When I left Rwanda nearly 5 months ago, I was stopped harshly at the check-in desk for Brussels Airlines and forced to dump approximately 17 pounds of items on the spot. Nothing like traveling between homes.
Wouldn’t you know it, of course my bag would be overweight…it’s all those dang journals!
Stressed and frazzled I focused on eliminating whatever seemed useless in that particular moment.
Funny how time works.
I could really use that tattered rain jacket.
That one worn Kinyarwanda-English dictionary seems like a gem, now.
Even my old Eddie Bauer toiletry bag that was so difficult to part with would be nice to have in possession.
As it turns out, y’all, I’m going back.
“But you just got home and now you are leaving…again!?”
The bottom line is that when the right opportunity becomes available and just feels right, it has a way of making itself known.
I will be working back in Rwanda – this time in the big city, Kigali – as a summer fellow with Vittana, partnering with a local microfinance institution.
Vittana is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that works around the world to increase students’ access to student loans. Many developing countries do not have the established loan practices we have here in the States; many students, especially in a place like Rwanda, are starting to finish secondary school but then have no ability to utilize capital and so they fail to move further in higher education.
Vittana partners with an institution (like a bank) that provides loan packages and then helps to “scale up” the efforts so more students become involved and are guided along a career path that will help them not only pay back the loan, but maintain a livelihood that exists outside of poverty. There is an obvious risk in lending to students (what kind of collateral do they really have? How can you be sure they will be able to qualify and successfully make repayment?) and Vittana assists in developing programs that consider and monitor this risk so that students still borrow but smartly and in the right situations.
The fellow position is competitive (check out some of the bios here: Vittana Fellow Bios) and involves working alongside a variety of people to make all of this happen. It’s a lot like being a consultant; for example when in Rwanda this summer, I will be writing a major compilation of processes in how we plan to develop the loan product. I will also be able to connect with students and market the loan in consideration of what their goals, dreams, and realities are.
I found Vittana on a Peace Corps jobs board. I filled out the initial application right before I rushed out on a date. I remember thinking as my date drove me off in his obnoxiously big white truck: maybe that was it…?
I strongly believe in what education can do for young Rwandans and I’m most excited to stay involved with that sector of development, albeit a new and different angle.
Vittana’s main website is here and I highly encourage you to check it out to get an even better picture of what the organization is all about:
I was attracted to microfinance and education in the first place when I came home and grappled with the realities of my Peace Corps experience:
Are lives actually different- from all those lesson plans I was involved with? From a wide-array of camps
…..what’s still missing?
The answer is access. This particular summer opportunity with Vittana is a way for me to gain perspective on the inner-workings of what happens when a door is opened for promising, talented, and dedicated students.
I don’t necessarily know where this is all taking me. I’m okay with that. I do know that working within women’s empowerment, life skills, and education really does all tie together.
The best thing I can do for myself is continue to enjoy the ride, wherever it might take me.
I’m leaving the country May 13th. (?!?!?)
I’m happy to say that I’m starting to get everything in order and certainly, more details are to come. The fellowship is unpaid and so I am left to prepare my finances, get my ticket, and pack my bags. Once again. As always, my family is as supportive as ever, for which I am grateful. It can’t be easy having a daughter run off to Rwanda all the time.
I can’t really believe this is all happening but I am so glad that it is.