For the first time in my life, I am in a place where I can use all the languages which I speak with some degree of fluency at one time. It is amazing. In February, Rwanda has made Swahili it fourth official language, in addition to French, English, and Kinyarwanda. It is unique in East Africa in this respect — having two European languages with official status, as well as two Bantu languages.
I have been in training ever since I arrived, culture, language, survival skill training, getting a bank account set up, getting internet access that will go wherever I go, getting my new SIM card for my smartphone getting a bank account, etc. etc. Remember that 3 weeks ago, I didn’t know what a SIM card was, and before that, I didn’t know what a Smartphone was!) I still have a long way to go: I have to equip an entire household for myself, as soon as my sponsoring institution finds me housing that is acceptable to Peace Corps. Peace Corps has standards that every employer must meet when a volunteer is assigned to the organization for whom the volunteer will be working and apparently they have encountered some challenges in finding me adequate housing, perhaps because the population density in Ruhango is around 500 per square kilometer (remember that a kilometer is smaller than a mile). To give you a point of comparison: Vermont is 9,623 square miles, the size of Rwanda is 10,169 square miles (less than 1000 square miles larger), but the population of Vermont is 624,594 compared to the 11.92 million in Rwanda.
I will be going to Ruhango, a town of 320,000 (in 2012), 72 kilometers southwest of Kigali, the capital of Rwands. Rwanda is organized differently than the U.S. There are five provinces in Rwanda which are in turn, subdivided into districts, then into cells, and then finally into villages. Ruhango is the capital of Ruhango district, which is, in turn, one of the eight districts which comprise the southern province of Rwanda. Ruhango has nine sectors, divided into 59 cells, which contain collectively 533 villages. I will be teaching at Indangaburezei College of Education in Ruhango, a private college established in 2013 to help improve the skills of teachers in the locale. They offer courses in English, Kinyarwanda, Swahili, and French, as well as in early childhood education, computer science, economics and geography.
I will be working with a counterpart at the college who sent me the following text after our first meeting: “I’m very happy to meet you. It is very great to meet an enthusiast like me!” Apparently, he has been told by his friends and colleagues that he is very enthusiastic and was able to perceive fairly quickly that I am also very enthusiastic about what I do. Lucky for me that he appreciates this quality of mine since Rwandans are, in general, relatively reserved and quiet. What are the odds that I’d be paired with another enthusiast??!! Funnily enough, the ambassador came to the workshop that we had today for the five volunteers in my group and all our counterparts and supervisors and she too was very enthusiastic. I really liked her a lot, in part because of her enthusiasm and in part because of her incredible breadth of knowledge about the country and the breadth resources that the U.S. is providing Rwanda to help them achieve their development goals. Stunted growth in childhood remains a problem and U.S. programs have already helped bring the rate down from 47% to 34%, and had cut infant mortality by 70% in 2015. You should all be very proud of what your tax dollars are doing for this small country.
One of the most important things I learned about Rwanda today was about their peace-keeping force, which comprises 20% of the military and was created specifically with the goal of making sure that what happened to Rwanda in 1994 when the international community abandoned the country during the genocide would never happen to another country. The African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance Program, a U.S. state department funded and managed initiative designed to improve African militaries’ capabilities to execute multinational peace support operations. The Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF) are particularly valued due to their training, discipline, the development ethos they bring to deployments, and the growing number of women among those trained and deployed. Rwanda is clearly a preferred partner of the US in building African peacekeeping capacity, with the ACOTA Director commenting in 2013 that “ACOTA trains over 17 countries engaged in peacekeeping but Rwanda remains the best…”
For those of you who have experienced dismay at the Trump administration’s current approach to international affairs, you can be proud of all that the U.S. has done in Rwanda, and are continuing to do, in the fight for world peace through our support of peace-keeping forces from other nations. It does not make up for what we did not do when we should have, but at the very least it is allowing the Rwandans to achieve their goal to help prevent any more occurrences of genocide world wide. The RDF has provided various forms of support in countries where genocide was imminent, including troop deployment, in Darfur region in Sudan, South Sudan (the world’s newest country), Mali, Central African Republic, Haiti, and Syria. Their commitment to genocide prevention arises out of its own history and continues to remind me of my responsibility to contribute to world peace in whatever ways that I can in whatever small sphere of influence I have at any given time. For any of you who wish to become better informed about peace-keeping efforts around the world, you may find the country profiles found at http://www.providingforpeacekeeping.org/profiles/ enlightening.
Mwiriwe. “Good night”
*The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Rwandan government.