Getting My Daily Fix of Inspiration by Living in Kigali

woman with a business in a market in rwanda thanks to micro lending

Every time I get into a conversation with anyone here in Kigali, I come away saying ‘wow’. I’m pretty sure every person I’ve spoken to so far has been supporting some sort of amazing cause or has started an organization of their own or are working in a job doing positive work for way less than they’d be able to earn at home. I have to say that I always feel a bit awkward when the ‘what are you doing here in Kigali?’ question comes up. My reply ‘um, I’m travelling in Africa and I stopped to, uh, work on my business building websites’ always sounds really lame in comparison.

One American girl I met is due to finish up her one year placement with World Teach in October and has decided to stick around afterward to work towards raising $60,000 to build a library in the rural community she had been working in. Another has started her own scholarship fund for Rwandan girls who otherwise couldn’t have afforded to go to school, raising money in her hometown in the US and also here in Kigali through some creative means. Then there’s the lady who works for As We Forgive (an NGO working towards reconciliation among victims and perpetrators of the genocide) seemingly in every possible role from public speaking to fund raising to training to organizing reconciliation workshops in the countryside. Or Meg, the Brit who started a school on her own that is currently educating 200 students who might otherwise not be able to go to school. Even my housemate, a former lawyer in the UK, is working as the manager of a school build for a non-profit agency when he could likely be back at home earning ten times the wage he’s currently on.

Then of course there are the countless Rwandans working hard at helping their own country. Jeanne (herself a victim of the genocide) started the Tubahumurize Association (I’m working on building them a website now) after a friend of hers was murdered by her husband. The centre holds counseling sessions for 300 women who are victims of domestic abuse, the genocide, rape, or have HIV (many suffer from more than one of these issues). It has grown to include classes on various subjects from economics to English to general health, a co-op producing quilts and necklaces, a sewing class for children who are heads of their household, a lunch program, and a community garden. This is a great cause aimed at helping some of the most vulnerable women in Rwanda (possibly the world) and I’m inspired by her efforts, despite all of the obstacles she faces in raising funds for her program.

Coming in direct contact with people working for so many great causes got me thinking about the way people donate money. I like to think that lots of people give to charity but I wonder how many put much thought into which charity they choose. My hunch is that most people give their money to the biggest players who probably pop into their head first when the time comes to make a donation. Often people are compelled to make charitable donations after major natural disasters and the Red Cross is where most of these funds go.

There are so many small organizations all over the world in desperate need of funds to run their programs. Donations to small organizations, I feel, go a lot farther with fewer admin fees and zero marketing budget to fund. I feel like if donors took some time to research where they spend their money, they could have more of an impact and could also even develop a personal relationship with the people running the program. Instead of your money going into a black hole of admin fees, your donation (or funds you raise) could feed 20 kids for a week, expand a micro-lending program to include more people, or even buy a new NGO a website. Spending your money on smaller-scale operations is more likely to result in tangible ‘this is where your money went’ results.

I’m curious about how you guys give. Do you research places to donate money or give to the major aid groups? Most of my charitable donations go either to friends doing fund raising (often running marathons for cancer charities although the charity is less important than supporting my friends) or to HODR because I know first-hand how the money is spent and how far it’ll go. So I’ve never taken an active role in searching out places to donate my money but I think I will in the future.

I’ve been here for about five weeks and I’m slowly getting involved in a few projects. I’m asked almost every day for advice on web stuff and I’ve been offered jobs weekly. I wish I could pop out WordPress sites without wanting to pull my hair out and chuck my computer in the toilet but, unfortunately, I find tweaking themes to be one of the most frustrating things of all time. I have, however, become a bit of a WordPress evangelist because of the ease of updating the site by people who might not know a thing about websites. I’m working at learning more about WordPress (at the risk of a wet laptop) but it’s a slow process. At any rate, it’s opened my eyes to how valuable WordPress design skills are and I want to keep learning. It also makes a great way to engage in a bit of location independent volunteering!

So far I’m really loving it here in Kigali. I admit that I’m trapped in the expat bubble, something I wanted to avoid. But I am getting a load of work done and still managing to get involved in some good causes so, for the moment, I’m ok with that (said as I order another iced mocha).

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