November 22, 2017

Helen Nowak (Canada, 2008)

I volunteered with Tubahumarize in the summer of 2008 for 6 weeks. But prior to ever getting to Rwanda, I was also part of a small group of people who organized several fundraising events that raised money to support two distinct projects that I helped implement during my trip to Rwanda:

First, some of the raised funds went directly to starting up the first ever sewing cooperative offered by the organization. A group of women were selected to take a one year training course to become seamstresses. It was incredibly exciting for me to see exactly how this sewing project got off the ground and be part of the background work of the program. Since 2008, there has been an annual class of graduates from the sewing program!

Second, a portion of the raised funds were set aside to start up a micro-credit loan system for the members of the organization (google ‘Grameen banking’ for an idea of how this works). The Executive Director of the organization trained with Muhammed Yunus on microcredit loans and implemented this ground breaking financing option for members of the organization so that they could start up small businesses.

Working on these projects was very rewarding. The staff of Tubahumurize are kind, dedicated and committed to the work they do and it was inspiring to work side by side with them.

But working in Rwanda, and within an organization that supports women struggling with the type of traumas (often multiple) that the Tubahumurize members have experienced, is not for the faint of heart. I do not say this to scare potential volunteers away from the wonderful experience they can have, but rather to be clear that the work environment can and likely will take an emotional toll on any volunteer. Being prepared for this is important if you are planning to work with the organization.

All in all, however, my experience in Rwanda was exceptional. Not only did I get to volunteer, I was also exposed to numerous events and activities that a typical tourist would not be. I attended traditional weddings, participated in family dinners, and got to travel to various locations across the country with local residents who are now friends.