Monday, July 28, 2014

The Alternate Route to Camp

IBM requires its personnel to travel in pre-approved (which equates to "costly") cars driven by pre-approved drivers.  To save costs and experience a bit more of the country, the MSU team joined the Peace Corps volunteers outside of PC Headquarters once the IBM car pulled away.
Blair, Lauren, Hannah, Ryan, and James outside PC Headquarters

We walked about 10 minutes, uphill, to the main road where we caught a local bus to Nyabugogo, a central transportation hub for Rwanda in Kigali.
Nyabugogo Bus Station
The trip to Musanze took about 2 hours.  The bus was full.  Scenery was beautiful!  A video monitor periodically cut in and out with music.

Once in Musanze, PC volunteers would normally take an hour-long "moto" (a motorcycle "taxi" for one) from Musanze to Janja along a windy dirt road.  But "moto" is not a very safe mode of travel.  So we instead all squeezed into a 4-wheel drive vehicle that PC volunteers arranged for the MSU travelers to take, and we started the bumpy last leg of our journey.  By car the drive was a good 90 minutes.  We were well "tossed" by the time we arrived.
At long last, we have arrived!

Off to camp we go...

On Monday, July 28, 2014 our team headed to the camp location in Janja where we will spend two weeks: one week training teachers and one week running the technology camp for girls.  Half of the team rode the bus from Kigali to Musanze and then took a car the last hour to Janja. The other half rode in a jam-packed LandCruiser from Kigali to Janja.

The LandCruiser contained all our bags, half the robotics equipment, and various supplies (soap, toilet paper, etc…for 60 girls, 12 teachers, and about a dozen other staff for over a week) in addition to four team members.  Each of us held bags and/or boxes on our laps and between our feet.  We braced ourselves and boxes for the many bumps on the unpaved roads lest someone incur a concussion from shifting cargo. 

Anna is packed tight with the bags

We arrived at G.S. Janja and began preparations for the week of Training the Teachers.  We were met by one of the school’s three cows.

One of the three G. S. Janja cows

The school hosting the camp is one of Rwanda’s top boarding schools housing over 700 senior-level students when school is in session.  Senior-level in Rwanda equates to U.S. middle school and high school.  It’s a Catholic school in the Diocese of Ruhengeri with a noble motto, “Ora, Disce et Labora” which means, “Pray, learn, work.”

Playground close to the camp entrance

We have been enthusiastically welcomed and supported by school officials, Fr. Alphonse, Sr. Maria Therese and John Bosco.  They all expressed their emphatic support for educating and empowering girls.  They are thrilled to have us here as is the Rwandan Government.  We hear that the Minister of Youth and ICT will visit the camp.

After arriving Monday, we decorated the camp and prepared materials for the teachers who began arriving on Tuesday, July 29th.

Camp organizers enjoyed a first dinner at G. S. Janja: fried sweet potato, dodo, tomato sauce, Akabanga, and blood tomatoes.  (A variation on a theme.)

Camp organizers first dinner at G. S. Janja

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Robotics Equipment Saga

The camp curriculum includes a few themes: "Computer Science Unplugged" games to teach abstract logic, basic internet and computer skills, Scratch programming, self-confidence building sessions, a small research project and robotics.  The materials for all of those except the robotics are pretty easy to transport over country borders.  However, the robotics modules required shipping 20 robotics kits and as many laptops from two countries into small feat.

Michigan State University donated 10 robotics kits and loaned 7 laptops.  The laptops must return to the U.S. because Rwanda does not accept computer donations for equipment more than three years old.  IBM Germany loaned another 10 kits and laptops.  These too must be shipped back to their country of origin.  Many thanks to MSU and IBM for their support.

It is an understatement to say there are many considerations when transporting electronics equipment between countries.  Software licensing issues come into play, as do import and export controls for all countries involved.  However, despite all the rigamarole, all of our equipment has arrived in Kigali...we think.   This is due in large part to efforts by Celest from our team.

Benjamin Roode and the U.S. Embassy staff here also have been fantastic to work with.  In addition to paying the airfare for two graduate students in our group, they allowed us to ship all electronics equipment to the Embassy.  Embassy personnel are even handling the customs process for us.  The MSU equipment made it all the way through customs weeks ago and had been sitting in Benjamin's office.  On Friday, part of the team visited the U.S. Embassy in Kigali to meet Benjamin and retrieve equipment shipped from MSU.

We hear rumors that the equipment from IBM Germany is also in country but still in customs.  Embassy personnel think they'll be able to retrieve the kits and computers from customs at Kigali airport this coming week.  Bad news is that we leave early Monday morning for Janja in the Northern Province near the Rwanda/Uganda border where the camp will be held.  Good news is that the Embassy will send a driver to Janja with our equipment as soon as it is liberated from customs.  We look forward to seeing the remainder of our equipment soon.

Here's part of the team as we head to the Embassy.  No pictures of the Embassy because our electronics equipment were held at the front gate while we were on premises.

Visit to the kLab in Kigali

Friday morning Anna, Celeste, Emily, Laurie, and Louise met Jovani, Managing Director of the kLab,  and Yves, founder of CEO ELE Rwanda, at the kLab.  The lab was buzzing with young entrepreneurs working in small groups both inside and the outside on the patio.  We enjoyed a nice morning snack provided by the kLab Cafe and spent an hour or so with Jovani and Yves, learning how kLab is facilitating the Rwandan youth to start up small businesses based on IT.  

Jovani in the kLab Cafe

Young Entrepreneurs Working in the kLab

Jovani had lined up five kLab teams for a “Speed Geek” session.  I think the “Speed” in “Speed Geek” was supposed to mean just that—maybe 10 minutes for each talk.  But we couldn’t cut short the impressive presentations and then had many questions for the presenters ourselves.  All told, we probably spent 4 hours in the kLab.

Some of the kLab members who we met:

Pascal has a Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology from University of Rwanda.  His team is developing  an e-learning, e-curriculum and e-mentoring network specifically focused at connecting people in rural communities to resources.  They are creating an expert system that can recommend skilled resources to people based upon what they are trying to accomplish or common interest.  They have tutorials available on their website already as well as 71,000 members following them.  Currently they are improving the user interface and website usability.

Shikami  is a current student at the University of Rwanda.  His team is developing an agricultural application that will allow farmers to log their costs and activities in the field, and push information information about current market prices and preferred timing for agricultural milestones.    The tool will be free for farmers.  They intend to sell data gathered about the farming activities in different regions to businesses.

Pascal and Shikami Describe Their Projects

Eric, Abraham, Patrick just graduated from Secondary School and have already created a startup that is well on its way.  This team has developed a prototype web app, called Kadibra, for use in booking accommodations in the region.  Their app is unique in comparing detailed information about hotels in Rwanda and helping the visitor make an informed choice by showing the comparison side-by-side.  Their motto, “SSS,” stands get started early, start small, and design it to be simple for the user.  Visitors can book their room directly from Kadibra.

Eric, Abraham, and Patrick Meet with MSU Visitors

Cady’s project, Empowered Internet, is about increasing access and content quality of the internet to Rwandan communities. Her project is in the testing phase. In partnership with Google, she and her 8 co-workers take portable internet cafes to beaches and markets—anywhere that people gather. Cady is a graduate of the University of Rwanda with degree in Computer Science.  When asked how she became interested in studying computing, she replied that movies featuring technology captured her imagination. A couple of her favorites: iRobot and Men in Black." 

Cady Meets with MSU Visitors

Jean and his team of 5 colleagues have launched a Software Development Co called Torque.  Their company supports running a wholesale distribution system.  Their clients—currently drinking and telecommunication companies—use Torque to record sales transactions, generate financial reports, keep an eye on inventory at multiple locations, and make informed decisions about when to order new inventory.  They maintain a close relationship with their clients through both personal contact and an automated feedback system.  Wholesale distributers use their app as a service.     

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Rwandan Youth and Business Excellence Awards

On Thursday, July 24th, our team was honored to be special guests at Rwanda's inaugural gala awards night for young entrepreneurs.  We donned our finest threads and enjoyed the ceremony honoring young people doing amazing things for Rwanda and the East Africa region.

Lunch at Healthy Me

A short walk from the PC Headquarters, we enjoyed lunch at Healthy Me.

And a bit wiser, this time we entered through the back gate for easy passage between the Park View and Peace Corps Headquarters.

First Face-to-Face Meeting of the TechKobwa Team

After collaborating remotely for over a year on organization, logistics, and the TechKobwa curriculum, we finally met (most of) the TechKobwa Peace Corps Team in person on Thursday morning.  The TechKobwa PC Team included Elisabeth Turner, Liz Stuhr, Ryan Stefani,  and Hannah Lam.  Lauren Wright had to miss because of a time conflict with another meeting.

Funny story: Without a clue where we were in relation to Peace Corps Headquarters, we paid 10000 RWF for two cabs to take us there.  We were surprised by the length of the trip--maybe 1/2 mile--up a hill and 3/4 around a long block.  Elisabeth greeted us at the front entrance, where we exchanged passports for badges.  Many murakoze cyane's later (practicing our "thank you very much"s on amused security guards), Elisabeth led us down a hefty hill to a back building in the compound and up a few flights of stairs.  When we looked out the window of our meeting room, we saw the Park View Apart.-Hotel, not a stone's throw away.  So much for a group of technical engineers thinking to bring up Google maps before planning a trip!   The back entrance to PC Headquarters is at the entrance to the drive for the hotel.  Live and learn.

It was a  full day of planning.  We walked through the teacher training schedule followed by the camper schedule, vetted teaching materials, checked what was printed and what still needed to be printed, discussed assignment of people to lessons and lessons to rooms, made plans for transportations of people and materials, etc. 

View of Kigali from out the back window of the meeting room:

Day with Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV)

James Holly Jr. and myself volunteered to assist with gathering materials for the Techkowba Camp with the Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV). We started the day at Rz Manna, a bakery that sells delicious waffles and has an awesome WiFi connection.

After breakfast, we headed toward the city center. As we waited for the taxi bus to come, Liz, a PCV, was able to get someone to graciously drop us off into town for FREE! We started off to the Supermarket together to get sports balls, decorations, markers and other material for the camp. We found a place that had reasonable African fabric and were able to purchase some for the campers. Then we decided it would be best if we merged off into three different groups. The first group had Liz and James, and they were tasked with picking up the t-shirts for the campers. The second group was Elisabeth and Hanna and the third group was Ryan, Lauren and me. My group had to get toilet paper, soap, and brown paper bags for the campers, which we did by the way, and was able to get everything with our allocated budget. Once everyone collected their assigned materials, we met at the city center. The city center was like a huge mall, that had stores, a movie theater and a food court, which is where we decided to go eat. I shared a chicken barbeque pizza with Liz and Elisabeth and it was delicious!

Lauren offered to take me the market to get souvenoirs for my family, so I jumped on the opportunity and had an amazing time. We ended up taking a taxi bus which was only 200 RWF(~ 30 cents USD) each way.

By the time I got back to the hotel, it was time for dinner. We decided to go to Lalibela, an Ethiopian buffet, where we met Ken and Alline. The walk to and from the restaurant was 8.6 km, so I definitely got a great workout!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Visit to CMU ICT Center of Excellence in Rwanda

We were greeted upon arrival by Dr. Hedda R. Schmidtke, head of the CMU ICT Center of Excellence in Rwanda (CMU-R). She explained that CMU-R opened in 2012 and currently offers two graduate degree programs: Masters of Science in Information Technology and Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering.  On this particular morning, the Center was buzzing with excitement as they were preparing for their first commencement to take place the next day.  Dr. Schmidtke also presented her vision for a Mobility Research Center for Africa.  A new focus for the ICT Center, this program will leverage the on-going investment that the Rwandan government is putting into networking infrastructure throughout the country.  We in turn shared with Dr. Schmidtke the vision of TechKobwa for building capacity in Rwanda by inspiring girls to explore opportunities in ICT.

Settling into Kigali

The TechKobwa team from the US arrived over the course of two days.  The team included Louise Hemond-Wilson and Celest Metuassalol from IBM; Laurie Dillon, Blair Fleet, James Holly Jr, and Emily Wilson from MSU; and Anna Jarman from Carlton College.

All were greeted by drivers from the Park View Apart-Hotel.  On Tuesday night, with all of us assembled, we enjoyed a late meal in the hotel restaurant.  This experience provided us our first lesson about life in Kigali: things move a bit more slowly than we are accustomed to.  But the food and staff were great.   And the delay kept those of us who just arrived awake until a respectable hour, after which we collapsed for a well-deserved night's sleep.

The next morning, we found that we had landed in a lovely location.  We also met a very friendly staff as we gathered for the drive to our first appointment: Carnegie Mellon University's ICT Center of Excellence in Rwanda.