Sunday, November 4, 2012

Rwanda, the best kept secret of Africa

I live in Rwanda since September 2011 and work as the Associate Director of Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda. The brand of CMU is attracting many visitors to our offices: academics, media people, investors, IT professionals, potential students,. etc. When I meet with them, they are eager to learn about Rwanda and the reasons why CMU decided to invest here. That last question often comes with some irony in the tone like "why the hell did you come to Rwanda!?". And that is OK, it reminds me of the reaction from my well educated neighbors in North Carolina when I told them we were moving to Rwanda. For most of these people the image of Rwanda is still that of the 1994 genocide and they have very little understanding of what is happening in the country. Rwanda is still the "best kept" secret of Africa, and that is unfortunate because what is happening here is unique in Africa's history. So every time I can change that view it makes my day.

Recently I received the visit of Lee Razo. Lee introduced himself first via email as "an IT professional with about 20 years in the industry in both the Silicon Valley and in Europe" He is, currently, with a business partner, looking into the possibility of doing business in East Africa.

I'm always open to those visits as I learn from them and I hope so do my visitors. This time Lee was nice enough to report our conversation in his blog "Exploring Business in Africa". He clearly has a better writing talent than me, that is why I'm happy to share his post here with you as it captures most of what we discussed about.

Now many may think that my opinion about Rwanda is not objective and that may be true as I live here and I enjoy it both for the quality of life but more because of the work I perform here that contributes to this country's development, even if it is in a small way.

Therefore I'd like to share here with you testimonials I collected from several CMU students coming to Rwanda for an internship in local businesses or to perform some community services.

1)    Vivian Cheung
"My name is Vivian Cheung, and I am Carnegie Mellon student in the Master of Information System Management program. I participated in the TCinGC (Technology consulting in the global community) program in the summer of 2012, and had the opportunity to travel to Rwanda to work for a local furniture manufacturing company as an IT consultant. I can say, with absolute certainty, that over the 10 weeks I spent there, I have gained more experience and knowledge than I could have ever gotten from any class or intern-ship.  Rwanda is nothing like I had imagined. It is safe, friendly, and full of opportunities for IT students. Relative to other developing countries, Rwandans enjoy a very comprehensive education and stable political system. This, coupled with the fact that Rwanda is a country that is still growing, provides the ideal conditions for start-up businesses to flourish in the country. Rwanda is a definitely the place to be for anyone who has ambition, vision and a dream for their future."
2)    Yikai Zhu
"I am Yikai Zhu, Master of Information Systems Management in Carnegie Mellon University. In the summer of 2012, I took CMU TCinGC program (Technology Consulting in Global Community) and had the chance to go to Rwanda for a 10-week technology consulting project there. In the ten weeks, I was really impressed by Rwanda. Rwanda is totally not like what I imagined before.  It is super clean and safe, and the people there are very very nice and hard-working. When doing the final J2EE development project, I often worked in CMU Rwanda campus till about 1 am and went back to my hotel. I felt it very very safe. I was  no longer worried about security issue like in the US, Australia or China. People there are quite nice and simple and honorable. When talking with my colleagues (local) there, I felt they cared about their family very much, had close relationship with their relatives and neighborhood, and they worked really hard to get a better life. I cannot feel that in the US. I like Rwanda and the people there and I will go back there someday in the future."
3)    Sara Faradji
"My experience working with students in Rwanda was absolutely incredible.  Before the initiative began, I was excited to take on a number of new opportunities: this was my first time to travel to Rwanda, assume the formal role of a teacher, and communicate with locals in a variety of languages.  I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Kigali, but I was immediately impressed by the warm welcome we received from the Rwandan people.  From the generous Pallottine priests who provided us with our lodging to the eager children we interacted with at St. Vincent Pallotti School, the caring individuals we met in Kigali are sure to be our lifelong friends.
I especially admired the St. Vincent students’ resiliency in quickly grasping key concepts and making the learning activities uniquely their own.  I taught the creative arts section of the program, which involved lessons in theater, drawing, and storytelling.  It brought me great pleasure to see the students share their creative talents and demonstrate their class presentation skills.  Through their detailed artworks, they taught me a considerable amount about Rwandan culture and society.  From bustling markets featuring the finest local plantains to elaborate musical concerts, the students illustrated and reenacted a series of fascinating scenes from their daily lives.  I will forever cherish these touching and enlightening moments spent with the wonderful people of Kigali.  I cannot wait to share their stories with my friends and colleagues in the United States, and I hope that I will have the opportunity to return to Rwanda in the future!"
4)    Nicole Ifill
"I spent three months living in Rwanda working on a consulting project with CMU and ASYV Youth Village. During the week I was in a rural village (at ASYV Youth Village)  and on the weekends in Kigali. This trip was my first to Africa, so I had no idea what to expect. On my first day, we went on a tour of Kigali and I was totally impressed by the cleanliness and order in the city. As we got to know Kigali better, we would travel and explore restaurants, markets and visit friends. I always felt safe in the city and found fun and interesting things to do like bowling, partying, attending sporting events and going to concerts. I was really amazed by Rwandese people since initially they seem a bit reserved, but they are some of the most friendly people I have met in my life. I felt very welcomed and I was invited to dinner with several of my co-workers and their friends.
I found that the most challenging thing was commuting from rural Rwanda to Kigail using public transport. But the good thing was that friends and co-workers would go out of their way to give us a ride. It was also a bit frustrating to have water, power and internet outages. It would not be more than a 3-4 hours, so I would always find something else to do instead of stressing myself out. I felt like have the outages really made me more patient coming from the US and returning to daily life."

In the future I will share testimonials from visiting investors.

Seeya later alligator...

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