Saturday, August 8, 2009

Two Weeks In

The internet connection at the hotel has been down for the past few days, but I thought I'd write a quick post as to the current state of affairs after two weeks.

One part of the overall project was running a two week film making camp for a bunch of Rwandan youth. This was led by Nell and Mark, both experienced film makers that spent the first week on a film making crash course of sorts and the second out filming and editing a 10 minute documentary. The youth, part of the group "Never Again Rwanda", both made films about the local Gacaca court system, drawing a contrast between that system of justice and that of the ICTR, which the project as a whole has been focusing more on. Although I haven't really been involved with this part of the project, it has been really fun to see the enthusiasm from the kids and the excellent films they put out, as well as learning more about the Gacaca and how it has been the real path to peace for Rwanda.

The other part of the project was to be the dissemination of the ICTR interviews which were made last September. On this front we have had a bit more limited success, in no small part because the Rwandese have very mixed feelings about the ICTR and because of the natural sensitivities surrounding genocide as a topic. One original low hanging fruit was to install said interview clips in the ICTR information centers, libraries of sorts with computers connected to the internet. Although that will still likely happen, the commenting and discussion features we originally wanted to include are just too prone to abuse to implement without manual moderation. And as independent Kinyarwandan speakers are few and far between those features will have to be dropped for the time being.

On my own front of finding some volunteer opportunities wholly separate from the project I have had some luck but nothing concrete yet. The SMS to voice callback system works great here and I've demoed it quite a bit, always to a very enthusiastic response, the local SMS company actually thought it would make a great new product offering of theirs actually. But it is a solution looking for a problem, and finding the right person who understands both the technology and who has relevant problem has been difficult. I have a few leads and at least one person enthusiastic to use it, but that opportunity is a little ways off still.

One good thing is that Rwanda as a whole is investing heavily in information technologies and views it as their path to the future. The government has a '2020 plan' which everyone in Rwanda constantly refers to and which is as ambitious as it is detailed. With that has come a huge flood of new students in IT and CS. I have become pretty good friends with Emile, a professor at one of the independent schools, and through that discovered that at the moment their drive is greater than their resources. They have many students in CS courses, but the teachers tend not to have any practical experience and their teaching methods are not as effective as they could be. (teaching an entire course on Java only on blackboard, pen and paper for example) As such I might help him put together a practical lecture on simple web development, perhaps turning it into a full blown course over time that he could then take over. Time will tell but I hope it works out as I think it would be a fun experience.

Emile is also working on a project for the Tanzanian government using cell phones and the web to coordinate cotton farmers and ginners, so that might be another avenue that will be interesting to participate in.

So overall the trip has been good if a bit frustrating at times. It is hard for me to cold call organizations and offer my services in a coherent way, but I do feel like some connections are being made and perhaps something natural will fall out of them. Who thought giving away my time would be so hard?

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like things are getting easier on the giving your time away front. If you are ever bored, I've got a project over here with your name all over it. :)