Posted by: DHE Rwanda | September 4, 2011

Looking for waterfalls part 2

Hey all, it’s been a while since I’ve given an update on how our site assessment and NGO search has been going, and actually, it’s going great!  This section of the project is all about setting up DHE for next year and beyond.  Picking a site with good physical characteristics and demographics is crucial so that we can be as prepared as possible to implement next year.  An NGO partner will facilitate relations with village leaders, provide logistical support and monitor the project when we leave the country— and generally let us focus on project work rather than all the myriad details that go into living and working in a foreign country.

In our efforts to find potential sites we spent weeks searching Rwanda from top to bottom, which entailed hours of bumping along dirt roads in a jeep asking startled Rwandans for directions towards “amazi isumo” (waterfalls). We used the Ministry of Infrastructure’s Hydropower Atlas as our guide (way cooler than a Lonely Planet!) but were still met with mixed success as the waterfalls we’re looking for are small and generally very isolated.

One of the low points of site assessment. After a 4km hike, we're standing in the Gashure River. No one told us that it has no flow during the dry season.

On the plus side, we definitely generated a lot of gossip for rural Rwandans—there’s nothing quite like a bunch of lost mzungus wandering around the countryside to stir up interest and curiosity. Driving past a schoolyard in a jeep was a frequent, unique experience too—it felt like a parade, as we’d elicit huge cheers, waves, and a chorus of “How are you!”s as we blew past, trailing a scattering of excited kids running after us.

The Rwandans are clearly pretty interested

We also met with a ton of NGOs around Kigali, which was an odd experience akin to humanitarian speed dating. Eventually we connected with CARE International, a large NGO that’s really interested in our project.  We explained what we needed to assess sites and they kindly set us up with one of their Land Cruisers (as the head of the NGO search, it’s been my dream to ride around in one of those) a driver and one of their field officers for two days of site assessment around Butare.

The couple of days that Ted and I spent in and around Butare were awesome.   We got a day early and checked out the town.  Despite the fact that it’s the third largest city in Rwanda, it’s basically just one paved road and one dirt road with a market and some shops and restaurants.  The highlight was eating at “THE CHINESE RESTAURANT” where we had to wait over an hour for our amazing chicken dish so that they could buy the chicken from the market, pluck it and prepare it.

On two days of site assessment we saw seven sites, three of which are great candidates for next year.  One site had a physical layout that would be relatively easy for us to exploit, and it was right next to a road, so villagers could easily walk of even ride their bikes to the charging station with their battery.  The next site was a bit less accessible and more difficult to exploit, but not too far from a larger village with a school and a market.  The final one was less accessible, but easy to exploit, and the people in the two nearby two neighborhoods currently have a three hour walk each way to charge their cell phones or batteries.

Ted...measuring flow?

Hanging out at one of the top sites for next year

Easily the coolest part of the site search is the sites themselves; they’re jewels that stand out even in Rwanda’s already stunningly scenic countryside.  It’s an amazing experience to pull over at a completely random path and hike out down into a valley, asking nearby Rwandans for directions as you go—then you hear the falls—and sure enough, around the next corner there’s a gorgeous 60-foot waterfall cascading down rock nested among eucalyptus trees in another one of Rwanda’s charming hillsides.  We’re getting an amazing look at Rwanda—the real Rwanda, not just Kigali or the gorillas in the highlands. I’m surprised they don’t feature hydro prospecting on more tourist itineraries!

Standard rural Rwanda. Beautiful.

So after looking at sites for two days, one thing is clear: we’d really like to work with CARE on next year’s project and in the future.  They’re just as excited about the project as we are, have the resources to help us, and have an awesome reputation and relations with people in the area.  Aside from sweet cars, CARE has field officers with knowledge of every sector in southern Rwanda, connections with all of the local leaders, and a micro-finance projects that could help villagers to afford the cost of a small battery.

Our plan now is to talk with e.quinox (7 more of them arrived today from London!) over the next two days and decide on a site.  We’ll then head out to the site again for a full day to gather information about the physical features and to conduct a survey of businesses, households and other stakeholders. It’s really exciting to watch the future of the project unfold!

It’s going to be a crazy last week and a half for all of us, with loose ends to take care of with NGOs, government authorities, KIST students and faculty, site assessment and finishing the system in Banda.  Oh yeah, we’ll try to get an update on Banda when we can.  The only reliable way to communicate with them is through text, so sometimes it’s a bit of a mystery what’s going on.  As far as I know the mechanical setup is looking great and the electrical is getting there, with a few issues that the group is working on now.

Mechanical setup in Banda. Looking great!

I’ll be heading out there on Tuesday to work on community education with a few KIST students who have translated a bunch of documents on safety and maintenance procedures for technicians and customers of our system.  Hopefully I’ll also have a chance to work on erosion prevention in Banda and maybe check out a couple nearby potential sites for the future.  Then some of us will probably head to Butare to check out whichever site we choose for next year, and then we’ll only have a few days left in the country!!  Crazy!




Unrelated to the post, but what is Yi doing?


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