Rwanda is possibly not the first place that comes to mind is the top travel destination. It is tainted with the horrendous media images projected during the 1994 genocide. However, Rwanda today is far different from the shadows of its past. It is a safe African country that is easy to get around.
I decided to do a volunteer project in a developing country. After researching the Rwandan genocide, I decided that my next challenge should be to work with women survivors in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. I signed up for a gender-based violence project with the Global Volunteer Network. Six weeks later, I was heading to Rwanda, flying via Addis Ababa.
Volunteering in Rwanda
Volunteer tourism or ‘Voluntourism’ as it is often called, is definitely on the increase. I can see why. It is often too easy to travel through a country, enjoy the beautiful sites, and leave without really getting to know the people and the culture.
Volunteering can help you to get in a local people and leave you with a feeling that you really have tried to make a change in the world. My volunteer trip to Rwanda not only allowed me to have an impact on the lives of others, but it also changed me.
Gender Based Violence Project
The work I did on the ground in Rwanda as a gender based violence volunteer was far from what I expected it to be. When you work in a developing country, you need a great deal of initiative as it is often not very clear what needs to be done.
Many projects involved coaching women as entrepreneurs. Their craft skills were amazing. Part of my project was to put people in touch with the women to help them to sell the fair trade goods. I also spent a day in the health centre testing blood for HIV infection. As a qualified teacher I also found myself teaching English, Maths and Geography to a range of children from four years old through to 17.
What did I learn from Volunteering in Rwanda?
What did I learn during my volunteer project in Rwanda? I think that my most important lesson was that of sustainability. I often wanted to buy food and clothes for orphaned children. However, I was not allowed to do this, and had to abide by the regulations of the organisation. As a fully qualified teacher, education was where I felt that I could have the most impact.
The key is sustainability. Feeding children in the short term, or giving gifts as a quick fix will not change the future. I learnt that if you really want to make a difference in the world you need to be able to work long term with many agencies and within complex political situations.
Sadly, there is some corruption in the volunteer industry, and many ‘charities’ are unethical, or not doing what is best for the children in the long term. Many ‘voluntourism’ projects can actually be damaging more than helpful (I wrote about this extensively in my article ‘Should I pay to Volunteer‘). Make sure that you choose your project wisely.
Should I go to Rwanda to Travel or Volunteer?
Would I recommend Rwanda as a travel destination? Absolutely! Will wonder is a perfect country for both volunteers and backpackers alike. The rewards of doing a development project are immense, and give you a different perspective on Rwandan life. However, for the backpackers, there is a well of wildlife, culture and natural beauty to be explored.
If you get time, I highly recommend that you go trekking near Ruhengeri to say the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. You will need and gorilla permit to do this, so make sure that you book your gorilla trek in advance.
Have you ever been to Rwanda? Or maybe you have volunteered in a developing country? If so, please share your stories below.