerse, Inspire, Innovate and Shift) as they get to know their community and work with a local design team. Six weeks in, we are progressing through Innovate and the design teams are hard at work establishing their product/service/business idea and starting to prototype. My eight rock star scholars in Nyarubuye ended up creating five design teams and each is focused on a different idea. Mariah is working alone with a mostly female team to create peanut oil to sell in the community while Alison and Rachel have joined forces to create "Team Sass" and tackle the issue of clothing availability by opening a clothing boutique. Brian and Ed's team chose to try growing mushrooms, Karelle and Julia are examining the cooking experience and trying to develop a more efficient fuel source of the cook fires and Vincent's design team will be starting a vegetable garden/nursery in an attempt to provide a variety of veggies all year round. So with two weeks left, they scholars are trying to get a solid team set up with a sustainable project so that work will continue even after we leave.

As an advisor, my role in this process is to lead the scholars through a series of workshops to prepare them for design team work, facilitating guided discussions and reflection sessions, serving as their connection to the country staff and ThinkImpact staff and generally acting as a sounding board/counselor/teacher when they need assistance or just a friendly ear. As a group, we meet at least once a day to go over logistics and curriculum and I have weekly one-on-ones with each scholar. My day-to-day schedule varies a lot but I'm always busy and generally go to bed exhausted. I hit the jackpot with my fellow staff members, especially the other two advisors, but that group deserves it's own post when I can properly focus.

The past two weekends have been spent on excursions (last weekend on safari in Akagera National Park and the past two days at a picturesque resort on Lake Kivu not far from the DRC border) and were a much needed break from the community. And now, we're sitting at Bourbon Coffee in Kigali giving the scholars some research time before we all head home. With just two weeks left in the program, I'll be staying out in Rwamagana District until we reconvene in Kigali for our closing activities on August 12th.

It has been quite the experience thus far and I' ve found yet another potential living abroad option here in Rwanda. This beautiful country has found a special place in my heart and I look forward to sharing my stories and experience with anyone who will listen!

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