Kroc Students Reflect on Intersession Trip to Rwanda
Friday, February 2, 2018
Kroc students learn from women growers and Question Coffee’s chief barista about the traditional methods used to ensure quality coffee.
Winter intersession of 2018 saw nine Kroc School students from the Master of Arts in Social Innovation and Master of Arts in Peace and Justice programs go to Rwanda to look at social innovation in a post-conflict space.
This group of innovators, peacebuilders and changemakers traced the history of Rwanda’s conflict, and its trajectory forward, encompassing visits to memorials, Parliament (for a meeting with a senator and former Rwandan ambassador to the U.S.) and social enterprises redefining aid and gender dynamics, among much else. What follows are three accounts from the diverse group of students who went on that trip.
Innovating Economic Development in Rwanda
By Emily Pasnak-Lapchick
When most people heard that I was going to Rwanda, the first thing they thought of was the genocide. As a result of the intersession course on Social Innovation in Rwanda, I now reflect on the country as one of economic empowerment, gender equity, a welcoming space for refugees and so much more.
My personal interest in coming to the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace and Justice has been in addressing human trafficking. I wanted to go past the “rescue” missions of so many nonprofits and learn tools to build capacity so that trafficking never happens in the first place. One of these tools is Fair Trade and co-operative systems, which help build the economic capacity and independence of farmers around the globe. In Rwanda, I had the chance to visit two female run co-ops and witness the benefits firsthand.
One of the field visits we did was with Sustainable Harvest and a women-led co-op that they support. Many of the women were widowed and victimized by the genocide, and have since been trained on how to sustainably grow some of the best coffee in the world. That’s not an exaggeration – last year they placed 30th internationally with one of their coffees. The women in this co-op are the face of resilience in Rwanda and around the globe. Provided with training, capacity building, and a support system, people can thrive after unthinkable pain.
That is what the Masters in Social Innovation program equips us to do: be changemakers who can see the possibility for a new direction in spite of conflict, pain, and suffering around the globe. The opportunity to travel to Rwanda has reinvigorated my passion for economic capacity building and my interest in pursuing a career in Fair Trade and co-operative systems.
A Warm Introduction to Azizi Life
By Bernie Jordan
Human connection comes in all forms. From a shared smile to an embrace, people all desire to be loved. One way that humans all around the world can connect is through music and dancing. This form of connection was present for our group of Kroc School students and faculty in Rwanda, especially when we visited rural towns.
A highlight of the trip for me was sharing a day with women artisans through a company called Azizi Life. Driving up to meet the women of Azizi Life was the best welcome on the trip, as the women were clapping and dancing with big smiles on their faces. These women welcomed us into their homes and we helped prepare a meal together.
Azizi Life is a social enterprise that connects local Rwandan artisans to the global market. It was amazing to see how each member of our group connected with these local Rwandan women in their own special way. We all walked about a mile to fetch water from the well and were able to see both the beauty of the countryside and the strenuous lengths just to get water for the family. As a group we identified the difficulty of access to water as a challenge in the country. The joy and hospitality of the women we met through Azizi Life is going to stick with me for years to come.
I learned so much on this intercession trip and it has led me to potentially look for future work opportunities in Rwanda. I highlighted our experience at Azizi Life as an example of how small innovations are both creating a direct impact on local communities and on travelers to Rwanda. We were able to connect with locals through dance, sharing a meal together and learning about their daily lives.
Kroc School students dance with artisans while making bracelets at Azizi Life.
Greetings from Sustainable Harvest
By Sarah Brown
On the fourth day of our trip, we bussed the two-hour drive through the windy, red roads of hilly Eastern Rwanda to the small village of Kayonza. There, we visited one of Sustainable Harvest’s coffee cooperatives (called Twongere Umusaruro).
Sustainable Harvest is a social innovation, which provides a local community of women coffee growers vocational training in agronomy, cupping and roasting, and pays them a living wage for their work. The co-op members are involved in various aspects of the supply chain, from selecting which of the ripe, red cherries to pick, to washing, drying and quality control.
I was struck immediately by the way in which we were greeted upon our arrival. A group of coffee growers, dressed in traditional Rwandan kitenge fabrics, were singing and dancing. I later learned that this was a customary practice—to greet your guests with songs and dance. We were told by a staff member that the song they were singing in their native language of Kirywanda dealt with themes of coffee growing and women’s empowerment. We learned that music and dancing have been an integral part of Rwandan cultural since pre-colonial times, and that their songs and dances tell a specific story.
I will never forget the exuberance and the spirit of the women as they both greeted and bid us farewell with songs. It spoke to the communal and collectivist nature of their culture. I noticed that they greeted each individual person in our group with an embrace, and said goodbye to each one of us.
Bernadette relaxing with new friends on the ride back from the coffee fields.
Interested in learning more about opportunities to shape a better world? Read more about the graduate programs available at the Kroc School.