Spotlight on Africa

Reflections from Rwanda

By Lincoln Edwards (NE)

What did you do over J-Term?
I traveled to Rwanda as part of the first ever African IXP. The purpose of the trip was to provide volunteer consulting for non-profits in Rwanda. My team of six HBS students, plus one local business school student, worked with a USAID-funded non-profit (SPREAD). SPREAD’s focus is to provide additional income to subsistence rural farmers through the production and exportation of Bird’s Eye Chili Peppers. In addition to our consulting work, we had some once-in-a-lifetime experiences. We had dinner with the United States ambassador, drank homemade sorghum beer from a communal cask, snapped pictures on safari, ran through the smog-filled streets of Kigali in our jeans for afternoon “sporting,” came face-to-face with a silverback gorilla and sat down to lunch with Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame.

What surprised you most?
The friendliness and positive attitudes of the Rwandans really surprised me. I suppose I almost expected people’s attitudes in a post-conflict country to be somber and reserved. The people of Rwanda were very open to discussing the tragedies of their past, but were also quick to point out the lessons they had learned and would pass on to future generations. While Rwanda will never forget the genocides of 1994, the people’s ability to move forward with hope and enthusiasm was astonishing and inspiring at the same time.

What was the highlight of your trip?
The highlight of the trip was our visit to the Humure village to see the various cooperatives run by the villagers. The village was filled with curious children who wanted to play and dance. We discovered that some of the children had never seen their own images when we showed them their pictures on our digital cameras. Seeing the expression on a child’s face viewing his own image for the first time was amazing. Before we left the village, my sectionmates Dan and Amy helped me teach some of the kids to play Rock-Paper-Scissors. It took a few minutes to overcome the language barrier, but eventually the concept translated (although it was challenging to explain why paper beats rock – that one never made sense to me either.

Reflections on Ethiopia
By Ari Medoff (ND) & Jevan Soo (NB)

What started in November with a fortuitous phone call to A Glimmer of Hope, a Texas-based NGO focused on integrated rural development projects in Ethiopia, ended with a January service trip to the heart of Burbax Kibele, an hour outside of Gondar, Ethiopia, by Land Cruiser. During our week-long service project, nine joint-degree HBS/HKS students and two partners conducted more than 150 surveys with subsistence farmers to understand local education, health and economic conditions. A Glimmer of Hope will use these baseline surveys to assess the impact of its development strategy over the medium- and long-term.ÿ

The group also spent another week touring sights such as Lalibella’s magnificent stone-hewn churches and meeting with the Clinton Foundation, Mother Teresa’s Mission and the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange in Addis Ababa.

What surprised you most?
The hours every day that the people of Burbax must spend fetching water, walking to and from school and seeking medical treatment for easily preventable diseases.

What was the highlight of your trip?
We developed close friendships with our translators, who were a dozen bright, young undergraduates in the Sociology Department at the University of Gondar. We shared all our meals together, visited their campus and dorms andÿpersevered in the field despite the long days and attacks by biting ants. While they were not entirely successful at teaching us the energetic and varied styles of Ethiopian dance, other activities such as soccer, debating American politics and singing along to Ray Charles were shared experiences. ÿ

It was difficult to leave knowing that this educated, relatively advantaged group still faces huge hurdles: post-graduate employment is largely limited to NGOs and the public sector, and the country’s continued development is far from certain. ÿ ÿ ÿ
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Reflections on Rwanda
by Zahara Kassam (NC)

What did you do over J-Term?
As a part of the Rwanda IXP, five HBS classmates and I worked with Karisimbi Business Partners, an organization which seeks to alleviate poverty in Rwanda by developing the management capacity of promising mid-sized ventures with untapped potential.ÿOne of Karisimbi Business Partner’s clients is Manumetal, a local furniture manufacturer who, until recently, has had a near monopoly in Rwanda.ÿHowever, an inflow of cheap Asian imports has forced Manumetal to revise its business strategy.ÿ Jennifer Kelm (OB), Amy Sennett (NE) and I joined together to help the company align its operational strategy with its new business approach.ÿOver five days, we toured Manumetal’s furniture manufacturing plant and helped the company brainstorm ways by which it could improve its process flow in the short-term. We also worked with Manumetal to design a future factory layout, evaluate its capital expenditure options and improve its supply chain and inventory management.ÿOverall, this was a fantastic opportunity to gain first-hand exposure to business in a post-conflict nation.ÿ

What surprised you most?
I left Rwanda inspired by how far the country has come since the tragic events of 1994.ÿ Rwanda is quickly developing, led by a president who is keen to encourage the spirit of entrepreneurship and help Rwanda transition from an agrarian-based economy to a knowledge-based one.ÿThe country is clean, safe, orderly and stable – and its citizens are incredibly warm-hearted.

What was the highlight of your trip?
Meeting President Kagame and spending time at a local village were the two highlights of my trip.ÿOver three hours, President Kagame answered our questions, shared his vision for Rwanda with us and joined us for lunch.ÿHe spoke passionately about his stance on foreign aid, what he thinks Rwanda’s competitive advantage is within the East African community and how he approaches foreign investment decisions. The other highlight was visiting a local village, where a group of us were greeted with singing and dancing.ÿWe then walked hand-in-hand with the children as we visited several cooperatives within the village that were making tie-dye cloth, selling milk and gathering honey, activities they have been taught since returning from Tanzania, where they had lived as refugees since the 1960s.ÿAs our visit came to an end, we sang and danced with our hosts one last time, leaving the children with a lasting memory of mzungus doing the Chicken Dance.

Reflections from East Africa and Mount Kilimanjaro
By Christina Wallace (OB)

What did you do over J-Term?
On December 16, I packed one giant backpack, headed to Logan airport and pulled out my laptop. Due to a scheduling snafu, I would be taking my final exam for Tax Factors from the Virgin Airways baggage drop (I was too early to check in and find a lounge). No matter; I was off on an East African adventure! Over the next three weeks, armed only with my backpack and a Lonely Planet, I completed a solo tour of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. I took an overnight train from Nairobi to the Swahili coast, toured the spice plantations of Zanzibar, swam with dolphins in the Indian Ocean, spent Christmas Eve surrounded by cacti, climbed a Rwandan volcano in search of gorillas, went whitewater rafting on the Nile River and made really cool friends every step of the way.

Then after three weeks on my own I met up with the HBS Outdoors Club to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and go on safari in the Serengeti. Climbing “Kili” was the hardest thing I have ever done (physically, mentally and emotionally – let’s be honest, I cried at the top), but it was an incredible experience and I was so happy to have the HBS crew with me.

What surprised you most?
I was surprised by the sharp differences between neighboring countries with, more or less, similar histories. Uganda was the only country of the four with a backpacker circuit; Kigali felt almost European compared to the other capital cities; Tanzania had some significant tourist infrastructure, but mostly geared to the luxury/package travelers; and Zanzibar seemed straight out of One Thousand and One Nights. Then I dug into their histories a bit more: Kigali has paved roads and Western dress because of the money and attention that flowed in after the Rwandan Genocide; Tanzania has great tourism because they had one of the most peaceful transitions after colonialism, mostly due to the sheer number of tribes and their focus on nation over tribe; Uganda still faces insurgency in the north, but the region surrounding Lake Victoria and the Nile River is quite stable and thus a big draw for adventure travelers. By spending time in a region and comparing across borders, I was able to learn so much more about this corner of the world.

What was the highlight of your trip?
About halfway up Mt. Bisoke, a volcano in the northwest corner of Rwanda, I met a Belgian couple. I had already been practicing my French with taxi drivers and hotel staff in Kigali so I decided to use the rest of the climb to get to know them in their native language. By the time we finished the climb (covered in mud, freezing and totally exhausted) they had invited me to ride back to Kigali with them and the rest of their extended family the next day. After a three-hour drive, crammed into a Jeep with eight people and their luggage, I had an invitation to join them for dinner and spend the night at their house in the suburbs of Kigali. I readily accepted, and over African yam soup and crusty baguettes I got to know some truly enchanting people because they took a chance on a solo traveler.

Reflections from Egypt
By Nicole Laws (OJ)

What Did You Do Over J-Term?
I visited Egypt, Hong Kong, Beijing and Singapore, starting with eight wonderful days in Egypt with 15 other HBS students and partners.ÿMy Egyptian itinerary started in Cairo, followed by three days in Luxor and three days sailing down the Nile on a private boat that was formerly used by Egyptian nobles.

The first full day of the trip started with a visit to the pyramids and then to the Sahara desert, where we went sandboarding, which is like snowboarding down sand dunes. We ended the day with our own private barbeque at sunset in the Sahara desert. The next days were spent visiting museums, taking hot air balloon rides, floating on the Nile and playing games like Mafia with HBS classmates. We bonded really well, especially by the final activity of the trip: a party on an island in the Nile with just the HBS students and the crew of our boat, who sang Egyptian songs around a bonfire, while we taught them “Soulja Boy.” It was a fantastic experience.

What influenced your decision to go to Egypt?
I really wanted to see the pyramids. It was such a sophisticated display of the ancient world, and I had not been exposed to the ancient world yet. There was a clear advantage of going with HBS, where we always do it big.

What surprised you most?
The color! When you think of pyramids and the ruins you think of sand, but you go inside the pyramids and see these beautiful colors – reds and blues – painted on the inside and still there, 3,000 years later. You never get that imagery when you see Egypt in the movies. But for me – and it may seem elementary – I was excited to see the colorful ancient world.

I was also surprised by King Tut’s tomb, which I felt was completely overrated. Save your money; it is just famous because no one robbed it.

If I hadn’t done this, I would have.
.traveled more through Southeast Asia.