Road Trip!

Kirehe, Rwanda
November 2011

Hey there,
It’s Juliet back and I want to update you on what has been going on here at the SHE Rwandan office. I know it’s been a while.
As most of you have read, Megan and I are doing research on banana fiber supply chain in Rwanda and the East African region.
On Wednesday the 16th November, we woke up very early in the morning to take the earliest bus to Kirehe. We visited individual coops in Gatore, Kirehe district in the Eastern Province where we visited individual farmers. Our trip went well, sleeping on the bus as usual on the long drive to Kirehe.
































Meeting these hardworking individual farmers and walking into the big banana farms was interesting. It was surprising to learn that these farmers harvest and transport four trucks of bananas to Kigali every day. This means that they harvest a lot of bananas, hence a lot of pseudostems. Actually, you can’t imagine the way he put us on his truck from the bus park to his farm. It was very funny.

We are definitely learning a lot from these farmers. We also met Anasthase, who you have probably heard about in my last blog. He is the president of the Kamara coop in Kirehe. We had a very interesting discussion at his beautiful home about exchanging pseudo stems for a health and hygiene training for Kamara coop members.
Soon, we hope to travel to Uganda to meet banana farmers. We will give you more updates.

Thank you so much,
Juliet.B

Finding the True Social Benefits to Drive a Business

Gisenyi, Rwanda
Fall 2011

Last week Julian, Juliet, and I had the pleasure of visiting our friend Eric Reynolds in Gisenyi on Lake Kivu. Eric is the founder of Inyenyeri, a Rwandan social benefit company, but he is perhaps best known for the company he started while he was in college, Marmot, the popular American outdoor clothing company. It was incredibly inspiring to spend a day with the bundle of passion, energy, knowledge, conviction, humility, and determination that is Eric Reynolds. The vision that he has for Inyenyeri goes far beyond what the business is on the surface, a manufacturer of affordable, safe, and environmentally friendly stoves that run on agro waste. Inyenyeri is a platform from which Inyenyeri customers can truly transform their lives and eventually even own controlling shares in the company! Not only does Eric have a transformative big-picture vision, but he also thinks of all the small ways that Inyenyeri can be a positive presence in Gisenyi. For example, Eric purposefully constructed the roof of Inyenyeri’s raw materials collection hub to create a large overhand under which passersby can comfortably take shelter when it is raining. After our mind exploding conversation with Eric, the SHE team returned to Kigali with a lot of new thoughts on how we can change and improve the SHE model.

You can see in the picture below Juliet’s and my attempt at documenting some of our epiphanies in a crazy web of ideas.
















This is a picture of Julian and I posing beside some of Inyenyeri’s raw materials in the Inyenyeri collection hub.

Farming Away

Eastern Province, Rwanda

Hello everyone,
I am back to tell you how our week went…….
For the whole of the past week, Megan and I have been on long bus and motorcycle rides travelling to the Eastern part of Rwanda in search for banana cooperatives that can become our potential supplies for banana fibers as one of our raw materials for production of affordable sanitary pads.

Megan and I have visited five banana cooperatives so far, and our target is to visit ten cooperatives this month. I enjoy talking to the presidents of the coops, and interpreting for Megan in English and for the coop representative in Kinyarwanda is my favorite.

Right now, farmers only use the harvested pseudostems as fertilizers in their plantations or food for the cows during the dry season when they cannot get grass for their cows. Farmers are so excited to work with SHE in this supply chain, and it’s one way of adding value to the banana industry in Rwanda.

However, during these field visits, we go into very remote areas where there are no restaurants, no stores, no nothing… only the beautiful green banana plantations….so we hardly get food and we can only eat when back to Kigali.

On one of the field visits to Ngoma (Eastern Province), we got stuck on the way back to kigali because there was a truck that had had an accident and knocked houses on the main road, and it took forever to clear the roads so our bus had to just find his way through banana plantations. It was so terrible, so much traffic…and we got to Kigali at around 9:00pm and yet we usually get there at 5:30pm. It’s a great experience for Megan and me.

Looking forward to giving more updates on what is going on in Rwanda.

Juliet.B

Gone Bananas

Kirehe, Rwanda

I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with the term “field visit.” Many U.S. based NGOs refer to their project site offices as their “field sites,” even if the office is in an urban area in a capital city. Even within project site offices, I’ve heard employees refer to nearly any type of meeting that occurs outside of the office as a “field visit.” This nomenclature bothers me because, as Alanna Shaikh writes on her popular foreign aid blog Blood and Milk (hyperlink: http://bloodandmilk.org/2011/01/31/the-field/), “if you’re a local partner in a development project, how do you feel when your own home is referred to as ‘the field?’ What does that say about the true nature of your partnership? … It is alienating in the word’s truest sense to hear your own territory referred to as the intimidating unknown.”

This week, however, I can say with a clean conscious that Juliet and I did a field visit. We traveled to a banana plantation! In an effort to better understand the supply chain of banana fibers, Juliet and I hopped on a bus to Kirehe (about two hours outside of Kigali) to learn more about Kamara, the largest banana coop in Rwanda. On our ride to Kirehe, President Kagame and his delegation zoomed passed us in their armed vehicles. Juliet and I interpreted our encounter as a good omen: this was going to be a fruitful meeting. And indeed it was! Literally, our field visit was fruitful because we spent the day surrounded by (and eating) bananas. Figuratively, the visit was fruitful because we learned A LOT about the banana supply chain. The coop president was really excited about the potential of expanding the productive capacity of his farmers. Ordinarily the Kamara farmers chop down their banana stalks and do nothing with the fiber inside the stalks. Once SHE enters the market, however, the Kamara coop farmers could potentially increase their revenue by turning trash into treasure. We also learned some details about the ways in which SHE might, in the future, fit the Kamara coop into our supply chain. It was a fruitful field visit to say the least!

Check out our video to see what banana fibers look like:


Megan
video

SHE, THE DREAM PLACE

September 2011
Kigali, Rwanda

I am sure you have heard from my two colleagues Megan and Justine, and this is Juliet.

I remember meeting Elizabeth Scharpf and Hannah Brice in 2008 through Generation Rwanda. They were doing research on sanitary pads in Rwanda and how girls and women can have access to them. I volunteered with SHE with great passion since I had seen this big issue (lack of access to sanitary pads) in my community and schools. I kept learning more about this venture through Rotaract Club Rwanda of which I am a member, and I even facilitated in creating an awareness campaign on menstruation periods as issue for women and girls in my country. It was my dream to be part of this movement.
Surprisingly after three years, I won a fellowship program with Global Health Corps (GHC), and my first choice placement was Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), where am now working as an M&E officer. I am so excited to be part of the SHE team and this is just A DREAM COME TRUE.

Megan and I did some field visits this week. We traveled around town investigating some craft coops that sell mercndise made of banana fibers. We also visited RWANDA COOPERATIVE AGENCY which is a Public Institution in charge of Promotion, Registration and Regulation of Cooperatives in the country and made some important contacts that will help us learn more about the banana fiber supply chain. Wish us luck as we work out way along the supply chain, eventually paying a visit to banana plantations in the eastern province!

Thank you
Juliet B.

The Options...

Kigali, Rwanda

Hi everyone! This is Megan, and you met me last week. You saw me sandwiched between my two talented colleagues, Juliet and Justine. I’m going to start off our weekly blog posting with some of my thoughts on the methods for menstrual management.

Working in a small, one-room office with four other women concerned about menstrual health lends itself to a good bit of personal sharing, so I’m going to go ahead and share with the wider SHE community. After learning about how difficult and expensive it is to access pads and tampons in Rwanda, I decided to start using a menstrual cup (hyper link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menstrual_cup) when I moved here. This method of menstrual management works great for me and saves me a lot hassle and money, so I must admit that I wondered before moving to Rwanda and starting work at SHE why the company was not investigating alternative methods to pads. Now that I have had the opportunity to speak with my coworkers, I understand much better why banana fiber pads are an ideal solution to menstrual management in Rwanda and why menstrual cups would not work. In short, menstrual cups are not practical for Rwanda because:
• Menstrual cups are made of medical grade silicone which would be difficult to manufacture here in Rwanda
• Menstrual cups must be washed with potable water, which can be inaccessible here
• Understanding how to insert the cup requires a good amount of reading and online research, which might be difficult for some women in Rwanda
• Any type of insertion method for menstrual management is very culturally sensitive and might not be well-received, particularly among Rwandans who are religious
For a more in-depth analysis of where in the world menstrual cups make sense and where they don’t, check out the website of The Diva Cup, (hyper link: http://www.divacup.com/en/home/menstrual_health/), a popular menstrual cup manufacturer.

Another menstrual management option I had read about before starting work here at SHE was reusable pads, such as the Luna Pad (hyper link: http://lunapads.com/). There are several companies that produce reusable pads throughout Africa, such as AfriPads (hyper link: http://www.afripads.com/) in Kenya. On my first day of work, however, Julian asked Juliet and I to speak with girls at a secondary school here in Kigali. Their response to our questions about reusable pads was a resounding: “No way!” Particularly because of the challenges of washing and transporting dirty reusable pads during the school day, disposable pads are truly the best option for menstrual management in Rwanda.

I realize that SHE has already done all of this research and that I am late in joining the movement, but I just wanted to share a bit about my personal journey toward realizing that SHE has really got its hands on a sustainable solution. I am honored to have the opportunity to join such an exciting and smart company.

Megan

J, J + M, oh yeah--SHE is Growing!!


Kigali, Rwanda
August 20, 2011

The SHE Rwanda team is proud to announce that we now have our own office! With Internet! Currently the walls are bare, so
we welcome any decorating tips. In addition, the SHE Rwanda team recently acquired two new employees and welcomed back
our lovely intern. These three employees will be updating the blog every week, so we invite you to get to know them:

Hello team, I am Justine Muteteri. Very soon I will be a graduate from the School of Finance and Banking (SFB) in the Finance
Department. I started working with SHE as a volunteer in monitoring and evaluation. I have just completed the internship,
where I worked on the following assignments: petty cash management, a document about SHE for new employees, and the
money transfer methods. I presented to SHE at the end of my internship. Let’s share ideas for the next 12 months!

My name is Juliet Busingye. I completed a Bachelors of Business Information Technology (BBIT) at Mount Kenya University. I
have worked with the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) Rwanda as an intern in database development and
mentoring programs. As a young leader in 2008, I served as president of the Student Government Association in Generation
Rwanda (GR), which is an organization that provides university scholarships. I also traveled to the USA on a fund raising trip for
GR, where I went to places like New York, Boston, Washington DC, and California giving speeches about my future dreams and
my nation. I first worked for SHE several years ago doing research, so I am now very excited to be part of the SHE team as a
Global Health Corps Monitoring and Evaluation Fellow. You will be hearing from me for the next 12 months.

My name is Megan Strickland, and three weeks ago I joined the SHE team as a Global Health Corps (GHC) Fellow. For the next
year, I will be working alongside Juliet, my friend and GHC co-fellow, and the rest of the SHE team on everything from
monitoring and evaluation, supply chain management, and market research. I moved to Rwanda from the United States earlier
this month and am happily settling into my new life here. I recently graduated from the Public Policy Department at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For my honors thesis I did a case study analysis of different business strategies in the coffee and honey sectors of Rwanda. I traveled all over the country talking to farmers, beekeepers, factory workers, and senior managers. The wisdom I gleaned from my interview subjects convinced me that SHE’s market-based approach to promoting health equity is the key to successful development. I hope that my experience doing research in Rwanda prepared me for some of my duties at SHE, but I know that I still have A LOT of learning ahead of me (for example, learning Kinyarwanda and improving my French). You will be hearing from me every few weeks over the course of the next year. I look forward to sharing with you all!

Thank you for keeping in touch!

--Juliet, Justine, and Megan

From Banana Fibres in Rwanda to MRI Scanners in the UK

August 2, 2011
Oxford, England

This August we're bringing back the voices that helped SHE grow from the ground-up. Their passion for communities, especially the girls and women in them, drove this organization forward and brought opportunities to those we set out to serve. For this, we are forever thankful.

And now, let's hear from them and the exciting things they are up to!

From Hannah Brice, one of the first SHE Wizards to head to Rwanda in summer 2008 for the needs assessment survey and strategy groundwork....

It is great to hear and see how SHE has progressed since my involvement during its early days in 2007. The stream of news from Rwanda and Elizabeth in New York about SHE’s growth fills me with a huge sense of achievement and pride. The summer we spent in Rwanda shall always live fresh within my memory. I learnt a lot through those two months, lessons and values that I try to follow back home here at Oxford in England.

A lot has changed for me since the birth of SHE. For one, I am no longer a student. I graduated in Materials Science from Cambridge University in June 2009 - incase you are confused I was an exchange student at MIT - and moved to the rival city of Oxford to start my first job at Siemens Magnet Technology.



At the Siemens site, based just outside of Oxford, all of the Siemens Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners are manufactured, along with an office full of engineers and physicists who have played a part in the design of the MRI magnet (that’s where I come in). MRI technology combines so many different aspects of science and technology. Firstly there are the superconducting coils that at a temperature of 4.2 K (that is -267°C), which can carry current with absolute zero resistance. The significance of this, is that once the switch is closed, current can continue to flow, which results in a magnetic field of up to 100,000 times that of the earth’s field. Strong stuff! The forces that the coils experience can be huge - think jumbo jet size scale, and they all have to be held in position to the within a range of less than 0.1mm. Yeah, it is pretty cool stuff - quite literally, and I am loving working for the world’s leading manufacturer of MRI scanners.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has had a huge impact on healthcare. This medical imaging technique visualizes internal tissues in the body with sufficient contrast allowing for clear images of patients’ muscles brain and heart. Not only has this advanced our understanding of the human body, it is a crucial tool in the diagnosis of conditions and illnesses such as cancer. This year MRI technology has been voted one of the top ten scientific breakthroughs of the past 50 years.

Designing MRI scanners may seem far removed from trying to work out how to transform banana fibres into an absorbent sanitary pad in Rwanda. But every technology has to start from its grass roots, and MRI scanning technology is no different, starting out in Peter Mansfield’s back garden shed. Just as MRI technology has matured and played a key role in global health advances, I believe the same shall be true for SHE, transforming the lives of females across developing countries and ensuring that affordable sanitary protection is available for all whilst also enabling women to pursue a profitable career.

Hannah B!

Tanzania or Bust!



June 27, 2011
Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania

When I was planning what to do this summer at the start of the year I was envisioning taking an internship somewhere in New York City. Going into my senior year at Boston University studying finance I thought working at a bank would be the sure thing I will be doing. However, that is very far from what I am doing this summer; instead I am in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania doing research for SHE. So why did I choose Tanzania as my destination this summer?

My connection with East Africa dates all the way back to my great grandfather moving from India to Mombasa and my grandfather eventually moving to Dar-Es-Salaam to expand his father’s business. I have been to Dar-Es-Salaam before volunteering at hospitals and orphanages. Through the experiences that I have had while volunteering in Tanzania, I saw donation money that was given to the country never seemed to make a huge impact on the citizens of Tanzania. When I came across what SHE was doing with their market based approach, I thought this might be a perfect fit with Tanzania. Now the goal is to get right into the thick of things, on the ground in Tanzania, and try to expand SHE’s impact here.

Well, that is a little about myself and what I am doing this summer with SHE. Make sure to read next week’s update on some of interesting research I am doing in Tanzania!

Mpaka wakati mwingine,
Amar Ruparelia