Saturday, August 10, 2013
How can we help?
The trip to Rwanda taught us a lot of things. In the beginning, we heard that we would be going to a community center for youths, run by African Enterprises; and that they wanted us to build a computer laboratory and run some computer classes for the children. This we would have been very happy to do, since we have had some experience doing that in other places such as Gansu and Cambodia.
As time progressed, however, AE Rwanda convinced us that we could make greater contributions spending at least part of the time training their staff on using the Internet, particularly social networks like Facebook, so that they can do a better job serving the people of Rwanda.
Once we arrived, there were other discoveries - their computer network was in such a poor state that part of our team spent several days fixing their computer network, and installing a Virtual Private Network for them. And we spent several days training their staff in using the VPN as well as the Internet. As a result, AE staff can communicate over the network over the whole country much more efficiently. For that AE was very grateful. They told us that other overseas team usually bring them gifts of “things”; but we brought their people skills that they can use.
We learnt that in order to be really helpful, we have to be willing to listen, and to serve in ways that they really need it. And we have to have good skills in the first place. We were very happy that we brought some very good students this time - students will good skills and great attitude. We changed their assignments so many times, often asking them to so things that they have not learnt - they have to improvise and learn quickly something that they have to do or teach in the following day!
We observed a number of vivid examples what AE meant. We happened to pass by a computer laboratory of a local university (not our collaborating NGO). There were ~40 computers that were set up neatly on clean and tidy work benches. For 3 days we could not see anyone using those computers. Those computers were probably donated by some well-meaning overseas donors. For some reason, they were not being used. Based on past experience, the most probably reason is that they university does not know how to make use of them; perhaps they do not have teachers who can teach those computer classes. It is also possible that they are afraid that the student might misuse or damage the computers. The sad thing is, in a few years time, the computer would still be brand new, but have become obsolete and unusable.
Now we tell our partner NGOs, including African Enterprise, that they should not be afraid to use the computers, and even break them (not on purpose, of course). Because if they do, we will try to bring some more. AE believes also that it is the people that is important. They are very keen on helping their people to set up co-operatives, to learn to start small businesses, to do the accounting, to plant passion fruit, to run a public toilet, to raise bees, to set up a butcher’s shop, to build fish farms, to set up kindergartens, ... The focus is not on giving the co-operatives a lot of money, but on training them on the necessary skills to run the business.
We are learning a lot from this experience.