Two members of the University of Pennsylvania Athletic Department traveled to Central Africa on Tuesday, May 17 to participate in the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s (SEAS) Rwanda Gashora Program.Erica Higaof the women’s soccer team, along with the Kenneth L. Gross Head Coach of Volleyball,Kerry Major Carr, will join about 10-15 Penn students and faculty making the trip to the Gashora Girls Academy in Rwanda to explore the use of solar energy and information communication technology (ICT) in their community.
The SEAS course in Rwanda is part of the Penn Global Seminar program, a pilot initiative that adds an overseas field site component to a seminar course and allowing for an intensive learning experience at Penn and abroad.
Coach Carr is chronicling the journey with a daily blog
Final Day: Final Thoughts and That Elusive Hippo
The final event was an International Idol talent show where we put on acts with the Gashora girls in the community center. It was so much fun and ended in a final dance party. Saying goodbye to these Gashora girls that let us into their lives, culture and hearts for the past two weeks was very hard. Hugs and tears were shared by all. Ester, one of the of the brightest shining lights at the GGAST Academy that always had a smile on her face, gave me a picture she drew entitled "Thinking and Writing". Gretta, the first girl I met who led me on the tour of the school and who helped me navigate the crazy market place in Kigali, told me to please come back next year. I told her to study hard so she could attend Penn! Norah couldn’t stop hugging us. The two volleyball captains promised me they would practice often, so they could show me much improvement when I came back.
As I was talking to a man on my 30-hour journey back home (through Kigali, then Entebbe, then Doha, Quatar, with an unexpected side trip through London) he showed me the pictures of the safari he went on, and all the animals he saw, such as giraffes, elephants, gazelles, and the elusive hippos I looked for every day and never saw. He asked me for my pictures, and as I shared them, I realized that all my pictures were of people, not animals, and I described the Rwandan culture in a way that he hadn't seen on his safari from his jeep. While teaching girls about engineering, solar, water purification, internet, and of course, volleyball, we got an experience of a lifetime...for two weeks, we lived with the Rwandans and shared our knowledge with girls that will be making Rwanda a better country in the near future. I'll take that experience over a photo of a hippo any day.
*This amazing trip was incredible because of the very special people on our team pictured below: Akudo, for her wonderful laugh and perspective, and for being a great assistant volleyball coach; Alex, for your tech savvy knowledge, as well as your desire to always be on time; Sylvester, the southern gentleman who somehow ended up on every project AND named MVP of the talent show; Daniel for your quiet, insightful intelligence and safe water patrol; Will, our team leader, who had the best citrus Fanta games; Shiva, who was a good sport about everything, as well as the best dance moves the Gashora girls had ever seen; Riad, who brought international experience and connections with everything in the world; Professor Jorge Santiago, my 6 a.m. bird-watching partner who made electrical engineering explainable; Gabby, for keeping it real-ALWAYS; Cathy, who quietly worked everything out behind the scenes, including African dancing; Kevine, who explained everything about Rwanda, Gashora Academy, and life to me, as well as to everyone else on this trip and in the country; and finally to Erica, who not only brought light to the campus, but to everyone who came to play volleyball—you were the best coach and teammate ever!
This trip would not have been possible without these two fearless leaders pictured below, Professor Gerri Light, who organized and guided us from start to finish, and also is an expert at herding cats, goats, and cattle; and Michael, the soft-spoken Rwandan native who was our Chief Engineer for everything from volleyball poles to light poles as well as tour guide, interpreter, and most of all, great FRIEND.
One final shout out to this man, below, Dr. Ocek Eke, for starting the wheels turning for me to join on this trip, and being one of the most passionate people I have ever met. Keep inspiring all of us to live better, laugh louder, think smarter, work harder, demand the best, always be on time, and most of all…eat LOCAL CHICKEN!
Day 10: Umuganda - Day of Community Service
In Rwanda, the last Saturday morning of every month is reserved for mandatory community service, called “Umuganda”. No stores are open from 8 a.m. – 11 a.m., and the entire community goes out and works on a project together. We were lucky to take part in this important cultural ritual this past Saturday.
We began by meeting at the town hall and being led down a small dirt road behind a corn field to what looked like a partial road by a graveyard. Then the townspeople came out to join us, bringing an assortment of tools, such as machetes, hoes, and shovels. We figured out that we were all going to clear the road of weeds, and also chop down some of the growth near the graves. It was amazing how much we got done in a short time with the whole village helping!
Afterwards, the Sector Leader spoke in Kiyarwanda to the whole town about what the Penn Engineering team was doing at the Health Clinic with the water project for the community, and how thankful he was that we were there helping. The Gashora Academy Girls who were there helped translate for us. He hoped we would come back again next year. We got to speak and let them know that we were thankful for the chance to get to know such wonderful people here in this country, as they definitely have a place in our hearts.
Later that afternoon, we went to the Gashora Village to install our last solar light at the basket shop. I brought the rest of my kids' Penn Athletics track t-shirts and Penn wrestling shorts to give to the widows with children who support themselves through this co-op. Faite, a three-year old girl wouldn't leave our side. Another little girl with a shaved head held my hand the whole time and then her mother arrived and she introduced us. Next thing I know she is handing her kids baskets and saying, "Murakoze", the Kinyarwanda word for "thank you.” The exchange was so thoughtful, and I couldn't help to think what strong, beautiful women they were, what they had endured, and how well they were surviving.
Day 9:Gashora Primary Clinic and Selfies!
Today was my final clinic at the last elementary school, Gashora Primary school, while the Penn team installed the Internet-in-a-Box. This school already had a net and poles up, and when we arrived there were some older kids already playing volleyball. I walked over and as usual, hundreds of kids came pouring out of classrooms to surround us out of curiosity. We pulled some volleyballs and soccer balls out of the bag and started playing.
Because there are so many kids around me, pushing and shoving (thank goodness I'm tall!), the only thing I can show them at first is some basic moves like how to hold your hands for the forearm pass, and how to set. Then toss the ball into the crowd while they try to pass it back to me. It's a little like watching a beach ball put on top of a crowd at a concert. After everyone has touched the ball, it becomes a little easier to spread them out and get them in lines. The Kinyarwanda name for line, “umurongo”, quickly became my most frequently used foreign language word of the day.
The teachers whistled but the 6th graders were allowed to stay. Now with a much more manageable size of around 50, I decided to try a hitting line. One boy, Sevone, kept coming into the front of the line again and again-he also ran after the ball and retrieved it after every hit to make sure some other kids didn't steal the ball and run away with it. I could tell he was the one in charge, telling everyone to keep in line and listen to me.
I called Sevone up and told everybody he was the "setter" and instead of me tossing the ball up, Sevone was going to "set" it to them. I knew he didn't have much control yet, so I just put the ball in his hands on his forehead and showed him how to push it up in the air for a perfect set. I swear he grew two inches as he stood tall at the net with his chest proudly out, telling everyone to stay in line and hit this ball. I stepped back to watch and take a picture as my new "assistant coach" ran the rest of the drill.
A small short court game started with the other ball at the other end of the net, but Sevone's hitting line was so popular, he kept doing it for the rest of the clinic.
The Penn internet team finished and we collected up our belongings to leave. We passed by the nursery classroom, and all the little ones came out to sing us a song. They then mugged for my camera, because they LOVE seeing themselves on the screen after you take a picture. Selfies, all around!
Sevone followed me to the van where I was able to smuggle him a Penn kids’ tee shirt, knowing if anyone saw, a riot would break out. He smiled so big and hugged me hard as we said goodbye. These kids have so much love in their heart, it hurts to leave them.
We stopped back at the Mwendo Primary School on the way back to see how our internet was performing, and I got to check how our Penn red and blue poles and net were surviving. As we pulled up, I could see that some of the older boys (and two girls) were playing a game. With pride, I watched and took a couple more pictures, while occasionally helping them with their new overhand serve.
We returned to the Gashora Girls Academy campus for dinner. After dinner, we told the girls we were going to turn off all the classroom lights to take pictures of the new solar lights in action. Time to take more selfies!!!
Day 8: Volleyball, Volleyball Everywhere!
As our solar light project is basically on autopilot with just the installation of the poles, we were ready to focus more on the internet, volleyball, and soccer (futbol) in the primary schools.
In the morning, while the Internet group worked on documentation for One Note for the teachers, I took a small group with me to the primary and secondary school of Dhero. This school is home to more than 1,800 students, and their primary school is so big, that they split the day into two six-hour sessions of morning and afternoon.
When we first arrived, they had only one pole made out of a tree, and on the other side just a hole where the other pole should be. We asked if they had a pole and they ran around to find it, coming up with another skinny tree with nails bent over to act as hooks for the net--it worked perfectly! We brought out our net and set it up…beautiful!
This was by far the most organized of the three schools we visited. Even though we had 15 minutes of every kid in the school running to the volleyball court to see what we were about—when the teachers whistled—the kids went back to class. I did notice that not many girls were brave enough to come over to us.
I was told the volleyball team really was excited to come out and meet me. Then the boys’ volleyball team came out dressed in their uniforms. Apparently the girls don't play volleyball at this school. I watched them play for a bit and they were very good--a little unorthodox in their techniques and some still served underhanded, but they had a setter, and two blockers and were very strong, tall and athletic. This was going to be fun!
I talked to the teacher/coach about helping them with the overhand serve and the jump serve, as well their footwork for the attack. He was skeptical that I could teach them anything because he thought they were already "very good" but I managed to convince him.
We first warmed up with the overhand serve. They learned that easily so I took the more advanced boys over to try the jump serve which they loved. The boys then had a great time with attack lines and laughed when I grunted-demonstrating the powerful way to hit harder using the whole body. They then played a match and the whole school came out to watch, as the score was put up on a giant chalkboard they rolled out from one of the classrooms.
Meanwhile, Erica took a group over to the open area to play soccer, and by the end of the clinic, she had a boy proposing marriage to her!
The biggest problem always comes when we have to leave them. This time the principal saw we were getting ready to leave and asked if we could come to the staff room and meet with the teachers and the boys’ team. Once we were in there he wanted to thank us and give us Fanta orange sodas. In this culture it is considered rude to not accept a drink, so we stayed. He wanted us to talk to the boys about Penn, and we answered their questions as we drank the sodas. It was good to tell them what we were doing in the community and they wanted to help. We then spent the rest of the time taking pictures with the boys and the teachers. We were late getting back for lunch, but it was worth it!
Back at the Gashora Girls academy, the others went to work on showing the teachers the One Note lesson plans. In the late afternoon, we had a dual sports clinic with soccer and volleyball during their Sports Time again. I went back to the hotel more tired tonight than ever and slept well under my mosquito net.
Day 7 (Tuesday):Projects in high gear and GGAST Sports Day!
Today, we returned to the Gashora Girls High School. The weather here is picture-perfect, around 75 degrees in the morning, perhaps a little warmer up to 85-90 if you are under the afternoon's sun. The rainy season has just completed so everything is a lush green—not at all what I expected for Africa. Although a large body of water is close by, it has to be transported to houses by large yellow watering cans every morning and every night. There are plenty of mosquitoes around, but I have enough chemicals on to ward off a mosquito within five feet of me. I might even scare off a hippo bite (if I could ever find one!).
First thing we did was meet in the cafeteria to talk about where we are with completing our projects before we leave in four days. One of the great things about this class, is that all the projects had a detailed plan based on certain assumptions, but once we got here, we found different situations than what we expected. We ran into supply problems when some of our equipment was lost in transit or didn't clear customs in a timely manner. We also ran into different situations than what we thought existed, such as the lake being higher from the heavier rainy system for the placement of our pump for the health clinic, as well as the price of the pipes being over our budget.
For the solar lights project at the Gashora girls school, the simplistic problem of putting up the lights on poles was easy to diagram in a Penn classroom, but logistically difficult when it came to where the solar panels had to be placed in order to get maximum light, as well as the type of poles that had the correct diameter to attach the lights. A couple of welding projects later, that problem was solved, but now put us over budget, as well as behind our timeline for getting the lights up by the time we have to leave on Saturday.
The internet problem/solutions ebbed and flowed as well. Once we found out that there was no electricity at one of the primary elementary schools, it was a highly debated topic as to whether or not we should continue that project and include an solar electrical solution (do we have time or money or equipment?) or we do divert those supplies to a school that is in a better situation electrically, but might need it less. These real life project debates are such valuable lessons for all of us to learn, both the students and myself!
In keeping with the primary goal of sustainability, Professor Jorge Santiago explained very thoroughly to some of the Gashora girls how a solar water filtration system works. The one we brought with us is actually a Penn Engineering major's Senior Design project. The Penn group is not sure if we can actually set it up at a village school that needs water, or it would be better off at GGAST where the girls could learn how to maintain it first, and then perhaps they could set it up in the community and maintain it. It doesn't do anyone a service if we set up something that doesn't get maintained and breaks down after a couple of months, so there is a lot to think about and still discuss. Professor Gerri Light and Dr. Osek Eke do a great job of giving the students ownership in these decisions, as well as guiding them to consider options they might not have considered. But for the most part, this is part of what makes Global Service at Penn so empowering!
Following Professor Santiago's model, Erica did her own class with the Gashora girls on how the solar lights worked. She was really great in answering all their questions and explaining it in a way all the girls, including me, could understand.
Finally 4 p.m. came around, and it was time for sports day! Our Gashora girls were excited to have a real match today after Sunday's clinic. It was supposed to be against the Penn Engineers but after seeing how many kids came out today to play we decided to switch it to all Gashora girls so we could have 4 teams playing. I introduced the concept of an International 4-2, with two designated setters and they liked it. Sometimes they forgot how to make their switches to the setting position but for the most part we introduced them to a modern system.
Their uniforms did not have numbers, and they said they bought them at the flea market. They borrowed some Penn Volleyball uniforms, and now with numbers and positions, we were ready to roll. The girls who were on the team were definitely picking it up fast, and the girls who decided to join us for the clinic, now might be taking up volleyball as their favorite sport. After the girls went to dinner the faculty and some of the Penn Engineering students stayed with Erica and I, playing until dark. After the great exercise break, we joined the girls for dinner in the cafeteria, and then went back to the classrooms to debate and decide our strategies with the projects for the next day.
Day 6 (Monday)
Today’s blog is about the Rwanda genocide in 1994. Although this was really hard to write about, it is still important to convey what I learned on this trip so that I participate in it never happening again...here or anywhere else. The horror that happened here wasn't in any of my history books, because it happened in present day--unfathomable to me to understand how senseless killings can happen in today's modern society.
Over one million people were murdered in 100 days, beginning in April of 1994. We went to two memorials, the local one in Gashora and the Kigali Memorial in the big city. Both had a sobering impact on everyone in the group, but especially when we were with our Gashora girls in Kigali today.
The local Gashora memorial contained the skulls, bones and bodies of the victims, stacked up so high. The clothes that the dead had been wearing when killed were also stacked high because that's the only way that families could identify their loved ones bodies.
The Kigali museum went through the history of the Rwanda genocide and how such an atrocity could have occurred. It also showed collections of other genocides that have happened in history. We saw skulls of over 250,000 men, women and children who were buried at the memorials. We saw videos from survivors about what happened to them, how they survived, and the horrors they saw of their children, parents, sisters or brothers killed in tortuous ways in front of them. I couldn't make it through the "Children's Room" which had pictures of children, their favorite sport or food, and how they were unmercifully killed. Near the end we also saw videos of people still suffering the traumatic effects today. At the very end we went into a Peace room, where people talked about all the work and help Rwandans still need and also had a powerful message of the future, and how we can never let senseless killings happen here or anywhere else in the world.
As Erica and I talked about how or even if we should blog about this day, we both agreed that we needed to try to convey the message that Rwandans want people to know—that this chain of events could have been stopped, and we must learn from this so that it never, ever, happens again.
Day 5 (Sunday): Day of reflection, inspiration and exploration
Sunday we took a break from our projects to attend the church services at the Gashora Boarding school, and take a field trip to go eat lunch in a small town outside of Gashora, called Nyamata. Since there were two services, I decided to go to the later one, and explore the nearby lake, Lake Miravi.
The hotel has a pretty old wooden boat, but the groundskeeper told me that he would take Akudo and I out in it for 10,000 Rwandan francs (about $8). I couldn't resist the chance to be on the water or possibly see a hippo or crocodile! So we went with three local men. They laughed when we asked about seeing hippos, saying they were too far up river since the lake was high. But they did take us up to see the monkeys, who we could catch glimpses of as they swung from tree to tree (too fast for my camera). We got out and chased them around, as they were elusively avoiding the cameras, and one even dropped in the water to avoid being seen. You'll just have to trust me that they were there.
Back at Gashora we sat in a church service filled with lots of music, clapping and singing, as well as some inspiring testimonials that the girls loved.
Next, we traveled to Nyamata, where we saw the new construction that has been built since the fires flattened everything during the genocide in 1994. New hotels and schools had been built and it once again was a thriving city. On the way back we stopped at the Gashora Basket Shop Co-operative with women out front of a small building, hand-weaving some of the most beautiful baskets you have ever seen in multi-colored geometric designs.
After we bought some baskets, one of the women sat down and showed us how she weaved one of the baskets, taking over a day to complete one small basket or trivet. Then, through a translator she thanked us for coming. She explained that there were 101 women that weaved these baskets we had just bought and they take turn running the store. The women were widows with many children to feed, and our money helped everyone in the community survive.
Some of the children hanging around the store were so curious about us, and between the little English they knew and the few words and phrases we had been practicing we learned their names and grades. They kept asking for "Pen? Paper?" as pen and paper are very scarce around here. Luckily, Penn Athletics had given me a box of "Make an Impact" pens and they were very excited and thankful!
Since there wouldn't be any kids at the primary school today, I set up a volleyball clinic at the Gashora School with the high school team in the afternoon. I had an opportunity to talk to the captains last night about their team and what level I can expect. The girls said they are very good, and recently beat another high school in a competition. So what is "very good" in Rwanda? They do play all positions, but have three setters...I think they are running a 4-2 (or would that be 4-3) because the setter sets out of the back row. She said they do play with a Libero, although I'm not sure if she wears a different colored jersey, since they don't have uniforms. Since their courts are all outside, lined with bricks, and they don't have uniforms with numbers, that may not be an issue. I did find out that they serve primarily underhand, and I assured them that I could show them how to serve overhand pretty easily (especially when they know and like physics, because I can explain the forces used that are not all in the upper arm!)
But first there was work to do...the Penn and Hong Kong Poly U team has a goal of getting done the smaller projects, such as updating the One Laptop Per Child (OLPs), which were in serious need of a software upgrade. Professor Gerry Light and Professor/House Dean Jorge Santiago are at their best in starting the day organizing the different groups, electronics, goals and timeline for the day.
These fearless leaders are extremely patient in allowing the students to come up with solutions, and adjusting timelines based finding out that what we thought was here is not quite what we had imagined (Like the bricks as lines for me!). Adaptability in the real world is the lifelong lesson we are all learning here--mainly through the tutorials of Prof. Light and Prof. Santiago.
The bigger project of solar lights around the campus for the girls also had to go through a problem-solving moment, when the teachers who live at the school asked where the lights were being put near their dorms. The team had not known about the other dorms. Apparently there are hissing cobras around their houses at night, which they would like very much to see, to avoid! Who knew?
Quickly the team came up with a different configuration of the lights with some of the extra lights that Erica had brought along, and off they went to look for more placement of the holes, as the concrete is arriving this morning (probably not by concrete truck, which I quickly learned that no tractors or trucks do the heavy work here--many villagers get together to carry, haul, or dig things that we use machines for!). The solar batteries went up on the roof this morning to start collecting sunlight to test all the lights:
Afternoon of Day 4
The clinic was supposed to start at 4 p.m., but you quickly learn over here that time is more of an floating concept, not a hard fact. I used the time to walk around and improve the court with Michael, Gashora's caretaker (and our guide for the week!). The Gashora outside court was not lined with bricks, but it was lined with wooden boards (half-rotted now) and with giant rusty metal rods to hold the boards into the ground. Now these rusty spikes were sticking up threatening to impale any player who tripped over them serving or approaching to hit. We hammered the pegs down into the hard ground and removed any rotted boards. We tried to smooth out the ground so there wasn't huge drop off between the court and outside the court -- my guess is they don't pursue many balls off the court!
Finally around 4:30, a couple of girls showed up, so I started off teaching the overhand serve since they had only served underhand before. About eight more girls arrived and we partnered up. These girls are Rwanda's best and brightest, so I explained the concept of core strength as a physics lesson in helping them serve, and they loved it! By their second try, they were all seeing overhand...the quickest learners I have ever coached!
Soon more girls showed up, along with some Penn students, a Hong Kong group leader who played volleyball, and even some faculty. We had about 30 people and then we quickly taught the forearm pass, set and ended in hitting lines. We then played 3 v. 3 short court queen of the court, with the ones coming on called princesses and some faculty Kings.
Once they got the concept down of pass, set, hit, we played 6 v. 6, still Queen-style because we had so many people that we had to wave a whole other team on every time they scored. Finally we added the overhand serve, and it was real volleyball. High fives were a new concept that they quickly adapted after I showed them, and they already had plenty of special cheers, as every Gashora girls knows:
"Rise up!" they cheered…And they didn't stop until the sun went down!
We went to the primary school, Mwendo -- a name I can’t pronounce, much less try to spell! A main objective for me today was to put up the net at the K-8 school!
I met with one of the teachers, along with a Gashora girl, Arlette, (all of the girls at Gashora speak English as well as their native language) to help me translate. Luckily, I found the right person who knows about the sports equipment.
As I was talking with him about the net system, we were suddenly overcome by more than 100 school children pushing and shoving their way around me to find out what gifts I had for them. I made the mistake of showing them a volleyball, and at that point, it was a mob of people jumping up toward me to grab the ball. I tried to tell them I had more balls so they all could play, which resulted in the rest of themgrabbing open the bag, stealing all the volleyballs, soccer, and tennis balls and running off with them! Oops!
I next focused on jury-rigging the net, silently thankful for my assistant coach, Seth, who warned me to bring plenty of carabineers and bungee cords. Meanwhile, the teachers chased down the ball bandits, swatting them away from me with sticks while I finished the net.
They crowded around me again so I took advantage of the spotlight to show them three moves in volleyball: the forearm pass, the set, and the arm motion of hitting a ball. Then I slowly removed one ball and backed toward the net. Usually I run a volleyball clinic with many balls for each kid, but after seeing their first reaction, I thought against that idea!
I started with one ball and went back to the service line. Everyone was fascinated with the overhead serve, but after many minutes of fighting to get the ball back I organized a line of kids where they "bumped" the ball up to me, I set it and then they ran up and hit it. Slowly we added a teacher to set and I started another line on the other side of the net with a second ball. Soon we were set up to play 3 v. 3 short court. But since there were so many people standing and watching, I grabbed a ball and started a 10 v. 1 pepper drill, teaching them to say "mine" when the ball came near them and they either passed or set the ball back to me. Thankfully Erica arrived from her computer project with a soccer ball to distract a small group of kids away from the volleyball court.
And then it was time to go...the kids wanted us to stay but we had to get back to the Gashora School for our solar project and lunch.
We told them we would be back tomorrow with more balls and another clinic. They looked as if they didn't believe me, following us back to the van and refusing to go back to their classes.
I handed the teacher a couple more volleyballs and soccer balls for him to keep in his sports equipment closet. He was so grateful that he got to keep the balls!
When we got back to the Gashora Girls school we hung out with some of the girls, getting to know them personally while some of our computer science engineers worked on upgrading the RACHEL, an educational "intranet" which allows access to a variety of math and Wikipedia sources to every laptop without actually having to access the Internet every time. And trust me, even when you can find Internet around here, the chances of it being too weak or you getting booted off of it halfway through a text or email is pretty certain.
The big buzz around the campus was the “Multicultural Girl Up! Event Night” coming up that evening and one of the girls, Yvette, who was organizing the group presentations, asked us to participate.
A mix between a dance competition and a talent show, the atmosphere was electrifying at dinner as the girls discussed and practiced their culture. Another girl, Nora, explained to me that the Gashora STEM school was more than just a science and math, as it was also the mission of their school to educate the whole girl, by encouraging clubs, athletics, confidence in speaking, and sisterhood bonds that I found very similar to our Penn volleyball team’s chemistry with each other. Although they competed in essay contests, grades, scores, debate teams, etc, they always supported each other with great spirit because they know that somehow they helped that girls win. They cheered with pride when they found out one of the girls had won their country's essay contest even though the next two runner-ups were also Gashora girls!
We had a short presentation from Solar Sam, the person we purchased the solar lights from for the Gashora light project. Sam came to Rwanda about three years ago and saw a huge need for solar power at the health clinics and schools. Now an eight-person company, they found a way to make solar power much more efficient and last longer by helping their customers monitor their use through a new software. The best part was when they announced they were going to be hiring a few Gashora girls as interns during their 'gap' year between high school and college!
After unloading boxes of lights, the electrical engineers went to work discussing the best places to put the holes in the ground and arranging the concrete to be poured from local workers. Meanwhile the agricultural club had a special treat of homemade ice cream for sale, and it had a really unique creaminess to it-very rich!
Dinner was a local flavor with the leaves of a potato-type plant cooked like spinach soup over rice with a lump of raw dough called casala, dipped in a red sauce. Kevine explained that it's filling base was sometimes all families had to eat with different flavored sauces. Although it didn't look very appetizing we enjoyed the unique flavor and textures!
After dinner we worked more on updating the RACHEL while some got put into groups if they wanted to join the girls for the multicultural event.
The acts were amazing from a fashion show to a Nigerian wedding to a hip-hop music video impression. The Hong Kong students sang a celebratory song. Some students in our group shocked us by getting up and performing Indian and Lebanese dances. Even Erica celebrated her Japanese heritage by joining a group's karate dance!
After enduring a 23-hour plane ride, our group arrived in the big city of Kigali! We watched a tearful reunion with the family of one of the girls in our Penn Engineering group, Kevine, who is from Kivali and also a 2014 graduate of the Gashora School for girls. It's amazing to think that some of the Penn students only see their families a few times during their college careers if they come from Africa.
A bus took us to the stores to get phone cards, exchange money, and buy bottles of water. Following a long bus ride to our hotel, we noticed the Kigali traffic jam consisting mainly of dirt bikes, their main taxi service here! Business men and women would hail one of the many "taxis", don an extra helmet, and hop on the back in skirts or business suits to weave in and out of the busy traffic. Other people walked on the side of the road, sometimes balancing water tanks or baskets of fruit on their heads as they walked.
We arrived at the hotel tired, but were then treated to a feast with soup, cucumber salad, spicy noodles, chicken, and beef. Although it was dark, I could already see that this was no normal hotel, with mosquito netting over the beds and bowls in the bottom of the "shower" which was there to conserve water.
Speaking of water, you can't drink or brush your teeth with the tap water because it comes from the lake and has deadly bacteria in it that can eat your liver (or something to that effect!). Bottled water for all of us!
Following a long day of travel, a nice night of sleep was needed although it was a little tough because of the geckos running all over the place, plus the time difference (six hours!). Finally the alarm and the birds went off at 5:45 a.m. and we met up at breakfast for another amazing meal.
The breakfast "porridge" that was served tasted like a very rich creamy oatmeal, plus vegetarian egg white omelets, mango, and sweet breads. Coffee and African Tea are also extremely popular especially when it is served with the hot milk. I wondered if it was goat or cow, since we saw so many of each being walked down the road on our way here. Maybe I don't really want to know! After breakfast, we met up with the group of Hong Kong Polytechnic University students, who are partnering with our group so we can do several projects both at the Gashora girls high school, as well as the primary school.
Once again we packed into a van/bus now with one flat tire and made it down the road to the school. Our purpose today was to visit the three sites of our projects and find out what adjustments needed to be made based on the situations we actually were in, versus what we were told. The three main projects are purifying water at the health clinic, solar lights for the pathways at the GGAST School, and power and Internet access for the primary school students and teachers.
The primary school (grades 1-6) was my favorite trip today! Our engineering project at this school involves power and Internet, as they have many computers for the kids (through the One Child One Computer program) but limited ways to use them. There are approximately 1,800 kids at this school with about 100 laptops. Even though this is the most important project for these kids, they were most excited to see that someone from Penn Athletics was here to bring them some fun stuff!
Not only are they in desperate need of a volleyball net, but they also need balls in all sports—with their favorites being volleyball, futbol (soccer) and handball—which used a very small ball they made out of rubber band. After assessing the situation of a missing net, the dirt court and the "lines" made of bricks, I definitely have my work cut out for me! Erica and I went to check out the soccer field and discovered the same phenomenon...bricks lined the fields...guess I won't be teaching any defensive diving maneuvers at my first clinic tomorrow!