Project trip to Rwanda

This past Monday morning, I boarded a bus with two of our eMi interns (Nick and Anna) and set out for Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. We were going to work with a ministry called New Creation Ministries (NCM). NCM has been training Rwandan pastors for over 20 years, teaching classes in the native language of Kinyarwanda. It is run by two gentlemen, Gary Scheer and Gary Bennett, both from the states but have lived in Rwanda for 29 and 23 years respectively and speak the language fluently.
The team: (L to R) Intern Anna, Architect Liz (who had flown in from Sudan the first morning after completing a project trip there), Intern Nick, me, Gary Scheer (NCM Director) and Gary Bennett (NCM site coordinator).

It was a very interesting trip not only for the work we were doing, which was helping them plan their 5-acre site for the future bible university they are starting, but also being right in the center of where the war was fought just 14 years ago. Hearing their stories of how they survived and escaped during that time was unbelievable – they helped hide some of the Tutsi people, but were discovered by some of the Hutu soldiers who were fortunately willing to accept money instead of murdering them and the Tutsi’s, which is what was done repeatedly by the radical element of the Hutu’s during those few months.
The trip was a short one – an all day bus ride on Monday (9 1/2 hours), work on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by an all day bus ride back on Thursday – but a great experience to join up with NCM and all they are doing in Rwanda. The amazing personal stories of these two families’ time in Rwanda, particularly during the genocide in 1994, made the trip feel so much more exciting to be a part of. That God had spared their lives, and they in turn were so committed to their call that they left reluctantly and returned as soon as they were allowed back in, made us feel privileged to be coming along side them and helping in their work. Our brief visit to the Genocide Memorial was somewhat overshadowed by their first-hand account of the atrocities witnessed and their narrow, divinely assisted escape from the country.
A view of the border from the Rwandan side - on the left background, you can see how the local people have cut hundreds of terraces in the surrounding mountainsides in the area. Driving for 10-15 miles through the mountains, these terraces are everywhere - all dug by hand!

If you have seen the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’, it tells a pretty accurate depiction of what went on. The Bennett’s home, where I stayed, still has an un-patched gunshot hole in one of the rooms. After they were evacuated from the country 6 days after the genocide broke out, soldiers holed up in their house. They live on the side of a hill where the parliament building sits at the top. During the war, the rebel troops (now the current ruling government) were stationed in the parliament building, so the hill below was taken over by the old-government troops trying to attack the parliament building. When they returned to the country 3 months later after the rebels had taken over the country, their house had 5 land mines and 20 live grenades in the yard with 1000’s of rounds of ammo shells littering the place.
The architects working out details with Gary Bennett

Fast forwarding 14 years, what an amazing transformation has taken place in both the city and the country. The current government, though a bit heavy-handed at times (for example, plastic bags are not allowed into the country, and people are arrested if they cut across landscaped medians in the road), has overall done a good job of restoring order, rebuilding the country and making significant progress towards development at the same time. The city of Kigali is night and day compared to Kampala – it’s clean, very little traffic, and the traffic laws are enforced so that people actually obey them! The air is clean, the land is clean, and parts of the city have the appearance of a Western country. Of course, there is a long way to go, and much of the development has been at the expense of local working-class people who have been bought out of their homes but don’t really have anywhere to relocate in the city. The city policy is to methodically demolish all of the existing poorly built mud huts and typical local brick homes and rebuild the entire city. On the surface it’s making for a very nice-looking and clean city, but the problem of what to do for the vast majority of the people who can’t afford the very nice, large homes being built is going to have to be addressed. In the meantime, the city has received the UN award for cleanest city!
Some of the team walking the grounds with the two Gary's

As for the project, the site is on a fairly steep slope, but they have leveled out (by hand) 3 terraces that house their current buildings. They currently house up to 60 pastors, who come for 3 weeks at a time and then return to their churches for 3 months to implement what they’ve learned. The program for the pastors is 4 years long, and the format allows them to maintain their currents jobs and also to practice what they’re learning as they go.
A view of the suburbs from the site - you can see how clean and nice the roads are in Kigali.
Both Gary’s wives also teach the pastors English, since English is not commonly spoken in Rwanda. (The country was originally a French colony and therefore most people speak the native language and French. This is changing though, as relations between France and Rwanda have deteriorated significantly recently and the government has announced that by 2010, French will no longer be spoken in schools, replaced by English!)

The Bennett's house where we stayed. It was used as barracks by the previous government soldiers (Hutu's). Intern Nick is standing near where live ammunition, grenades and land mines were found when the Bennett's returned to Rwanda 3 months after the war began.

For our time there, we helped NCM create a master plan for their site, and are giving them schematic plans for a new classroom building, library building, redesign for their current building into an administration block, and few plans for housing for the professors and local staff. Because of the steep site, there were a number of complicating factors that we had to consider, maintaining setbacks from steep, existing slopes as well as recommending proper compaction for the terraced, future building levels. Overall, it was a great trip – we were able to help them put down on paper and organize their thoughts that will help them move forward towards their goal of opening the university in 2011.

The government is in the process of demolishing the local structures in entire areas of town, resubdividing the land, and building new homes like this one. It looks nice, but most of the local people can't afford to live in houses 1/10 this size. Though compensation is provided, something will have to be done to provide homes for the people being relocated by the development.

While I was there, I was also able to do some research with the local government agencies, obtaining a copy of the building regulations for the city of Kigali as well as meet with the Rwandan Environmental Management Authority to get a copy of the manual that outlines the requirements for the new Environmental Impact Report they are now requiring for all projects in Rwanda. These documents will be very helpful to not only our office, but all the other eMi offices around the world (USA, Canada and UK) who are doing projects in Rwanda.

'Bourbon Coffee', a starbucks lookalike that was the nicest looking store I've been in since we left the USA last January. The Bennett's took us to lunch there on the last day - it was the first time I'd felt like I could've been in the U.S. ...though with a long return bus trip looming the next day, I had to refrain from splurging and having a cup of Rwandan coffee. But this place is another sign of the rapid development that has occurred in Rwanda since the war.

A few funny stories from the trip: 1) Buses in Uganda are a piece of work. You are crammed into a tiny space, sitting next to people who have no concern for their own personal space (and consequently yours either!).

A round-about near downtown. Helmets are required here, and the enforcement of traffic laws makes driving in Rwanda a lot safer than in Uganda.

The shocks are worn, so any bumps makes it feel like the bus is overturning, and you’re never sure of the mechanical condition of the rig. With the terrible roads in Uganda (the roads in Rwanda are actually good), it can be a pretty interesting (read “miserable”) experience to be trapped on a bus for 10 hours with no bathroom and no guarantee of a bathroom stop. Well, about 6 hours into the trip on the way there, we pull over to the side of the road next to a metal-works shop. The driver hops out and starts hammering on something underneath by the front axle. Pretty soon, the guy from the shop pulls the cord to his welder over, crawls under the bus, and starts welding something on the front axle, with the bus still running! Five minutes later we were back on the road!

Taken out the window of the bus, the welders do their work under the front of the bus while the fully loaded bus waits it's impending fate!
A view of the former parliament building up the brick cobble road from where we were staying. Mortar and bullet holes still riddle this building as a reminder of the choas that reigned just 14 years earlier.

2) The bus driver on the way home was a much faster driver, so consequently, there was lot more weaving and swerving than on the trip there. We could barely keep up with the Nigerian soap opera blaring the local language voice-overlay from a small TV they install near the front of the busses.

The former parliament building on top of the hill we stayed on.

So, about 4 hours into the trip, with everyone feeling a little woozy, a lady sitting across the aisle from us couldn’t take it anymore and lost the contents of her stomach. You can imagine that this didn’t help the already terrible smell on the bus that is ever present. With intern Nick and I sharing a 2-seat row, we kept our window plenty open the whole trip. We were not popular for this, as Ugandans don’t like the coolness or the blowing air. A few people were requesting that the conductor close our window (we had closed it down to about an inch), however, with both of us feeling queasy ourselves, the cracked window was the only thing keeping us intact.

Downtown Kigali, viewed from the front of the Rwanda Genocide Memorial

The driving alone was enough to make us sick, but coupled with the smell it would’ve been a locked box of barf and motion – not an ideal setup for someone who gets motion sickness on a backyard swing-set! The only thing that saved me was the fact that I didn’t eat or drink anything since dinner the night before to avoid having to go to the bathroom for 10 hours straight (though we were able to sneak over to the restroom at the border crossing).

Interns Nick & Anna with me out before entering the Genocide Memorial. It was an amazing thing to witness, and a sobering reminder that evil exists on a large scale in our world.

Anyway, thanks for all the prayers for the trip. The bus rides over here are definitely worthy of prayer support! But this was a perfect trip – I really enjoy helping ministries who are training the local pastors. I think of all the need for mission groups over here it’s among the most important in that the ramifications of the work groups like NCM do ripple across entire nations and help to transform the lives of people – first, and most importantly, on a spiritual level, but then also on a physical level as the power of freedom in the life of a true follower of Christ can bring dramatic progress not just to individuals, but through them, to entire villages, cities, countries and the whole world.

While I was gone, my niece Traci (Dani's older sister) arrived for a 6 week visit! It is so fun to have her here - she's a lot of fun to have around! As I write this the two of them are rafting on the Nile River!


Joe said…
thanks for the update brad, what an amazing trip, and the testimonies of rwanda are powerful! Thanks for posting that cute pict of traci and dani, I am so happy they are safely together. If I could only reach them to hug um! xoxoxo
Traci Morrow said…
Such a GREAT blog, Brad!!!!

Powerful stuff.


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