Sunday, March 20, 2011

The end and a new beginning

Team Philippines arrived yesterday morning back in Chicago. Since we got into Seoul so early, I think our luggage was the first loaded onto the plane. It left plenty of time to watch the NCAA tourney on the computer, though the ND win occurred somewhere in flight. We were surrounded for hours by travelers heading to various parts of Asia (Vladivostok, Shizouka, and more) who seemed to have no interest at all in the games. And since our baggage was first on in Seoul, it was the last off the plane in Chicago. After dropping off Ben and Bridget, I made it home around 2 (of course we did have a stop for coffee). That ends the travel phase of the project.

Now we transition to the tough work of putting together everything we learned into something that is beneficial to CRS.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The long trek home

Its been a busy couple of days. On Thursday we ventured to Benafacio Global City to meet with GE. Ten years ago, the Philippine's Army occupied the area, now it is a growth of buildings housing MNCs. We had a great visit and the head of ASEAN for GE flew in for the meeting.

Of course, since it was St. Patty's Day, we had to go out and celebrate for a bit--and an Irishman from Belfast took us to the only decent Irish pub in Manila and bought us a round of green beer.

We couldn't stay out too late because we had to be on the road Friday morning early to head up to San Jose City. It was a 4+ hour drive, but afforded us an opportunity to meet with a co-operative that sells a majority of their onions to Jollibee which is the fast food restaurant of the Philippines. Its a success of a large corporation partnering with local producers, MFIs, and NGOs.

After all those hours on the road, we had time to grab a bite to eat then head to the airport. We're now sitting in Seoul, Korea for a six hour layover. We'll be back in Chicago in the morning. Somewhere during the flight, we missed ND winning against Akron--but I assume someone has it DVR'd. There's always Sunday.

Thanks again to CRS for organizing such a wonderful trip and learning experience.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Photos from the gorilla trek

Update from Rwanda

On Monday, Team Rwanda was excited to meet CRS/Rwanda country representative, Jennifer Nazaire. We spent the day with Jennifer and Muthoni Nyoike, GE’s Middle East and Africa Compliance Leader. Muthoni shared GE’s strategy in Africa, and its current involvement in both business and corporate social responsibility programs in Rwanda. We then had the opportunity to travel to Nyamata Hospital to observe the medical equipment that GE donated.

As we returned to Kigali, we took a sobering visit to the Nyamata Church. The church is now a memorial for the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. A museum representative explained in vivid detail the horrific events that took place in the church where nearly 10,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus were brutally murdered after cramming into the small space in hopes of finding refuge. Monday evening, we sat together to reflect upon our visit to the memorial. It made the development that we have seen and the experiences that we shared in the villages even more amazing. We had a lot to discuss, and thought about what we could learn from Business on the Frontlines, and the implications the class had on our roles as future business leaders. One of the ideas that came through was that perhaps ‘good’ was less of a designation, but more of an aspiration – we can hope to be good, it’s something to strive for, but not something to expect.

On Tuesday, we split into two teams to meet with the Rwanda Cooperative Agency (RCA) and Rwanda Agricultural Development Agency (RADA). Both teams had the opportunity to speak with the Director General of each agency. Mariana, Justin L., Israel and I learned about the RCA’s role to promote, register and regulate cooperatives. We also had the opportunity to hear about RCA’s savings and credit cooperative organizations, which were developed to help ease vulnerable people from low level savings to more organized financial institutions. Justin W., Rob, Ahmad and Adam learned about the challenges that RADA is addressing throughout the agricultural industry, such as population growth and land mass.

Tuesday afternoon we visited the Genocide Museum in Kigali. It was another heart-wrenching yet thought-provoking experience. The museum was even more of an education in the history of genocide around the world, and inspired a lot more thought on the topic. Seeing the photos of children killed during the terrifying days, and looking at the last mementos of lost family members really hit home. The thought that these were some of the only memories people had of their family put the team into a somber mood. Feelings brightened later as we went out to the best Indian restaurant in Kigali, Khana Khazana. We gorged ourselves on delicious naan and curries, while Justin W. struggled to avoid any spiciness approaching his tongue, and Mariana and Justin L. celebrated the extreme spiciness of some of the dishes.

After concluding our field visits with government agencies yesterday, we spent this morning exploring the various artisan shops in Kigali. It only took the guys about five minutes, while Mariana and I marveled for quite a bit longer. But, in the afternoon we got down to business. We look forward to presenting to our partners at CRS/Rwanda tomorrow and reuniting with our family and friends in a few days!

Gorillas in the Mist

Saturday March 12th. 11:30 am. Team Rwanda starts their journey to visit the high Mountain Gorillas driven by Robert –or Roberto Anderetti as we usually call him. After 2 hours traveling along winding roads on the edge of a 2-miles down precarious views, we arrive at the Asoferwa Kinigi Guest House –our lodge for the night.

After a short walk, the team heads to the guest house’s restaurant where they play spades and eat local delicacies as they watch the skies go from blue to black in a matter of minutes. The volcanoes, that earlier loomed high above, disappear into the dark clouds. The team enjoys card games and local Primus beer in front of the communal fireplace, while pouring rain bangs loudly on the roof. At 10 we all go to bed since we have an early appointment with the next part of our adventure.

Sunday, March 13. 6:00 am. The six adventurers prepare for their journey by downing a simple breakfast of eggs and toast. After a short ride, we arrive at the Visitors office were we have a short security brief: 7 meters away from the Gorillas is the instruction. We are placed with a guide and he tells the group we will see the Bwenge Family consisting of ~20 members. As we ride on a very bumpy road to the base of the volcano, we silently thank our hosts for sending us with Robert on a sturdy 4x4. 30 minutes later we arrive to the base (which is at 2,500 meters above sea level) and our guide informs us that 2 hours of trekking up the volcano awaits us before finding the Gorillas. Welcomed by farmers and children we traversed for 75 minutes through Irish Potato plots. Upon reaching a large rock fence that marked the start of the National Park, we saw a radical change of vegetation: from farm fields along the mountains to dense and muddy jungle. We met one of the Gorilla trackers who lead the way chopping away the jungle vegetation with a sharp machete. Forty minutes –and several stinging nettles injuries- later we are told to stop and leave all of our bags, as we had reached the Bwenges. Nervously we prepare. “No Flash, no sneezing, no coughing, no loud sounds”, we are told, “leave your walking sticks and follow our lead”. We walk for a few feet and suddenly we hear a strong sound of shaking trees. Our eyes open widely as before us appear a baby Gorilla and its mother eating branches. We ogled for what seemed like eternity and then followed the guides to see more members of the family. The leader of the pack–a 24 year old silver back- ate plants followed by a dessert of berries. He then found a comfortable clearing where he attempted to remain awake for his guests, but eventually surrendered to his food coma and laid down for a nap. During this time we were able to see more baby Gorillas and females. Before long our hour with the Bwenges was over. As a parting gift, one of the babies jokingly beat his chest to remind us of who was in charge. Careful not to fall along the slippery, dark, muddy trail we rushed out of the Jungle taking a final glance at the thick vegetation and the towering trees. We walked down in silence in disbelief of the amazing experience we had been blessed to live.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Such a cool day. We sat down with CRS this morning and kind of sketched out our week 1 hypothesis. And we also got into the business of determining our next steps and how we and CRS Philippines were going to work together over the next couple of weeks. I think we all walked away with some good insights and a plan for going forward.

After a delicious take-out lunch, Team Philippines took off through the Intramuros district of Manila. This is the old part of the town surrounded by large stone walls. It is where CRS, Caritas, and many other reputable groups are based. We toured the Cathedral of Manila and then went down to the old fort that has a central role in not just the Philippine history but also American history.

Fort Santiago sits atop the river at the edge of Intramuros. Anyone who has controlled the Philippines also controlled this fort. It is also central to the history of the Philippines struggle for independence in that Jose Rizal was imprisoned and executed from there. He was surely not the last to die there as we got a special tour down into the dungeons. Our "guide" snuck us in where few tourist get to go to show us where at least 600 Americans and Filipinos died during the Japanese occupation. Needless to say we were grateful for the out of bounds tour, and it further highlighted the special relationship that an American organization like CRS has in the Philippines.

Tomorrow should be an equally interesting day as we completely shift focus from coffee for our visit with GE and then a lunch with the ND alumni club...of course this is all down around the business district of Makati. Go Irish!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Meeting the Future President of Uganda

During the same hike as our below post, Tic Tac Corruption, another
experience immediately contrasted the actions of the pastor and again
left us feeling hopeful for the future of Uganda. This optimism is
embodied in a young man we call the “Future President of Uganda”

Among the children we noticed one local boy in particular with large
eyes and a ripped t-shirt that appeared near the back of the group and
cautiously watched our every step, while politely correcting foot
placements. We introduced ourselves to each other, his name was John,
a 13-year-old in school and we continued on our way.

Once we reached the top and realized that many of the locals expected
some sort of “payment” for accompanying us, John told us not to pay
them and that he didn’t expect anything. In fact, he even told the
other (much older) men to leave us alone. He told Kirsten under his
breath that they weren’t speaking right and were probably drunk –
something that we have seen is all too common among the men in Uganda
during the later afternoon hours.

We began our descent to hopefully avoid any sort of confrontation and
my friend John stayed right with us. On the way down, we talked about
American movies, the beautiful Uganda countryside, and were in awe of
his impressive English. Closer to the bottom of the hill, we started
telling him how much we appreciated his help and encouraged him to
stay in classes. Very casually he thanked us for our conversation and
said he’d stick with our group as we headed back to the hotel so we
could keep chatting.

As we meandered back to the hotel, Kirsten asked him a very common
American question that is asked of young children, “John, what do you
want to be when you grow up?”. He replied, with full confidence, “I
want to be the President of Uganda.”

In a country where corruption is rampant throughout the
system, young people like John, with the desire to see change, give us
hope for this beautiful country.