Friday, December 16, 2011

12 Days of Giving!!

We've all heard about the 12 Days of Christmas and we've also probably sang the song ad nauseam. As a child, Christmas meant waking up early to open my presents, from toys to clothes, the sheer excitement of ripping open my packages kept me up all night. As I get older, things changed and suddenly it wasn't about the gifts I received anymore but about the gifts I could give to my family and friends. This year, my family has been extended to include those around the world who can't afford the simple things in life like clean water, food, or shelter. From Africa to the U.S., my friend, Kathleen Elie of Fashion with a Conscience, NY and I (Excess Chatter), have teamed up to promote "Gifts That Give Back" a 12 Days of Giving event online. Please support these causes and remember that it is "better to give than to receive!"

An ONLINE EVENT, exclusively on Fashion With a Conscience, NY and Excess Chatter!

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Gift That Gives Back!!

There are a lot of deals and steals going on for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but hopefully this poster steals your heart and makes you open your wallet for a GREAT cause. "RWANDA RISING" is an exhibit that will take place at Bourbon Coffee (43 West 14th Street) during the month of December to benefit the children of "Through The Eyes Of Hope" Project in Rwanda. I spent a lot of time with these kids when I was in Rwanda on my GHFassignment and not only are they beautiful, but also incredibly talented. These postcards will make great stocking stuffers or gift tags. So stop in for some hot chocolate, latte or whatever and help these kids to rise to their full potential.

Also check out my blog post about these children here: Through The Eyes of Hope Part 2

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

This Time for Africa!

I created this video about my trip to Rwanda and the work that I did with the Access Project. Check it out!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dare You To Move!

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones that you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. 

Explore. Dream. Discover. 

- Mark Twain

Are you fearful about for next adventure? Whether it's a new job, a new relationship or a new trip, learn to face your fears. I have deemed 2011 as my year of living fearlessly and this has lead me to make some bold moves in my life. From living six months in Rwanda to white water rafting and bungee jumping in Uganda, with each new adventure, I have learned something new about myself. I have learned that I am stronger than I thought and that each new challenge prepares me for the next. Is there something that you are fearful of? In twenty years, will you be kicking yourself for not doing it? Challenge yourself to conquer your fears today! 

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Ten years ago today, I was a junior in college. I had an early morning class that ended at 8:20a and I raced uptown to 51st and Madison to start my first day of work as a marketing intern for Berdon LLP. By this time, the first plane had already hit tower one and by the time I got to work, flames had engulfed it. We all watched in horror as the second plane hit and the towers came tumbling down. I will never forget that day. 

Walking home to Brooklyn with thousands of other New Yorkers who were fleeing the city, we didn’t know what to expect in the hours, days or weeks ahead. We were under attack but we knew that we were more powerful together than separate. This act of terrorism united our city in a way that nothing else ever did. So as we look back to that terrible day, ten years ago, let us always remember that “United We Stand.” 

Thank you to the hundreds of firefighters, police officers and emergency care workers who gave their lives that day to save others. You are forever in our thoughts and prayers. God Bless you and God Bless America! 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I had the opportunity to celebrate Labor Day, two days ago, at the home of a good friend. One of the joys of any holiday is to get together with family and friends, laugh, play games and eat good food. Labor Day signals the end of the summer and the end of the barbeque season. So after spending most of the year in Africa, I was happy to eat corn on the cob, grilled chicken, turkey burgers, potato salad, cole slaw, pasta, and everything else that was available. By the end of the night, I was stuffed and happy. 

If you can't already tell, I love food! Growing up in New York, there is no shortage of diversity of people and variety of food. West Indian, Italian, Chinese, Greek, Ethiopian, Indian, Mexican, and so many other delicious choices are available in this melting pot I call home. One thing that I missed during my time in Rwanda was the lack of variety in food. My choices were limited to burgers and fries, pizzas, traditional Rwandan food and Indian food. But I never went hungry, not even for one day. Somehow I even managed to gain a few pounds, despite my eventual boredom with the food. 

These are the problems of the first world. "I am tired of eating that." or "Yuck, this again." Even the homeless people in New York have been known to refuse certain foods because it doesn't whet their appetite. So one day, when I was sitting in a cafe in Kigali, no less, eating a chicken sandwich, I saw an alarming ticker flash across the screen. It read, "Famine in the Horn of Africa." Famine??? I was shocked to see that the famine affected Somalia and parts of Kenya. In this day and age, with all of the aid and resources, to hear that the crisis had been going on for months was astounding. 

Famine is defined as a widespread scarcity of food, accompanied or followed by regional malnutrition, starvation, epidemic and increased mortality. Millions of men, women and children across the Horn of Africa are starving and dying from lack of food. I can't even imagine going a day without eating, much less weeks on end. 

So after putting hunger into perspective, I have decided that food would be the one thing that I give up for the month of September. No, I am not going to starve myself, but I am going to limit my choices. Normally during the week, when I'm at work, I spend about $10 a day on lunch. That equals $50 a week or $200 a month on lunches alone! From today, September 7th to October 7th, I will give up my weekday lunches, so that hopefully a family in Somalia can eat theirs. 

What are you willing to give up? It just takes one thing....

Hunger is stalking 12.4 million people across the Horn of Africa. Starvation is a real threat for children in famine-declared areas of Somalia. As we work together & blog to tolerate #faminenomore, would you LINK UP to our post and blog about the ONE THING you typically spend $10 on that you could give up this week? Instead of spending money on that one thing, text in your $10 donation to "FAMINE" to "20222" and join World Vision in fighting hunger in the Horn of Africa.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

After the Storm...

Hurricane Irene hit most of the Northeast this past weekend, the same weekend that I was scheduled to go upstate on a retreat to Lake Champion. Although it rained for most of the weekend and I was stranded at Lake Champion until Tuesday, this picture captures the scene on Monday after the storm ended. Peaceful and serene.

"Young Life’s Lake Champion is a premier 370-acre year round retreat center located in the foothills of the southern New York Catskill Mountains. Our facilities are nestled amongst towering pines, peaceful streams, and overlook our spectacular 50 acre lake which is brimming with a variety of fish. 

Lake Champion is available for booking during the school season from Labor Day to Memorial Day. During the summer, Lake Champion is filled to capacity with Young Life groups from across the country enjoying a week guaranteed to be the "best of their lives."

Lake Champion is devoted to providing a distinctive camping experience through unrivaled service, superior food and incredible facilities amidst God’s breathtaking creation.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


After spending the last six months in Rwanda, the journey home was bittersweet. I spent my final week in South Africa, exploring Johannesburg and Cape Town and retracing the steps of Nelson Mandela, from Robben Island to Mandela House. It was a great finale to an unforgettable trip.

At first, I was apprehensive about returning home because I didn't want to forget all that I had seen or experienced. Nor did I want to forget the people that I had met along the way. In some way, each person, whether it was a work colleague, a travel companion, or a taxi driver, had left an indelible mark on my life. Their stories suddenly became my stories and their causes were mine as well. I wanted to fight every battle with them, large and small. From healthcare access to apartheid to child trafficking, I wanted to champion each cause until everyone was healthy, whole and free.

These emotions were compounded when I picked up a book called "Say You're One of Them" by Uwem Akpan, at the airport in Nairobi. This book told the stories of ordinary children in extraordinary circumstances throughout Africa. The stories include those of a young girl in Rwanda during the genocide, a brother and sister being fattened for slavery in Benin, two best friends in Ethiopia, and a family in Nigeria. It made me more committed to doing something more meaningful upon my re-entry to the States.

Now, two weeks later,  as I sit and reflect on everything that transpired in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa over the last six months, I know that everything happened for a reason. It has forced me to re-examine my life, my career and my ambitions. I have had the opportunity to share my experiences with so many people already, who are curious about Rwanda or how they can lend their skills to developing countries. So I have compiled a list of organizations that I have worked with or come across that have similar projects around the world. These organizations work in Africa, Asia, North and South America, to improve the lives of men, women and children. They are looking for lawyers, accountants, entrepreneurs, artists, doctors, cooks, role models, and teachers. They need you.


1. Pfizer Global Health Fellows: 
2. Global Health Corps: 
3. Peace Corps:
4. Teach for America:
5. Venture for America:
6. Go Overseas:
7. AmeriCorps: 
8. New Yorkers Volunteer: 
9. Serve: 
10. Volunteers for Prosperity:

With co-workers in Rwanda

With TEOH Project kids in Rwanda

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Continue to Make Communications a Success!

In order to reach my objectives, I have decided to stop the comparisons between Rwanda and the U.S., and focus instead on the lessons that I can learn. I have decided to start motivating my colleagues to develop more stories from the field and finally, I have decided to continue to develop communication skills among the staff of the Access Project.

Continue reading

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Stop and Take a Different Approach

If there is one image that comes to mind when I think of the continent of Africa, it is the image of starving children. After years of seeing commercials on television that depict malnourished children, it has left an indelible mark on me. Yet, I was largely ignorant about the causes and solutions being implemented throughout the developing world to eradicate poverty and hunger. My fellowship with the Access Project has given me the opportunity to learn more about global health care access and the goals and strategies being implemented around the world. This has allowed me to take a different approach to my own work here in Rwanda.

Continue reading

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Write for Success

I have decided to start doing some things that haven’t been done before in communications.  I want to start an incentive based communications strategy to allow the Access Project District Health Advisors (DHAs) to take an active role in finding stories that will help showcase the project’s work. This strategy will hopefully motivate the DHAs to send in more content and help me to meet my goal of four articles per month from the field.

Continue reading

Friday, August 12, 2011

Going the Distance

How far would you travel for medical attention or even clean water? Would you go three miles or even ten miles? How about 7045 miles? That’s the distance between New York City and Kigali, Rwanda. After leaving New York in late February, I arrived 16 hours and 5143 miles later in the “Milles Collines” or the “Land of a Thousand Hills” as Rwanda is commonly called. Before arriving in Rwanda, I had never considered the distance from my home to the nearest medical center or closest drink of water. Doctor’s offices are numerous in Brooklyn, as a health care representative with Pfizer, I once worked in an area where there were six offices on one block! However, most Rwandese people, especially those who live in the rural villages that comprise 80% of Rwanda, think about these questions daily. As I began to develop story ideas and articles for the Access Project, distance was a common theme that stood out to me as I began visiting Access supported health facilities and conducting interviews.

Continue reading 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Healthy Entertainment

As a sales representative with Pfizer, I have spent countless hours in the waiting rooms of numerous medical facilities. As I’m waiting, I try to make good use of the time by placing patient education materials on the tables and shelves that adorn the office. Most often these patient education materials get lost in the piles of books and magazines scattered throughout the office. One thing that I have enjoyed in the time that I have been in Rwanda is learning about different approaches to patient education. Instead of brochures, imagine if a drama, dance and singing troupe came into the office while the patients were waiting to be seen. The troupe’s sole purpose was to educate the patients about cancer, HIV/AIDS and the different medical options available. An attention grabbing performance would undoubtedly do the trick of entertaining while educating the patients.

Continue reading

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Designing the Cause

I met Liz during my first week in Rwanda. Liz, a student with the School of International Training (SIT), was spending six weeks in Rwanda with this unique study abroad program that paired students with global policy and health experts in developing countries.  Access Project’s founder, Josh Ruxin, a world-renowned public health expert and Assistant Clinical Professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, was leading a discussion with the group of SIT students on critical global issues.

Continue reading

Thursday, July 28, 2011

From the Beginning....

I know that I haven't posted anything in a while, but I have a good reason.  The last few weeks have been extremely hectic as I prepare to wrap up my fellowship. However, I wrote a couple of blogs for the Pfizer GHF website, reflecting on my fellowship experience in Rwanda. You can read a portion of my blog entry below: 

RWANDA?” I blinked a couple of times as I looked at the email. The Pfizer Global Health Fellows Program had recommended me to the Access Project, based in Kigali, Rwanda, and they wanted me to interview at their New York office at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I was in utter shock at the location of the assignment since I knew very little about Rwanda except the genocide that took place in 1994, which led to the death of close to one million people. So I was less than thrilled at the prospect of working there for close to six months. Continue reading here

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Somalia - The Horn of Africa

PHOTO: US: Somalia Food Crisis One of Biggest in Decades
Picture courtesy of ABC News

“If we don’t act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia,” said Mark Bowden, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for Somalia. “Every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life or death.”

The United Nations has declared the ongoing food-crisis in Somalia as a famine. What began as a drought in 2009 has escalated into a severe humanitarian crisis in recent months. From the beginning of the year, UN Under-Secretary General Valery Amos reported that Somalia "is again teetering on the brink of a much larger scale disaster due to the threat of a countrywide drought. Two million people, about 27% of the population, are in crisis." Now approximately eight months later, the world is taking notice and international relief organizations like CARE, have issued an Emergency Alert. Please donate what you can, to help the millions of people in Somalia address their food shortage and gain access to healthcare and other necessities. 


International Rescue Committee (IRC)

World Vision

World Vision ACT:S


Save the Children

Additional Resources: Poverty Matters 


Friday, July 1, 2011

Independence Day and Liberation Day

Today, Friday July 1st is Independence Day in Rwanda. It marks the end of Belgian rule on July 1, 1962, after 50 years in power.  Liberation Day, is celebrated three days later on July 4th, and marks the end of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Ironically, Independence Day did not free Rwanda from conflict, it opened the door for further bigotry and hate. It wasn't until 32 years later when the genocide ended, that freedom was granted to all Rwandans.  Here's to many more years of peace and progress in Rwanda. Happy Liberation Day Rwanda! 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pics of the week: June Wedding

June marks my fourth month in Rwanda and it was filled with a lot of great moments with friends and colleagues. Here are some of my favorite pictures: 

At a wedding with friends

Under the big top

Beautiful wedding dancers 

Happy Birthday Niyah!!

"I have found out that there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them." - Mark Twain

For anyone that has ever traveled with friends, you can identify with the quote above. The best way to test the depth of your friendships is to travel with your friends. Over the years, I have traveled with a lot of my friends and while there have been some bumps along the way, most of my friendships have endured. One person that has been a constant travel companion is my friend Niyah.

I first met Niyah in 2005 on a missions trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil and since then, she has become one of my favorite travel partners. We have traveled to Cancun, Fiji, the Philippines, Haiti, Hawaii, Rio, and Egypt. The last time I saw Niyah was at the airport in NY on June 30, 2010. She was moving to Sydney, Australia to study Film and Television Production. It was a bittersweet occasion because I didn't know when I would see her again, but I was proud that she was finally pursuing her passion for making documentary films. Films that will shed light on injustice all over the world. June 30th also happens to be Niyah's birthday, and in her honor, I am showcasing some of the vacation and missions trip videos that she has produced over the years. Hopefully these videos inspire you to pursue your passions.

Happy Birthday Niyah!!  

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Through the Eyes of Hope (Part 2)

Part 2 of my interview with Linda Smith, a photojournalist based in Rwanda. Linda is the founder of the "Through the Eyes of Hope" (TEOH) Project. 

Linda with the Mayange students
In a tiny, dimly lit room in Mayange, Linda is instructing five students on the “Cards of Hope” postcard project. The students are all boys who have been with the project for the last four years and range in age from 13 to 18 years old. Mayange is located in the district of Bugesera, an area that suffered the most during the Rwandan genocide, 17 years ago. The area with the assistance of the Millennium Villages Project, has been rebuilt in recent years and is now a model for health and community development. Jean, the oldest boy, credits the TEOH Project with helping him gain financial independence. “This helps me to fund my school fees and buy other small things for my family,” he says. When Jean’s father passed away in 2005, he was left to care for his two sisters and brother, while his mother worked to provide for the family. The TEOH project helps him and the other boys to earn a living by selling their photographs within the community.

Jacques, who is sitting next to Jean, wants to be a doctor when he grows up, and in addition to school fees, his earnings from the TEOH project enabled him to buy a goat and two hens for his family. He echoes, “I want to continue studying and this project helps me do that. I want to take more pictures so that we can build a photo studio here in Mayange and maybe even open a computer learning center.” As Linda explains the postcard project to the boys, their eyes light up at the prospect of sending their photos to people around the world. Immediately they start thinking of things to write on the back of the postcards. “Will it make it to New York? I want to go there someday,” says Fils, a shy 16 year old.

With the Mayange boys
The room suddenly fills with loud chatter and a barrage of questions from the boys to Linda. The room, which doubles as an Internet café, is located in the middle of the dusty streets of Mayange’s center. Janvier, the owner of the café, loans the room to the project on Saturdays, in exchange for a small fee. The boys keep their donated cameras throughout the week, which multiplies their opportunities to take pictures and earn money. After a period of sharing and reflecting, the project wraps up for the day and Linda says goodbye to the boys in Mayange. She then prepares to go to the Kagugu School in Kigali, an hour away. 

When she arrives, Prossy Yohana, her assistant, has already started to hand out the cameras to the 13 boys and girls present. As the children leave to take pictures within the community, Linda reminds them that they are low on photo paper so they have to limit themselves to three customers each. Even as the children groan at the thought of losing business because of limited supplies, Kofi, a rambunctious 13 year old, is already negotiating with the other kids for their three-picture allotment. Kofi has been a part of the TEOH Project for the last three years and is arguably the most outspoken and enterprising student in the project. While Linda has her share of problems with working children like Kofi, by combining the photography business with art therapy and counseling sessions, the children have been able to overcome some of the trauma associated with the genocide, including the loss of their parents and other loved ones.

As Linda reflects on the last few years, she notes that her lowest point came two years ago when she lost one of her students to an unknown infection. Emile, an ambitious 15-year-old boy who was one of the first students in the photography project, became sick in late 2009. Although, Linda suspected that Emile was suffering from appendicitis and he was quickly admitted to the hospital, Emile passed away the following morning from stomach complications. Linda was devastated and for a brief moment, she lost hope and considered abandoning the project all together.

Ironically, it was another incident involving one of her other students that convinced Linda not to give up. Odila, a young girl who had been with the project since the beginning, also fell ill. Odlila lost both of her parents to AIDS and she was infected with HIV. Cared for by her sister who could barely make ends meet, Odila was severely malnourished. When it came time for her to be placed on medication (ARVs), her immune system was too weak to support the regimen. Odila spent over a month in the hospital before finally pulling through. Through prayers and other interventions, Odila did not suffer the same fate as Emile and Linda’s hope was restored.

The students are thankful that Linda never gave up. She persevered and now she is seeing the fruits of her labor. “I want to be the President of Rwanda when I grow up,” says Kofi. “Linda has helped me so much by showing me how to take photos and how to relate to other people. Before the project, I couldn’t buy myself anything, now I can buy lotion, clothes and I can be smart.” Valentine, another one of the students at Kagugu, wants to be a doctor when she goes to college in a couple of years. “This project has helped me to take photos and now I can buy books for school and other personal items for my hygiene. I see Linda as my mom, before she came, we were lonely, but she has been comforting us and teaching us.”

More so than photography, perhaps the greatest lesson that Linda is teaching these students is the importance of hope and faith in their future. For many of them, it hasn’t been an easy road but they now realize that they can put the past behind them and dream big. They are the vision for the new Rwanda, and we can see the world through their eyes.

Linda with the students at the Kagugu School

For more information on Linda Smith and the "Through the Eyes of Hope" Project, please visit their website: or

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Through the Eyes of Hope (Part 1)

 The first part of the my interview with Linda Smith and her project, Through the Eyes of Hope. Linda  recently started an initiative called "Cards of Hope" (see right panel) to raise funds for a photo studio in Rwanda. See below to find out how this project started...

“These poignant accounts and many others like them depict a country on a path toward reconciliation. The resounding voices of survivors touch us in ways that no other words could,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the Visions of Rwanda photo project. The project, displayed at the United Nations on the 15th commemoration of the genocide in 2009, the work of a photojournalist named Linda Smith, who first began visiting Rwanda in 2006. As she made subsequent visits to Rwanda, Linda founded the Through the Eyes of Hope Project (TEOH Project), a non-profit with the goal of teaching basic photographic principles to extremely disadvantaged children and educating children who are interested in learning about the children of other cultures.

Linda as a baby with her aunt and brother
Linda was born in Hawaii, the daughter of an air force officer and a stay-at-home mom. The family left Hawaii before Linda’s fourth birthday and settled in a small town in Norwalk, CT right outside of Stamford, Connecticut. Growing up, Linda had a love for photography and majored in Photography at Syracuse University before moving to London to work as a photographer. While apprenticing some of London’s best photographers, Linda obtained her Master’s degree in Media and Communications at Goldsmith, a constituent college of the University of London. Following her three-year stint in London, Linda returned to the U.S., this time settling in New York City where she started her own wedding photography business.

After two years on the wedding circuit, Linda went on a missions trip with a local church to Rwanda in 2006. It was her first trip to Rwanda and she felt strangely drawn to the tiny country in East Africa. She was asked by her church to photograph the entire trip. She made the most of her by photographing several communities and non-profit organizations that she visited. After ten days, she left Rwanda, knowing that she would come back one day. As soon as she returned from her trip, Linda contacted the Rwandan Embassy in Washington D.C. about displaying her photos and when they agreed, Linda organized an exhibit highlighting Rwandan life. At the exhibit, Linda established some contacts that lead her to Rwanda the following year. Linda’s idea was simple, take cameras to Rwanda and teach children how to take photos, so they could tell their stories through pictures. The following year, she organized a month long workshop with genocide orphans and HIV infected children. It was while conducting this workshop that Linda met Prossy Yohana who would eventually become her assistant in the project.

Linda with the first group of children in Mayange.     
The Kagugu School, a primary school in Kigali, sponsored the first workshop, and the children were selected by their peers based on their social needs. The workshop went so well that Linda didn’t want it to end, in fact, with Prossy’s help, the workshop continued on Saturdays while Linda returned to New York. However, Linda found it hard to stay away and returned to Rwanda within three months, at which time she introduced the photography workshop to children within the Millennium Villages Project as well as Partners in Health (PIH). By that time, word had begun to spread about the work that Linda was doing with the children and by the fall of 2007, the United Nations contacted her about working with both genocide victims and perpetrators. The six-week workshop later became the "Visions of Rwanda" exhibit, which was displayed at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City in the spring of 2009, before moving to Rwanda in 2010.

When she returned to Rwanda to coordinate the exhibit in the latter part of 2009, Linda was subsequently offered a teaching position at a university in Kigali at the beginning of 2010. She accepted the position and moved to Rwanda full-time in April 2010.When Linda moved to Rwanda, she set her sights on working with the children in Kagugu and Mayange. Beyond just conducting photography workshops, Linda wanted the project to become self-sustainable so she came up with the idea for selling passport pictures, and prints to people in the community. The students would take pictures, sell them for 500 Rwfs (approximately 75 cents) and use the money to support themselves and the project. By giving ten percent of their earnings to the project, the kids buy their own photo paper and other materials, while using the remainder for school fees, food or other necessities.

In the midst of instructing the students and getting the project off the ground, a tragedy happened that would haunt Linda for a long time. She was at a crossroads, and the future of the project began to look uncertain. The bright hope that she had suddenly turned to deep disappointment and anger…

(stay tuned for part 2)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Quote of the week: "We Have Lived."

As a blogger and writer, I spend most of my days thinking about stories and how to make them meaningful for the audience. It's hard sometimes to know what will inspire, motivate and challenge readers to take action and support a particular cause or way of thinking. Coming from a sales background, I am persuasive by nature, but telling a story is more than persuasion or strong arm tactics, it's connecting with readers in a way that touches their hearts. The people that I am writing about whether a nurse, patient, colleague or government official, all have a story that will touch at least one other person. This quote by Natalie Goldberg sums up the purpose of writing: 

"We have lived. Our moments are important. This is what it is to be a writer: to be the carrier of details that make up history." 
Natalie Goldberg: Writing Down the Bones

Another wish list book that I came across today is Tell to Win by Peter Guber. I downloaded the first chapter of the book from his website and I look forward to reading this book in the future. I will post a review when I do. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Access News!

Check out the latest edition of the Access News! This was a definite labor of love, hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Musanze - Picture of the Week

This week, I took my second trip to Musanze, a district in the Northern province of Rwanda. Musanze is the most mountainous district and is home to five of the eight volcanoes that comprise the Virunga chain. The Virunga chain is a mountain chain that spans the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda and the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. Since I was in town for business, I did not visit the Volcanoes National Park, which is the home to Rwanda's famous mountain gorillas.  However, I did take a lot of pictures of the beautiful mountains, here is one of my favorite pictures:

 Fun fact: Musanze is the top tourist destination in Rwanda because of the mountain gorillas. The 1988 movie "Gorillas in the Mist" about primatologist Dian Fossey, was based on her work with the gorillas in Rwanda.  See the movie trailer below:

Monday, May 23, 2011

Till the World Ends....

The world didn't end on May 21st as was predicted by Doomsday prophet Harold Camping and his followers, but this morning it certainly shook.

I was sitting in my living room early this morning in Kigali, when I heard a rumbling sound and then felt the earth shaking under me. After the tremor stopped, I walked over to my window and looked out to see if anything had toppled over or if anyone was earth. There was no visible damage or destruction from the window and everything was normal in my apt. In fact things were so normal that for a couple of minutes I wondered if I had imagined the whole thing. It wasn't until I got to work that Eric, one of the drivers, called out to me "Did you feel the earthquake this morning?" I told him that I had, and even though I was a little freaked out by what happened, I was thankful that no one was hurt.

I have never even thought about the possibility of an earthquake in Rwanda but after the events that unfolded in Haiti and Japan, I don't want to take anything for granted. It turns out that an earthquake struck Rwanda in February 2008 and killed 34 people and injuring more than 200 people. The 6.0 magnitude earthquake occurred along the Great Lakes Region/Great Rift Valley (reports differ) that includes Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This time around, Rwanda was spared from massive destruction. May 23th moves forward and there is work to be done, but I will always remember this day as the day "the earth moved under my feet...and the sky DIDN't come tumbling down." Its another day to live my life to the fullest and do all the things I'm meant to do until I die, or until the world ends, whichever comes first!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Think BIG!

Quote of the Week:

"Don't let others create your world for you, for when they do, they will always create it too small." 

                                                                                                                                       - Ed Cole

Rwanda is a small country, but that doesn't stop the people here from thinking BIG!  Check out this video from Access Project founder, Josh Ruxin.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Kigali - ICT Hub

CNN International did a special report on Kigali and its aspirations to be the ICT hub of East Africa. This city is truly rising from the ashes. Watch the video below to see the remarkable progress taking place in Rwanda.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Go Global...

The more time that I spend in Kigali, the more this city surprises me. The city has a diverse population, with many expatriates from countries like Belgium, France, the United States, Korea, and Great Britain. At any moment you never know who you'll meet in Kigali.

Case in point, two weeks ago, I came back to the office after a launch event in another town. As I looked into one of the rooms at the far end of the office, a familiar face stared back at me. I couldn't place the face I asked one of my colleagues, she told me that it was Barbara Bush, daughter of former President of the United States, George W. Bush. I have to admit that I haven't really followed the lives of the Presidental twins, Jenna and Barbara since their dad left the oval office. However, I soon learned that Barbara is the co-founder and President of an organization called Global Health Corps (GHC) aimed at "mobilizing a global community of emerging leaders to build a movement for health equity." GHC places young people from the U.S. in year long paid positions with health organizations in developing countries in East Africa. GHC fellows work to strengthen health systems in various functions such as monitoring and evaluation, supply chain management, computer programming and human resource management. The U.S. fellow is paired with an international fellow so that they can share best practices and learn from one another. This is a great program for those who are not employees of Pfizer and would like to work in developing countries to increase health care capacity. Check out their website for more information:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Jambo from KENYA!

Jambo from KENYA!

After spending a relatively somber April in Rwanda,  I was itching for a change of scenery. Peter, a GHF from Pfizer China, working with PSI in Nairobi wrote and told me that he was planning a safari for the Easter holiday.  I replied with four magical words: "TAKE ME WITH YOU!"

Nairobi is the capital of Kenya, close to Rwanda in East Africa. The one hour flight from Kigali to Nairobi was pleasant and I arrived shortly after 8pm on Thursday April 21st. I spent the night in Nairobi with Elaine, another GHF from Pfizer Singapore. Early the next morning, our safari driver picked us up at  Elaine's apartment  and then we went to pick up Peter and his wife Cindy.  After driving close to six hours, we arrived at the Mara Simba Lodge located in the heart of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. We spent the next two days eating delicious food and seeing lions and leopards and elephants, oh my! I had the most amazing time catching up with Peter and Elaine as we discussed our fellowship adventures and danced to local music.

Here are a few things to know about Kenya and Maasai Mara before you go:

1.  Language: The official language of Kenya is Swahili or Kiswahili, which is spoken by over 30 million people throughout Africa and the Middle East.  Phrases include:

Jambo: Hello
Hakuna Matata: No Worries
Simba: Lion
Safari: Trip
Toto: Small child or young animal 
Rafiki: Friend 
Asante: Thank you 
Pole Pole: Slowly  

2. Maasai: refers to the people that make up the Maasai tribe found in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, along the Great Rift Valley. The Maasai people can be identified by their red clothing, shaved heads and beaded jewelery. They are a nomadic tribe famous for herding cattle and drinking "milk blood", a concoction of cow's milk and blood. Maasi men are also known as warriors who hunt lions and other predatory animals as a rite of passage. An interesting fact is that during the colonial period, the Maasai people stood against slavery and lived alongside most wild animals with an aversion to eating game and birds. Maasai society never condoned the trafficking of human beings, and outsiders looking for people to enslave avoided the Maasai.
3.  Big Five: All members of the "Big Five" (lion, leopard, African elephant, African buffalo, and Black Rhinoceros) are found in the Maasai Mara.  The cast from the Lion King can be found there as well, with many warthogs, hyenas, birds, wildebeest and gazelles making the Mara their home.

4. Royally Romantic: It was reported that Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton in 2010, while on safari in Kenya. After spending two nights at Maasi Mara, I can see why. The sunset is absolutely breathtaking. I stood in my safari van and gazed at the purple, pink, orange and blue lights dancing together in the horizon, while giraffes formed silhouettes as they moved across the plain.  Even the Rhinos started "kissing"!

5. Living Dangerously: Nairobi is one of the most dangerous cities in the world, commonly called "Nairobbery" by locals and tourists. It is not safe to walk alone after dark because of the many pick pockets that will "help" themselves to your money. A fellow traveler told a story of a friend who had his truck hijacked in broad daylight by "uniformed policemen." Criminals are known for dressing as cops, so make sure you ask for identification before handing off goods or money to the police. Fortunately I spent only one day in Nairobi and that was more than enough time to go shopping at two major malls plus the courio market and do some sightseeing.

6. Yes You Can!: I have always thought that safaris, (other than the one at Six Flags Great Adventures) were outrageously expensive. However due to Peter's astute bargaining skills, our safari was top of the line but still affordable. This was definitely a bucket list item for me and I'm glad that I got the opportunity to do it during my stay in Africa. For those of you in the U.S., forget about going to the Caribbean or Mexico for your next vacation and plan a trip to Kenya instead! Don't forget to brush up on your Swahili and spend some time with Simba, Rafiki, Nahla, Timon and Pumba! 

And we're off...Peter, Elaine and I!
The Great Rift Valley

Maasai and Me!


The Mighty Elephant

The Elegant Giraffe

Beautiful shot captured by Elaine

Jumping dance by the Maasai warriors

Spotty Leopard

All hail Simba!

Dancing to local music at the lodge

Back in Nairobi