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Meet Never Again Rwanda’s Intern, Rick Hoefsloot

Meet NAR Intern, Rick Hoefsloot

Rick Hoefsloot interned with Never Again Rwanda for 3 months during a gap year between his B.A. and Masters degree studies.
Rick Hoefsloot interned with Never Again Rwanda for 3 months during a gap year between his B.A. and Masters degree studies.

From January to March 2015, Never Again Rwanda had the pleasure of working with Rick Hoefsloot, an intern from the Netherlands. Before he departed, we asked him a few questions about his experience working with NAR in the Governance and Rights Program. Here is what he had to say:

NAR: Tell us a bit about yourself – who you are and some of your interests:

Rick: I guess you could say that I’m a historian – I always like that word – because I’ve studied history. I’ve taken the year off between my bachelors and my masters. I finished my B.A. last year and I will start my masters in September. I’ve had this aching feeling that I wanted to go to Africa for some years now. I specialized in African history, so that’s why I wanted to come here and experience it in a working environment. When I was writing my B.A. thesis, I discovered Never Again Rwanda and that’s how I got interested in this internship.

What was the deciding factor that made you choose NAR over other internship opportunities?

I had a look at NAR’s programs and I thought, “That’s great!” I really appreciate the vision, the mission and I really appreciate the focus on youth. That’s what sparked my interest – the discussions in youth clubs and involving the youth – because when you look at the historical aspect, one of the recommendations that comes from the research is that the youth – the younger generation who were born after the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis – are so incredibly key to the development because they can ask questions that no one else can. So I think the whole youth aspect really attracted me.

What was your role in NAR while you were an intern?

I was an intern in Governance and Rights program. I was mainly working on the Youth For Human Rights projects – assisting in youth discussion forums, trainings, meetings with youth human rights organizations. Within Youth for Human Rights, I did a lot of work and it was really a good experience. Y4HR is really focused on activities, so it’s really small projects that go on after the other. I assisted in the planning and the concept notes and also the evaluation. I did the whole process of preparing, seeing it through and following up on the activities that we organized.

I also contributed to the rolling out of NAR’s new Societal Healing & Participatory Governance Program, in which I helped out with the literature review, the citizen forums and the Participatory Action Research that is taking place within that program.

What did you like about interning with NAR?

I think that for one, the Thought Leader Training put on by the Youth for Human Rights Project that we had in Huye in February was excellent. I had so many incredibly interesting conversations during the breaks, over dinner, etc. I got to talk to a lot of the participants; I could really understand their viewpoints. That is something that I really enjoyed, the interaction with the participants.

I also think that doing an internship like this is just the best way to get to know a country. I had the opportunity to go incredibly deeply into Rwanda and I think that by working in the Rwandan context and by working in Rwanda, I really have learned so much about Rwanda. That is going to be of great benefit for me in the future.

What is one thing that you learned that stands out the most?

You have to choose your words carefully. For example, just by writing all those concept notes and compiling research articles – the art of trying not to harm anyone with what you are writing and to really smooth things in your writing to ensure that you are not being too partisan. That is a skill that I have really learned, is to be politically correct.

I think it’s really about trying to reach a consensus and trying to not have extreme viewpoints and to try to have a balanced approach to society. That’s something I can relate to in the whole approach that NAR is taking, is to really do things step by step, and take gradual approach to try to change things without coming out barking. There’s a difference between how you work in an African context, how you can actually change things, and how you might go about changing things in Europe .

How has this internship helped you in terms of your academic development?

Prior to coming here, I felt that I had read everything about Rwanda, but after doing my internship, I found that in reading about Rwanda from afar, you’re not actually searching well enough because you just don’t know enough about the place. So I think that whole context of knowing how everything is organized in Rwanda – the government, institutions, NGOs, international organizations involved – you get the whole picture of what is happening in the field of peacebuilding and human rights in Rwanda. So that is the main experience, to really have a clear picture of how things work, and if I ever come into the career path of African NGOs in that field, now I really have the background needed for that.

Any advice for someone who is coming to intern with NAR for how to prepare themselves?

Just read as much as you can about Rwanda before coming here. In the end, it’s just all about experiencing it, because for me, just being here and just being by myself is part of the experience and part of the process that you have to go through. That’s the reason why doing an internship in a foreign country is so incredibly helpful is just that you are really putting yourself out there.

It could also be a good idea to network a little before coming, for instance, by contacting your country’s embassy and trying to get in touch with expats from your country who are living in Rwanda. In doing that, it might help to ease that transition to another culture.

Rick poses with Prisca Ntabaza, a program officer with the NAR's Governance and Rights Program.
Rick poses with Prisca Ntabaza, a program officer with the NAR’s Governance and Rights Program. Prisca and Rick worked closely together for the duration of his internship.

What did you think about NAR staff?

Everybody has been incredibly helpful. Especially working in the Governance and Rights teams, Prisca Ntabaza has been awesome in trying to involve me in everything and seeing how I could help her and how I could help others – that was really good. Richard Mutabazi, the Governance and Rights Coordinator, was always checking in with what I was doing and making sure I felt at home. So it was just a really nice working environment. The whole team is great. It’s fun to see how it is still a pretty young organization and that’s a nice dynamic to have a bunch of people who are around their 30s, that creates a fun dynamic, where people are laughing together, while working hard of course.

Thanks Rick. One last question – the one everyone here at NAR wants to know – are you going to come back?

I really hope so. It’s just an incredibly fascinating country. I want to do my master’s thesis on Rwanda, I can already be sure about that, so of course, I hope that I can do some field research for that.

“If you take care of others … Rwanda can be even more beautiful.”

“If you take care of others … Rwanda can be even more beautiful.”

Youth head to Never Again Rwanda’s Thought Leader Training to develop advocacy skills

When Pio Mbabazi was orphaned in 1994 at just five years old, he learned the heartbreaking lesson of what it means to grow up labelled as “different.”

After losing his mother to illness and later losing his father in the genocide perpetrated against Tutsis, Pio became a marginalized person, often finding himself excluded from society and having trouble accessing the same services that other children in Rwanda could expect as a right.

Happier times: Today, Pio Mbabazi finds purpose in speaking up for others.
Happier times: Today, Pio Mbabazi finds purpose in speaking up for others.

Growing up, Pio depended on the generosity of others just to survive. Accessing education was a challenge because he had to come up with the means to pay for his own school books, without a family to support him. Without parents to protect him, he was vulnerable to abuses of those seeking to take advantage of him. Above all, he felt isolated from his community.

“Many orphans, they feel alone, because no one showed them emotional support. So it’s important that people know that they have someone who cares and that there are people who will speak up for them.”

Pio’s experience of being excluded prompted him to get involved with Never Again Rwanda’s Youth for Human Rights project, funded by US AID.

Today, 25-year-old Pio is an advocate for marginalized groups and seeks to be a support to people in his community who may face troubles because of their differences.

“Sometimes in Rwandan culture we say ‘Ni uko bimeze’ or ‘Ntibindeba,’ meaning ‘It’s not my problem,’” says Pio. “But if I can do something, if I can say something, maybe people will understand that others are having these problems and a change will start to happen.”

Pio is one of 30 young people headed to Huye district in Rwanda’s southern province from February 17 – 19 for a Thought Leader Training, hosted by Youth for Human Rights. The training provides a collaborative environment for young advocates to get together to discuss their work and brainstorm opportunities to become more effective. The group will give presentations, participate in group problem-solving activities and present their findings with others. They will also learn about the resources that are currently available in Rwanda to deal with human rights abuses that they may come across in their respective communities.

“Only a few of these young people know where to go or how to handle human rights violations,” says Prisca Ntabaza, a program officer with Never Again Rwanda who leads the Y4HR project. The youth are instrumental in helping to reduce marginalization and social exclusion, she adds, and they can be very effective in improving the lives of their fellow citizens.

“People who are excluded socially cannot take part in decision-making processes or community life. It may affect them at school, at work, and even in their families,” says Ntabaza.

“Girls who become pregnant at a young age are often socially excluded from their families, from school, from work, because of stereotypes that are attached to them as young mothers. This results in many of them not returning to school, not getting the skills they need to find a job and not participating as full members in society for the rest of their lives.”

The Thought Leader Training will help the youth participants to learn about the various groups that are vulnerable to social exclusion – such as women, disabled people, orphans, the poor, young mothers, ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, etc. – through presentations given by their peers.

“This training is equipping the youth with the necessary tools that they will need and will help the youth to be more effective advocates for themselves and for others in their communities,” Ntabaza says.

For Pio, the training will enable him to broaden his awareness about marginalized groups and to help in his mission to bring positive change to his community by setting a good example for others and speaking up for those who are socially excluded. Rwanda is already a beautiful place to live, Pio says, but there is still room for improvement – and he wants to set an example that his colleagues, friends and family can follow.

“If you take care of others, and you value the lives of others, if you can protect others, Rwanda can be even more beautiful.”