My friends from Fletcher took off in all world directions. Here is an update on Eric. After spending the summer 2014 in Africa, he moved to Kigali after graduation.
A few months after graduating from Fletcher, I moved to Kigali, Rwanda to start a job with an NGO called Gardens for Health International (GHI). GHI works to eradicate childhood malnutrition by helping mothers grow vegetable gardens and learn about nutrition. While this is not my first time living in Africa, it is the most significant in that it’s a real, paying job, and it doesn’t come with an end date and flight home. This is a snapshot of my life six months in.
First things first: Rwanda is a nice, safe, and easy place to live. Perhaps you didn’t expect that? More than 20 years have passed since the genocide of 1994, and it has made impressive gains since then. Not only do I have running water and electricity, but within a 10-minute walk from my house in Kigali, there are two supermarkets, Italian, Chinese, and Thai restaurants, and an art gallery. The roads are mostly paved and in good shape, traffic is minimal, and I can safely walk around alone at night – all things I couldn’t have said about many of the western cities I’ve called home.
To be sure, my life in Rwanda comes with its idiosyncrasies. My office is located on a farm outside of the city, and my daily commute is on the back of a pickup truck. Routine activities such as taking the dog for a walk and grocery shopping involve dozens of children (and sometimes adults) unashamedly staring at me and exclaiming “muzungu!” (white person). My interaction with the children enrolled in GHI’s program usually has a 50/50 chance of leaving them speechless in awe or crying in fear.
Crying children aside, I love my job. Working for a small, mission-driven organization in Africa has given me professional opportunities I would never have had back home. My title is the Impact and Learning Manager, which means I use data to try and measure our social impact and help the organization to learn from and improve on what we do. I’ve only been here for six months, but in that time I’ve had the opportunity to design and roll-out a system of collecting data through mobile phones (a big change from staff filling out every survey by hand), lead trainings of 60 people, and help our staff gain new insights of our program’s successes and limitations.
My days are not spent out in the field, feeding malnourished babies or handing out seeds, but in my office, staring at spreadsheets. Not very glamorous, I know. But I can see the impact I’m having on the people around me, and through them, on the most vulnerable women and children in the country. Don’t get me wrong, I’m also motivated by many less-than-altruistic things – the country’s beautiful hills, the affordable lifestyle, the year-round access to delicious tropical fruits, and the sense of adventure, just to name a few. But in those moments when I find the absurdities of my life and the comforts of home making me question the path I’ve chosen, I can remind myself that in some small way, I’ve helped improve the lives of people much worse off than myself. And that’s something worth sticking around for.