Saturday, 12 November 2011

Making links - part two

Written Saturday 12th about Tuesday 8th

I confessed to nervousness at the beginning of my teaching day with three pastors and wives (Augustin and Gaudence, Jean Paul and Immaculee from Kanombe, Brad and Chelsea) plus Verena from Kamembe and Dave Thomas, whose spouses were not able to be there. Once I began, however, after the usual formal opening from Augustin, the atmosphere lightened and we were all at ease. Dave commented during the first break that Friends have this gift for easily helping each other out - on this case with translation of thoelogical or horticultural vocabulary. Brad was my official translator and his Kinyarwanda is said to be good, but I noticed he and Dave were making notes of vocabulary supplied by the others.

Everybody had either attended one of my workshops or seen sacks planted by others, so we were able quickly to start on feedback and analysis - so helpful I wished I'd had it earlier.

Jean Paul had taken responsibility for watering their sack because his wife left early to teach, then was saddened when local children pulled out the plants. I said that at the Fds primary school at Kagarama the sacks were undisturbed, leading to an outburst from Immaculee about the differences in discipline and staffing ratios between children at Fds schools and ordinary state schools. (Now where have I heard that before?) Immaculee added that most women said Elizabeth's sacks were only for rich people because you have to pay for water for them. I'm sure I had said, as I always do, that it was better to use 'grey' water from the kitchen, but it's useful to know that needs stressing more.

Verena, who has probably the most productive sacks of anybody I've seen, said she was only able to use my teaching because her mind had been prepared by D4D. She leapt at the suggestion of using previously unproductive space in her yard - there was still room for the children to play - and now supplied greens to several local restaurants as well as eating variety every day. But when she went round visiting the group of 15 who had my training two years ago, nobody else was persisting. Gradually she was persuading others to try again.

As we discussed the detailed elements of construction, she leaned forward to reach the sack I'd laid out on the coffee table, to illustrate her modification. She was finding that water was not reaching the lowest layers, because soil had got into the column of stones. (Now I know I always model covering the tube of stones while filling the surround with soil, but perhaps I hadn't also said it.) She had experimented with cutting open the bottom of the sack so rain water falling around could be drawn into the dry soil, and also using the plastic tube (bottle) to funnel water directly to the base of the sack. We considered her modification and concluded that in the most arid areas opening the bottom of the sack could do more harm than good, allowing precious water out into the surrounding unplanted soil.

Asked whether a sack could be replanted after the first harvest, I offered the recipe for plant 'tea', made by steeping different kinds of leaves in water - or a mixture of one part urine and two parts water - to boost the fertility of the soil in the sack. I teach this plant tea a lot now (and use it on my allotment at home), and show photos of recommended plants, all taken in Rwanda. Jean Paul and Augustin, who had not heard this lesson before, started to giggle at the mention of urine. I knew Gaudence had been troubled by scorching of some young plants when she'd tried the tea on everything in her garden, so I asked her to tell us what had happened. Was the urine too concentrated, asked Dave, who had learnt a rule of thumb of one part urine to ten of water for direct application. Even though the eventual concentration after dilution is one to six, I agreed it might be too strong for seedlings. Gaudence said everything except the trees had been scorched, though all had recovered.

'Did you use urine?' I asked. 'I won't answer that directly, but I followed your lesson', she replied. 'I didn't know you were doing that', said Augustin. 'Well, you don't know everything!'

In the car the previous day, Dave had said how he was looking forward to groups being ready for him to offer lessons on nutrition, reforestation and the long-term superiority of organic fertilisers - the latter unnecessary in the early days because nobody had money for 'bag' fertiliser, so it would have been pointless to warn of the dangers.

In the afternoon of our day together, I divided the participants into two groups to work through material on nutrition in English and Kinyarwanda. The task was to decide how to make this information accessible through lively teaching. Nobody came up with an opening gambit or a way of dividing the material. Instead, conversation veered onto how it would be better first to make sure one's own children understood the good they were doing themselves by eating a varied diet rich in fruit and vegetables. I realised this modelled the process at the beginning of D4D, when the trainers had first to internalise the teaching and philosophy before taking it out to others.

By the end of the two days, many links - personal and theoretical - had been strengthened. Nervousness on both sides had been dispelled, I think. This group of pastors didn't seem to be having any difficuly engaging with ideas for living better in this world. Heaven was never mentioned. Our theological frameworks will continue to differ. And that's OK.

Sorry there are no photos to enliven this posting. I'm hoping to give you some stunning scenery before the end of the day, when I leave Rwanda until next February.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Making links - part one

Last year Augustin started suggesting that Growing Together and Discipling for Development (D4D) should co-operate. I was interested but unsure. I had been hearing good reports of D4D but I didn't want to be co-opted into a missionary project. When it was time to make suggestions for my work on this visit, I tentatively put on my list a meeting with D4D. It appeared on my schedule. I was much relieved to hear that 'discipling' is taken to mean much the same as mentoring, and not scolding or forcing into line.

Proposals for our time together went through several revisions. First I was to work with a new church group of 20 plus 10 D4D trainers for two days. I said that would make for a difficult group - too large and too varied in experience. So the plan was modified: two days with around 16 trainers. Then, as I mentioned to Augustin that I needed to start my detailed preparation well ahead of delivery time because I would be too busy in between, he said the re-revised plan was for one day training 10 or 12 trainers and spouses and one day visiting a church where D4D is operating. I asked to have the visit before the training day, so I could learn more about the group and its aims.

Monday was the day for the visit. Four of us went: Augustin, Dave Thomas (Evangelical Friends Church missionary from Oregon, here with his wife Debby and 4 children since about 1998) and Brad Carpenter (younger and more recent Fds Ch missionary, married to Chelsea for about 3 years). Brad drove and I rode in the front with him. This was the best opportunity I'd had to talk with Brad and Dave. I was encouraged by their openness and somewhat intimidated by the remarkable success of D4D, brought from Uganda by Debby Thomas, Augustin and 2 more pastors in 2008.

I hadn't realised how recent in this part of the world is the movement towards holistic church life, as opposed to winning and caring for souls and letting bodies fend for themselves. David Bucura tells how when he started cultivating the land behind his house he was chastised as a pastor for wasting God's precious time. There seems to have been a significant shift, both on the ground and among funding and mentoring agencies in the evangelical churches in the USA, just in the last few years.

I met an enthusiastic youngish church leader, Jean de Dieu, - not yet a full pastor - and several members. I found the stories remarkable.

Jean de Dieu used to be always at the main Friends church at Kagarama, begging for handouts for his family and lamenting the poverty of people in his little church. Then he heard about D4D and pleaded for his community to be one of the first trial groups. Soon after starting to think differently about his life, he picked up handfuls of small cassava plants discarded by the local population, who had been forced to take them but wouldn't plant a new variety; soon he was selling to his neighbours. Next he dried and saved seed from an unusual variety of tomato and raised a fine crop. Now he can afford to build a greenhouse to extend the fruiting season next year.

Next we visited Claude, in his newly extended and plastered house. Brad, who is the most frequent visitor, was surprised by the glazed window and door - done in the last couple of weeks. Asked to tell us the main changes in his life since D4D, he had plenty to say. He started reading the New Testament - I didn't understand how it arrived on his table but it did - was befriended by the pastor of the bigger Fds Church nearby, and became a church member. His first change was to start being open to advice and making plans. Then he began co-operating with his wife and making joint decisions instead of leading largely separate lives. (We later heard from a man who said he used not to see any poinjt in talking with his wife: she always thought differently from him and nobody would pay him for time spent talking things over. Now they listen to each other's views and make better decisions.) Claude's experience was that if he worked with God to accomplish whatever was before him, then the next vision would be granted. In the photo he is standing with his wife and three children - no baby on the way despite much teasing! - next to the water tap recently installed outside his back door. He used to sell water in the market place (presumably as an employee of the water company) but never dreamed of having the money to get his own tap. Claude with his family, with outbuildings behind - the house is much smarter

Others were also eager to tell their stories. Agnes had her sewing machine stolen by a thief who dug through the house wall, but instead of despairing she borrowed money for a replacement and has easily paid back the loan by taking her machine to the village centre on market days and getting commissions. Another Jean de Dieu said he used to work really hard but with very little result. Now he worked smarter and planned step by step his banana yield had more than trebled. Bosco, who described his former self as number one on the list of village paupers, was proudly wearing a World Vision shirt, and is employed by this larger charity for a year teaching the making of kitchen gardens.

Then we went to the church where others were gathered. Augustin asked them to confine their testimonies to one item each, and not to repeat what another had focussed on. For the most part they managed to be brief. (As it was, we didn't get lunch till 3.30 on the way back to town.) Ezira learnt through D4D that what she already had in knowledge and skills was important and now she values and uses it. Madeline has learnt better farming techniques and can now pay health insurance for all her family when previously she'd assumed the only way they would get it would be if somebody else paid. Jacqueline now has a kitchen garden, well fertilised and mulched, instead of running from one place to another to get ingredients for meals. Epiphanie had two points she had to make - that she'd learnt the importance of having loving relationships and that keeping bees had much increased the yields of her crops. Josiane had learnt about oral rehydration after diarrhoea for her children, and the importance of going promptly to the doctor if they didn't get bettter quickly. Theogene, who used to merely stay alive without getting anywhere, had learnt the benefit of planning. Esterie had learned the importance of sanitation and cleanliness.

Lively teaching techniques, an enthusiastic core of participants, mentoring at every level, always consulting the group on what they think they need to learn next... these seem to be crucial. If you want to know more, watch the video clip on the D4D website.

Part 2 will be about my day with the trainers.

Sunday, 6 November 2011


For the third village visit, on Saturday, we met our guides at the same point as two days earlier, and walked a few hundred yards up on the opposite side of the road. The scene surprised me. Last year's small, scattered huts had all been swept away, replaced by rows of houses, identical in area and spacing, though varying considerably in style and degree of finish. Looking down between two rows of houses towards Ruhengeri at the foot of the hills
The government is implementing its national policy of every dwelling being roofed with tin or tiles by donating sheet metal then demolishing the old homes. Only roofing is supplied. Despite the presence of a friendly, helpful local official answering my questions, I didn't manage to work out what happens to a household's clothes and other belongings before the new roof is raised. He said that finding materials and the means to pay for them caused a lot of problems.
This house, like many, had a small internal area screened with plastic sheeting, presumably for sleeping.

House plots are allocated without consultation. Mixing Batwa and others is seen to be a good thing, though I suspect they inhabit separate social space.

Each plot has a small amount of cultivable land – 25 square metres plus a narrow border round the house. Composting toilets are being constructed, to be shared between neighbours. Both these features improve on what has been replaced.

Three people had volunteered to show me what they were growing. Two had small circular 'kitchen gardens' and one in addition had mushrooms in one section of her unfinished house. The third, Agnes, was the star. Using only seeds saved from my donation last year or collected from her own plantings before the removal, she had squashes and gourds climbing over a framework to shade her compost heap, beans for drying and beans for eating green, five car tyre beds of African greens, a patch of spinach beet and some raised beds of potatoes and maize. There was even a tomato growing against the side of the house.

We sat on a low bench, facing the assembled class. When the official (above, left) arrived and the formal greetings and introductions were over, Solange asked the group how they were finding their new homes. Some complained that the local soil wouldn't stick between the wooden uprights but just crumbled away. She challenged mutters about the rich people who could afford doors and windows. People get money for those things from working, she said. The official pointed out that they were sitting on a nicely regular edging of rocks, collected and mortared into place by the labour of Agnes and her family with some paid help. If you want a door, he said, find out how much it costs then save the money.

Encouraging saving is seen as a priority. Associations - of work colleagues, neighbours or church members, for example -are formed to save jointly and award a grant or loan to each member in turn. The Twa have no recent experience of working co-operatively; cooking together was a novelty. We suggested that if four or five worked on preparing one person's land for planting, and perhaps constructed a new sack garden, then the group could move on until each had been helped. They would need to keep remembering the lesson of the tree of trust. It would be hard to get in the habit of working regularly and forgiving each other's failings, but it would get easier. Would they give it a try for two weeks, perhaps?

Over cold drinks in a little bar, waiting for the bus back to town, Solange, Rachel and I plotted where the work could go next, without further input from me. Solange, who has the most experience with Batwa, said that regular visits for encouragement and reminders were essential. This particular village was well served by its local official and he could be an ally. It would be important not to take too long deciding on the next steps – already some recently resettled Batwa, with no tradition of growing food, had sold their small plots to neighbours, repeating the behaviour of their grandparents in the 1970s and 80s, when living in the forests was first prohibited.

Solange would be keen to take this work forward. Rachel said she'd like to be involved as well. Although she is trying to develop a career in counselling it's almost impossible to find ways of paying for the most needy to get the help that would benefit them and society as a whole.

We discussed putting together a project proposal. The main cost would be the transport and accommodation for the trainers. I said that Growing Together would be sympathetic to such a project and that for the moment I am entrusted with the decision making. I have been close to tears, saying goodbye to these damaged and beautiful people. I hope the little I have been able to do will sow seeds for more purposeful and satisfying lives.

Friday, 4 November 2011


Written Thursday evening Posted Friday morning now there is enough internet signal.

By 2.30 today we have finished our day's work and had lunch.

It's not that we've been slacking – just that there weren't many sack gardens remaining for us to look at when we went up to the Twa village this morning. As the government resettles people out of round huts with grass roofs into small rectangular houses with tin ones, they leave their sacks behind. The essential concept of getting a new sack ready for successional planting has not yet been grasped.

The three of us can do only a little teaching each, before concentration wanes and group members wander off. Solange focuses on how there is some government help available for such necessities as a grant for school uniform, but you have to apply. Rachel emphasises the value of joining a cooperative, as a few have already done; this provides an opportunity to work with other Rwandans, countering the stereotype of laziness and dishonesty, and gives access to savings schemes where even tiny amounts accumulate. I revise the teaching on the benefits of a sack garden, so these group members can teach others, Twa and non-Twa, possibly getting paid and certainly developing the trust that might result in renting a little land for joint cultivation.

Two members of this group have already earned money by teaching. Joseph, who took part in advanced HROC training earlier this year, has been employed to teach about trauma healing. Beatrice, who also went on the HROC training, can read and write and gets paid to teach others. Beatrice and baby sitting 'in class' in dappled shade
(I notice she is wearing a new dress, and her baby boy has a top made out of the remaining fabric. When I asked Solange yesterday what changes she has noticed since starting to work with Batwa, she said the first thing is that they wash themselves and their clothes.)

Finally I give out the seeds I have bought in Ruhengeri, less than 10 miles away. This is my last visit, I repeat. There will be no more seeds from me. I suggest planting a few of each variety specifically for seed production in a protected patch of ground. Also they could club together to send one person into town by bus to buy for others. (A few varieties can be bought more locally, but at double the town price. Walking into town and back is also something they do occasionally.) Cooperation is one of our constant themes and we have been told how when somebody's crop is stolen others rally round to help heal the trauma with listening and food sharing. Joseph takes charge of the seeds and gives me the list of participants
Solange has been repeating the lesson that their grievances won't be resolved by sitting around waiting for handouts. I finish by suggesting that if they can agree on a particular project – such as renting a little land and planting enough to sell as well as eat – Solange and others can help them write a project proposal. I think, but don't say, that this is the kind of work Growing Together might support when I finish. As we wait for the moto drivers to collect us, Sabyinyo (the sabre-toothed extinct volcano) is too lovely to leave unphotographed

Over a nice lunch in Ruhengeri, affordable within the budget because we haven't been needing evening meals, only tea and fruit, Rachel comments that all the funders keep changing priorities and criteria. Peace and reconciliation are out of fashion, she says, though they're needed as much as ever. Development is the new focus. Everything is a project now. The countryside is littered with thousands of buildings labelled as projects with nothing going on inside. It would be better to use them as houses.

Back at our lodging, I joke that perhaps we could go to the cinema or something, to fill the rest of the day. Rachel proposes a visit.

A few hundred yards up the road is a project supporting women with HIV/Aids. Two of the four workers are there, though the little factory is silent. It's a mill for maize, where farmers can pay to have their own crop ground, or customers can buy flour or husks to feed to goats and chickens. Grain is washed in a shallow trough then dried and husked in the hopper
The manager has gone to Kigali for a meeting. It's a modest project. From the descriptive board,locked in the store room instead of out by the roadside, I deduce that it has twin aims of providing a little employment and raising funds for the other aspects of the work. I comment on the tip tap outside the toilet; I've been seeing very little hand washing recently. It is apparently a government requirement for certification. Remember, Rachel says, how particular they are. Think of the church's problems with the moringa project. Ah, yes.

Behind the walled compound is a small plot, with a splendid circular cistern. They plan a greenhouse here, Rachel says. One will last for five years. I ask what you would grow in a greenhouse. The soil and the climate are so good here - potatoes and bananas, maize and pineapples, carrots and cabbages and much else grow all year. Tomatoes, she says. it's true that the tomatoes here are disappointing in taste and texture. Peotecting them from the torrential rain would be a good project.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Cooking with the Twa

Written on Tuesday 1 Nov about Monday 31 Oct

This wasn't my idea, but Rachel's. They can learn lots of new things, she said. And they did. On day two we could focus more directly on skills for growing and selling vegetables.

Having arranged with the pastor's wife at Musanze Friends Church, where I worked with these students a year ago, that we could use her kitchen facilities, we also consulted her on shopping for the venture. First she came out to meet us by the roadside between our lodging and the road up to the church. After a lot of inspecting and rejecting, we ended with several bunches of carrots, two large white cabbages, plenty of dodo, 15 kilos of potatoes (carried by the vendor to the church), a bundle of firewood (ditto) and a sack of charcoal (ditto).

Here she has chosen a cabbage, accompanied by Solange, HROC facilitator, on her left

I had brought my usual collection of knives, graters, peelers, scrubbing brushes (for potatoes to be boiled in the skin) and stirring implements. But much was still to be got. The group of 20 Batwa arrived, organised by Solange. After smiles all round and re-introductions, Rachel and I headed off to the food market in town, 5 minutes away by moto. We bought more vegetables and fruit, oil, rice, macaroni, flour, salt, peanut flour for sauce, cheese, milk, and liver. Finally we needed two additional charcoal cookers and five boxes of juice. We hired a boy for around 20p to get us to the taxi rank with more than we could carry ourselves. On the way back to the church the taxi driver ran out of petrol and had to set out on foot with a can. However, that gave us time to waylay a pineapple seller and buy enough for three sessions.

Meanwhile, after revising earlier teaching, Solange had got the group started, beginning with the novelty of using hand sanitiser. Carrots were chopped and grated, potatoes scrubbed, one cabbage expanded into a heap of shreddings, dodo cut up finely. Everybody gathered round and Rachel assigned tasks - fires, salads, fruit, stir-fry preparation etc.

The salad makers worked bravely on strange tasks like grating beetroot. The woman in this team was horrified at the idea of eating even a sliver of raw onion or garlic, and didn't try any salads. Others were delighted with the new foods.

The fire team preparing the charcoal for cooking

Rachel and I performed our double act making a white sauce and adding grated cheese for the macaroni. Rachel and Solange made the peanut sauce with cauliflower and other vegetables. I fried strips of liver dredged in seasoned flour. That is an unusual amount of protein, but this was understood to be a feast.

There was some disorder in the self-service queue, with those at the front tempted to take too much. But by the end everybody was full and satisfied. The salads and the cheese sauce were praised, and the thin slices of liver in place of chunks cooked until they are tough. Of course much that we made here couldn't be replicated - I was warned not to give away graters because there wouldn't be enough to go round and conflict would ensue.

We emphasised again the importance of eating as many different foods as possible, even occasionally and in small amounts. We planned the next day's activities in the home village.

And then the 'guests' set off on their two hour walk up the mountainside and the home team tackled the washing up.