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Ruts in the Road: A trip through Rwanda

Published 02/12/2014 by Global Communities

Ruts in the Road: A trip through Rwanda
By Luis Blandon
Luis Blandon visited Global Communities Rwanda’s projects during the Cracking the Nut conference in January 2014 and wrote this reflective piece after his visit.
It was a deep rut in the dirt road. The first of a thousand I would experience. A common groove create by the weary travel of SUVs and motorcycles, the cycle of periodic rains and subsequent dry periods. Today, dust dominated in the background. These roads will never be paved and you better have strong kidneys. These ruts are no kin to the fatigue cracking of the heavily used asphalt-paved roads of my native Washington, DC. But I am getting ahead of myself…
I arrived in Rwanda on a musky Saturday night, 26 hours by air from home. On this bright morning, I could hear the whistle of the highway as we drove towards our destination. To get there, you are embarrassed by the vibrant topography and the rich lush landscape. You see the young and old working the small terraced plots. The roads are swept. Isolated swathes of villages appear and ebb. Then the driver turns into a dirt road and as each mile passes, you feel how the rural Rwandans live.  As we went up the mountain, more villages pop up and fall back as we drive and valleys grow below us. The ruts in the road appear to never end. Rut after rut. Vibrant eyes peeled on the SUV as we drive. The people are quiet, but always there is a wave of a hand. Rut after rut. Then in a valley of green, isolated tin-roofed homes overlooking a distant river, we stop. What would I learn?  Leave all pre-conceptions behind, and listen, watch and ask.
The members of the cooperative, mostly women, wore their best. Their leader, engaging and charismatic, knew she was in the spotlight. An energy hummed with her. She appeared fresh, ready, confident. I noticed she was wearing high heels, nothing fancy, but wearing her best for the visitors. She and her colleagues beamed, ready to show what they have accomplished. Each member had a specific task in the presentation from explaining the training and the accounting ledger to describing how Global Communities helped them devise a marketing plan to produce and sell their handcrafts. Each speaker stood while talking, then sat down to let her neighbor have her say. The training in financial services and literacy resulted in their ability to acquire and pay off loans, selling goods to local markets and in Kigali. The literacy, nutrition, family, financial and agricultural programs make an impact in the community, helping it overcome years of poverty and malnutrition. The explanations of their training and harnessing of skills did not hide their aspirations to keep moving forward.
In my four days of visits to isolated villages, I could see how each program was created to weave in various techniques to help low income households build a foundation to spur economic activity. The Farmers Field Schools visually teach better agricultural techniques and nutritional values. The Individual Savings and Loan Groups not only teach people how to save money but give lessons in financial and reading literacy. The kitchen gardens teach about nutrition, hygiene and general health. 
To this outsider, here lies the hidden purpose behind the integrated programs. As well-planned as these programs are, the one thing that can’t be predicted is the human element: would the villagers embrace these programs and make them their own? From what I saw, the concept of leadership became real. People emerged as local leaders, taking ownership of the programs and rallying their neighbors to the cause.
On another lazy warm afternoon, after another series of ruts on a road atop of an overlook, at a primary school in the Cyeza section, we visited a play group where games are treated as learning tools. This time, children are the beneficiaries. There is playing with parents. Sociability and confidence building is taught, along with reading, vocal and listening skills and recitations. Community-based leaders teach the next generation. The headmaster expresses emotional concerns about future funding and his fear that the program will dissolve. There is a little boy, much like the woman I met at the cooperative — engaged, sharp, demonstrating leadership skills, listening, following everything keenly. Still, this is only an image and does not explain the steps needed for this child to lead a vital, healthy life. Will this little Global Communities program be the turning point in the photogenic boy’s life? Will he become another rut or will he blossom with a little help from Global Communities and other partnering groups?
When I see these women and men, talk to them, feel their commitment and energy, and see the results of their work, a old lyric hovers in my thoughts:
Went up on the mountain
To see what I could see
The whole world was fallin’
Right down in front of me
Cause I’m hung up on dreams.

The struggles of day and night continue for each individual and family that live in these rural areas. Far removed emotionally and in distance and history from the urban center, their existence is meshed with the constant ruts in the road one experiences. There are barriers. There are conditions. There are realities. There is evidence that they have found ways to overcome the ruts. Aided by the programs that improve their daily existence, they tear down the barriers that had existed for decades and day by day, they overcome hardships. People are working on their dreams, whether it is buying a cow, growing more food, having a fire-bricked home with a tin roof, saving enough for health insurance or being able to afford an education for their child. Dreams take time, sometime generations. The people I met have a will that is explosive in its vibrancy: they work hard at making their lives better and stronger no matter the obstacles and suffering they have experienced. Ruts that for years appear fixed and unpromising become smoothed and layered over by accomplishment. When the sun fades, and night closes in on these villages and communities, people go to sleep with their dreams and wake the next day to work on them.