Friday, May 29, 2015

A single mother with 7 children in a mud house

This is the newly-built house of one of the families at which we installed a solar power system.

Apparently the husband left for another woman, leaving the young mother with seven very young children.  Her mother gave her this piece of land, and her brother built her this house.  Some of the children are attending school.  The solar power system and the LED lights should be helpful for their studies, and the mother's housework. 

Inside the house, all we found was a mattress on the ground, and some clothes. 

The house was built in a typical fashion.  The frame was made of tree branches, with mud filling in as walls.  There are not even sun-dried mud bricks.  Presumably the walls will be plastered with finer mud to make it more smooth, like other houses.  

It is very hard to imagine how this family is going to make a living.  

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rwandan Children

The children of Rwanda are very friendly.  I showed these (and many other) children where we came from.

Some children just came off school when we took a break for lunch.  

I taught this girl how to take photographs, and she taught me how to dance. 

Some children gathered to watch our students installed the solar panels.  

I made a little toy for this child.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Faith in Rwanda

I went to church on Sunday morning, an Anglican Church near AEE Headquarters.  The pastor turned out to be the former Team Leader of AEE.  When I got there, the service was just starting, and there were only about 30 people.  But people kept filtering in.  Towards the end, it was pretty full, with perhaps 300 people. 

The pastor introduced a small group of young people from a ministry to the deaf.  A lady American missionary helped at the ministry, and directed the group to sing a hymn using sign language.  

Later one of them shared her story.  She was one of 8 children in a Muslim family.  She became deaf because of illness when she was 8.  Her family gave up on her, and decided not to send her to school, feeling that she has no future.  Indeed, in a country where even university graduates have difficulty finding jobs, what hope does a deaf person have?  Fortunately, she came to believe in God,  and a church decided to put her through school.  Now she is working in a ministry for the deaf.  

The pastor told the congregation that the church is making a donation to the ministry to the deaf.  “Some people can do what we cannot do, so we are going to supporting them, to do what we cannot.”  Indeed that is what we should do. 

Later in the evening, I found a large crowd on an open area near AEE Headquarters and decided to investigate.  It turned out to be an evangelistic meeting.  Both the local language and English were spoken but I could not be sure which language was the translation.  There must have been more than a thousand people standing there in the dark.  With a backdrop of the little dots of city lights.  It was a beautiful scene.

The church in Rwanda is vibrant indeed.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Computer network without power

We sent a small team of our students to the AEE regional office in Rwamagana to fix their computer network.  Power was out when we got there, which happens a lot in Rwanda, particularly outside of Kigali.  Without power, how can the computer network operate?  How can we even attempt to fix it?

Our team had prepared even for that - we brought our own power supply!  In the form of 2 solar batteries.  An inverter converted the direct current from the battery into alternating current. Which powered the router and other equipment so that the team can fix it.  Our team is likely one of the best IT support teams in Rwanda.  This is the result of a good education, and 3 years of experience working in Rwanda.  

As Dr. N says, “we will not let something as simple as a power outage defeat us.”

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Solar Power Installation

Last year we installed 2 solar power systems, for 2 rural primary schools near Kigali.  This year we plan to install 45 such systems, for 45 families.  Today we finished 6 of them in Murambi, about an hour away from Kigali. 

We placed a set of two 20-watt solar panels on a rack outside the house, and drew a cable from the panels to the house.  The solar panels and the cable have to be movable so that that can be taken inside the house at night.  Otherwise they could be stolen.  

The electrical power generated is used to charge a solar battery through a controller that manages the charging and discharging of the battery.  The battery then powers LED lights and USB chargers. 

As soon as the system was turned on, the man of the house eagerly plugged his mobile phone charger into the USB charger.  I was told that every 3 days, they have to walk for an hour into town to get their phones charged, at 200 Rwandan francs each.  Which amounts to roughly 2 Hongkong dollars.  

Now they can charge other people’s phones, for a fee.  No wonder the man of the house was beaming when we left. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Rwandan People

Rwanda is extremely poor, and has an exceedingly disturbing genocide in its history.  But its people are beautiful, strong, resilient, and friendly.  Here is a random snapshot of people I saw.  

Parents taking children to school.

A young lady carrying a baby was positively beaming when she saw us outside of African Evangelical Enterprise (AEE) Headquarters. 

One of the many ladies selling pineapple.  Those are really sweet and juicy. 

Can you balance a big bucket on your head, carrying a string of fish on one hand, and speaking on the mobile phone with another?

The young people at the University of Rwanda are just like the students at other universities in other countries.  Except that they seem leaner.  

A beautiful young women peeling potatoes at one of the houses where we plan to install a solar power system.  This village is less than an hour from Kigali.  Yet the whole region  has no electrical power.  Starting around six, even before the sun sets, the inside of the house is plunged into darkness.  How do you cook, eat, and do housework?  How do the students do their homework?  The reality is they don’t.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Every time we come to Rwanda, we take the students to visit some of the Genocide memorial sites to learn about the history.  At Nyamata there is a church where 10,000 people were killed in and around the church in 1994.  Inside the church they left piles and piles of clothes of the dead.  In an underground chamber you walk through aisles the width of your shoulder, while on both sides are shelves and shelves of skulls and bones of the dead, so that everywhere you turn, the skulls are less than 2 feet from your face. 

It is an extremely disturbing experience.  But I force myself to go through the experience every time, to remind myself how evil we humans can become.  I could possibly be the only Hongkonger who have been to Nyamata 4 times.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Solar Power in Rwanda

After half a year of preparations, we have finally arrived in Rwanda.  We brought with us 95 solar panels, 45 controllers, cables, connectors, screws, nuts, drills, screwdrivers, and a lot more equipment.  

After arriving in Kigali, we bought 45 solar batteries, batteries that are specially designed for solar electric (photo-voltaic) systems.  We also bought many meters of plastic pipes for building the frames.  

Today 20 of our students start teaching 20 local youths to build these solar power systems.  The electricity generated from the solar panels is fed into a controller, which directs the electricity either to the battery for storage, or to a number of outlets to power LED lights, charge mobile phones, etc.  

Amazingly, they were able to assemble a working system before lunch.  The local youths are very enthusiastic.  Our students are eager.  Together they did us proud.  The plan is to use 3 days to assemble the 45 systems and to train the local youths to assemble and maintain the systems.  

In the following 4 days, the team will be going into 3 villages to install 45 systems for 45 households.  It is a sizeable engineering project.  Let us see how it will pan out.  If everything works out, there will be 45 households who will now have electricity for the first time.  There will be 20 local youths from these villages who can maintain these systems, to keep them working.  These 20 local youths have mostly graduated from secondary school who are now looking for jobs.  Hopefully the skills they acquire will be beneficial for them, as well as their own community.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Qatari Men (and workers)

Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world.  The equation is simply this: divide huge wealth from oil and natural gas by a small population.  The result is extremely high income per capita.  

On the other hand, they need a lot of labor to do the construction, serve the food, drive the taxi, clean the house, …   According to the data I read, there are 278,000 Qatari citizens and 1.5 million expatriates.  Considering the adults only, there are roughly 10 foreigners to each Qatari.  That corresponds well to the impressions I had during my brief stay over there.  

A Filipino driver told me that the wages for foreign workers are in general lower than that in Hong Kong.  This applies also to foreign domestic workers, with whom we are so familiar in Hong Kong.  As far as I can determine, from multiple sources, the wages for blue collar workers are around 1,000 Qatari riyals per month, which is roughly 2,200 Hong Kong dollars.  That is quite a bit below the minimum wage for foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong, at HK$ 4,110 per month.  So why is he not working in Hong Kong? For the simple reason that it is easier to get to Qatar.  And no matter how long one works in Qatar, one cannot become a citizen.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Qatari Women

Qatar is widely considered a conservative Muslim country.  Many of the women on the street are covered from head to toe in a black burqa.  

On the other hand, at the conference, the welcoming address was given by the president of Qatar University, Professor Sheikha Al-Misnad.  She is obviously a woman.  Many of the attendees at the conference are also women.  

I understand also that women in Qatar can vote and run for public office.  This place is full of fascinating contrasts, while it modernises and adapts to a changing world.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Doha Wind Catchers

The hotel in Doha, Qatar, where the QS MAPLE (Middle East and North Africa Professional Leaders in Education) conference is held has 4 wind catcher towers.  I don’t know whether they are functional.  Certainly they are newly constructed. 

Several months ago, in Iran, my wife and I saw a lot of these ingenious mechanical air conditioners. Many of them are at least hundreds of years old.  Most are square.  

But some are octagonal.  

The space inside the tower is partitioned vertically into columns.  The wind passing around the tower is drawn into the window facing the wind, downwards through a column to the bottom of the tower, up the column on the opposite side, and out the window in the direction of the wind.  In the process, the airflow carries moisture out of the tower, lowering the temperature.  

It is a wonderful piece of engineering, making use of physics to achieve natural air conditioning without the expense of energy.  

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Doha Run 2

Today I tried again, to get out of the island.  

At first, I tried to run towards the south, to cross the bridge to get to the city.  But I could not find a way around or through the construction.  So I turned north and run around the island.  

When I go to the tip of the island, I found a fish staring at me.  Perhaps it was an omen of something.  There was no where to go, so I had to turn turned back.

At least I dipped my hands into the Persian Gulf.  The water was quite warm.  

When I reached back at the construction site, I saw a mosque across a big ditch.  But there seemed to be no way to get across. 

There was a bridge over the ditch, but it did not seem passable yet.  

Doha itself seems to be one big construction site.