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.
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.