Saturday, June 27, 2009

Umuganda... Community Work Day...

[Pictures from top left to righ: Perpetrators now pardoned and in community service; Machette used for the genocide before, but now for the constructive purpose; Military personnel working together with civilians; Bricks being made and dried; With the Bugesera Mayor; and With all UOB employees who participated in the Umuganda]

The last Saturday is Umuganda in Rwanda. It means "community work." All people of Rwandan are supposed to participate in community work, whatever it may be. It could be street cleaning, grass cutting, digging wells, building a community center, etc. The police may stop the vehicles after 7:30AM and keep you parked by the road until after noon. They are somewhat lenient towards the Muzungus, or foreigners.

Today was the Umuganda. 20 plus employees of UOB participated in the Umuganda in a special way. We drove down to Bugesera District, 45 minutes south of Kigali, and parcipated in the brick making community work. "Brick making?", you may wonder.

Yes, we helped make dirt bricks using dirt, dry grass pieces and water. Almost 400 people worked together and we made approximately 1,700 bricks. These bricks will be used to build houses for the orphans and widows who survived the genocide. The 400 people who worked there included soldiers, policemen, farmers, volunteers like us and genocide perpetrators who have been pardoned. These people were wearing dark navy blue uniforms that were well noticeable.

It is the process of reintegrating them into the community. They are those who killed the families and neighbors of the village people, and they know it. It is not an easy process, but it is happening. Initially, they got mad and some were throwing rocks at them, the Mayor explained. But, gradually their anger diminished and they have not only forgiven them but also made friends with those who have sincerely reprented. It is a beautiful story of reconciliation and restoration of the broken relationship. It is the gospel.

I did some digging and chopping the dry grasses. I had a mixed feeling when I was chopping the dry grasses with a machette. It was the one that the perpetrators used in slaughtering the Tutshis and moderate Hutus. Hmmm... I groaned.

I had a chance to converse with the Mayor for an hour. He strongly asserted that the restoration process was definitely in progress and he was very hopeful. I nodded and agreed. And I prayed. "Lord, may your love be overflowing and evident in the hearts of these people for great forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.." - Jeffrey

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Reconcilable Differences... 15 years after the genocide

On this week's issue of Christianity Today, there was an article, titled "Reconcilable Differences" by Marc Moring. This article depics the strenuous efforts that are being made by Christians to bring the Tutsis and Hutus together for forgiveness, healing and reconciliation in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

May you be blessed by the stories and challenged to be more willing to forgive those around us in our lives! After all, how more difficult would it be than to forgive a killer?

Praise the Lord for His wonderful work in Rwanda! - Jeffrey

5 Countries in 18 Hours...

When I set out at 8AM to leave Lilongwe, Malawi to come back to Kigali, Rwanda, I did not know what I was getting up to. If there were a direct flight, it would have been a two-hour comfortable air travel from Lilongwe to Kigali. But, there is not. So, it ended up to be an 18-hour travel visiting 5 countries on the way. How?

The first leg was for one and half hour from Lilongwe to Lusaka, Zambia. A little detour, but that is how Kenya Airways operates. It was okay. From there, to Nairobi, Kenya. Another two hours. Still manageable.

At Nairobi, I had to check the departure time for my next flight. I could not find my flight KQ478. Uh uhhh... Transfer service desk. Already a long line with probably 30 people. The service speed is slow. Patience is the virtue. After waiting in line for an hour, I learned that the flight has been cancelled and I will be on the flight that departs Nairobi at 11:40PM to Bujumbura, Burundi and then to Kigali, Rwanda. It is only 3:00PM and I have to wait for almost 9 hours, but I am glad that there is a flight to be on.

The time at Nairobi was productive. I was able to catch up with the blog updates (I posted three of them!) and with the reading.

The departure time is 11:30PM and now 11:20PM. But there is no plane at the gate. The airplane has not arrived yet. Another waiting. Finally, we got on the airplane. I could see many people with great fatigue, dozing off. I am not an exception. I was not sure if I was inside my body or outside my body. The plane took off. At mid-night, they still serve food. No thanks. Please leave me alone.

Now Bujumbura. We wait on the plane. The cleaning crews came aboard to do their job. And the passengers who are going to Nairobi, Kenya, most likely to be on another plane. Already tired and irritated, they do not have as much patience. Several people argue that they have duplicate seat numbers. The cabin crew re-direct them to be seated at different seats. Most comply with no argument. No energy left. It takes off. From Bujumbura, it was a quick trip of 25 minutes.

Finally, we landed at Kigali International Airport. 2:00AM. We still have to go through the immigration and customs. The officials also looked tired. No problem. Through spot inspections on the way, I still managed to arrive home at 2:30AM. Hooray!

So, the trip that could have been a two-hour travel tured into an 18-hour journey visiting 5 counties on the way: Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda. What a journey!

After all, TIA. This is Africa. - Jeffrey

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bank on the Wheels... Mobile Branch

One of the primary purposes of my trip to Malawi was to study the Malawian bank's success story on mobile banking or the bank on the wheels.

The OI's Malawian bank or OIBM had two types of mobile branches and one type of cash pick-up truck. The mobile branches are equipped with ATM, teller windows, generator, bullet-proof glasses, and a cash safe. It is guarded by a couple of armed policemen while the mobile branch is in operation. I visited one town where the mobile branch was in operation and the customer line was long. I was told that they travel as much as 20 km from the remote villages. In the tree shade, micro lending activities take place while the mobile branch is taking deposits and giving out cash for withdrawal. At another corner, new deposit customers are waiting for their turn to open new accounts and receive their chip card that allows them to withdraw cash from ATMs and other PoS sites. It also functions as their ID card as it stores their information.

While the larger version was built on a bus frame, the smaller version was built on a Toyota truck frame. At the back of the truck, a canister is built to enable a couple of tellers to sit down and do transactions. It is a simple version of banking, but many village people have no access to banking without this type of branch facility. These mobile branches will go out to town and villages on their market days when people from neighboring villages are all gathering for trading activities.

We at UOB are planning to launch one or two mobile branches this year. I am already thrilled about envisioning the village people to be able to save their money safely, no matter how small it may be (frequently they start with one or two dollars), and to have access to credits that will enable and empower them to graduate from chronic poverty. Praise the Lord for having established success stories in creative outreach to the underserved! - Jeffrey

A trip to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and to Lilongwe, Malawi

This past week, (June 14th ~ 20th) I have traveled to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Lilongwe, Malawi. In fact, I am still in Nairobi, Kenya waiting for my flight back to Kigali, Rwanda to depart at 23:40PM. Ahhh... But, I have time to update the blog. That is the positive side of it.

The trip to Dar es Salaam was to attend the OI Africa Region's CEO conference. A dozen of us gathered to discuss about each country's situation and strategies. We also discussed about each country's effective practices for mutual learning. I ended up facilitating the day-long session of sharing effective practices.

Dar es Salaam is a port facing the Indian Ocea and one of the largest cities in Tanzania. Tanzania represents the essenses of Africa. It has the Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest in Africa. It also has the Seregenti National Park, the most famous African national park that frequently appears in movies. Lion King was produced on the basis of Serengeti National Park. "Simba" the lion king means the lion in Swahili. It also has the famous Ngorongoro Crater that has its own unique animals living in it. Moreover, it has Zanzibar, an island that is legally part of Tanzania but has its own President and immigration system. Zanzibar was the capital of slave trade. All slaves were collected from all over Africa and exported out of Zanzibar. It is also famous for its beautiful clear water. Indeed, Tanzania has the essenses of Africa.

But, it has been falling behind its neighboring country Kenya in promoting itself to the world and their relationship is not so friendly. It is largely because Kenya has its own airline, Kenya Airways covering most of Africa and gateways to the world, and because it has been very effective in promoting the safari and tourism. A lot of people assume that Kenya is the place for safari while Tanzania should be. Also, Kenya has the regional headquarter for the U.N. It draws many NGOs from around the world.
In 1998, the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam was attacked by a truck armed with bombs. It killed 12 people and injured additional 85 people. No American was killed but the tension between the U.S. and the terrorist world continued to accelerate culminated by the so-called September 11 incident in 2001.

The purpose to my trip to Malawi was to see the business practices of OI's Malawian operation and to learn from their successes. It was a great learning experience and the trip was well worth the time.
Malawi is part of the Southern Africa along with South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swazilan etc. It is called "the Warm Heart of Africa." As the nickname implies, I found the country very peaceful and the people very friendly. It is a long country stretched from north to south. Lilongwe is the capital and is close to the Lake Malawi that is known to have almost 250 kinds of fish in it. Malawi is not so famous, but recently it has been exposed to the world because the singer Madonna has won a lawsuit to adopt a Malawian boy, namely Mercy, at the Malawian supreme court. Malawi is also known for its wooden craft. You can easily find the street shops selling wooden crafts. It is also known for its tobacco industry.

Surprisingly, I found several Korean-owned businesses in Lilongwe. I met one family who settled down in Lilongwe in 1975 and has been running a hotel with a restaurant. The hotel is called "Korea Garden" and the restaurant is called "Koryo-jung." I also saw a store called "Korea Motors", a bicycle parts store and a hospital that had a sign that has "Korea" in it. It was a pleasant surprise because I never expected to run into Korean businesses or Koreans in this desolate place. I ended up eating Korean foods with the Korea Garden family. Can you believe it? I ate Korean food in Lilongwe, Malawi! Mr. Cho came with his parents when he was a high schooler. He married a Japanese woman and they have four children. He said that there are 30 Korean families who are either doing businesses or working for tobacco companies.

Travel gives you surprising joy of meeting people totoally unexpectedly. - Jeffrey

K.O.I.C.A. and Koreans in Rwanda...

In African hairstyle............................. Mr. Lee and Mr. Ryu... ...........Mr. Ryu, Dr. Hwang, Ms. Kim (missionary), Dr. Choi (clockwise)

At a barbecue outing we put together for them...

KOICA stands for Korea International Cooperation Agency. It is a government-run international volunteer organization.

KOICA aims to promote international cooperation by contributing to the economic and social development of developing countries through grants aid and technical cooperation. To achieve this aim, KOICA conducts technical training programs, and dispatches experts and volunteers as well as medical doctors and Taekwondo instructors. It also provides equipment and materials and executes project-type assistance and development studies. KOICA also assists Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) so they can expand their grass-roots development activities overseas.

In view of such perspectives, KOICA's cooperation programs focus on several strategic areas of priority as follows: (1) to promote human resources development(HRD); (2) to eradicate poverty and provide basic human needs(BHN); (3) to promote market economy and free trade ; (4) to build the capacity of policy development and administration of recipients; (5) to contribute to addressing such global issues as environmental degradation, population and women in development(WID).

KOICA has 22 volunteers in Rwanda as of May 2009 and several more are to come. They are here to provide assistance for Rwanda to develop its human resources and infrastructure. Some are teachers at the secondary schools while others teach at colleges and work at the government's department. Among them, some are volunteering overseas in lieu of their mandatory military services in Korea. Normally they serve for two years.

Most of them are young men and women, but there are a couple who are in their 60's. One is a retiree who is teaching at an agriculture college in Musanze. He is Dr. Nam Hee Choi. He has volunteered to serve only for the purpose of returning the generous support that his generation received from other countries after the Korean War. The other is also a retiree in the banking industry. After 10 years of retirement, he has volunteered to find the meaning in his golden life. He is Mr. Don Kyu Ryu, currently teaching International Trade Management at the School of Finance and Banking. Both deserve high regards and respect.

Many of them take adventurous vagabonding trips through the rural areas. They walk on the unwalked paths and cross the rivers. They stay with the rural farmers in their houses. They have to fight the fleas and mosquitos. But, those hurdles do not stop them. Through the experiences, they grow mature and their perspectives are broadened. Kudos to them!
There are other Koreans in Rwanda. A dozen of Korea Telecommunications expatriates take the chunk of them. They are in Rwanda to complete the installation of fiber optics cable systems throughout the country. If all things go right, Rwanda may be the first African country that has the fiber optical cabling throughout the nation. Once this network is connected to the sea cable, then it will have the same internet speed as in the advanced countries and will open a totally new chapter for doing businesses. There are a few missionaries and there are a few expatriates from Korea who have come to help distribute tractors (Myungsung Church) and to provide other forms of assistance. I am encouraged by them because I see Korea transition into a giving country from a receiving country just a few decades ago. What a transition... I am grateful to the Lord for what He has done through Korea. - Jeffrey

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Muhanga Branch Open...

We rolled out the red carpet................ The tape-cutting.......................... The cake-cutting..

On Friday, June 12th, the Muhanga Branch was opened. The tape-cutting was done together by the Rwandan Minister of Finance, the Governor of Southern Province and the Mayor of Muhanga District. Normally, these government officials would not be attending a bank branch opening, but they were in the Muhanga District to celebrate the Southern Province's "Tax Payors Day." Our branch opening was part of the government program.

Our own ceremony was cut short because I had to attend the official ceremony and celebration that was held at the regional stadium. But we prayed to the Lord before the tape cutting ceremony and praised Him for His gracious provision. More than a dozen clients also attended and celebrated the opening together. It was a blessing!

The Muhanga Branch is the second rural branch that we have opened in 2009. At this location, the deposit branch and credit office are located together. Thus, it will house five branch stff and 10 credit staff. It is an important and strategic location. Moreover, it will als serve the needs of Karongi New Market Office and possibly of the Nyanza EBU (four offices).

Muhanga, formerly known as Gitarama, is a strategic city that connects all transportation roads from the east (Kigali) to the west (Karongi or f.k.a. Kibuye) and from the south (Huye or f.k.a. Butare) to the north (Ruvabu or f.k.a. Gisenyi). You can easily notice much construction work is under way.

The formal celebration at the stadium last for two and half hours. Being seated at the front row with the dignitories, I could not do much but sit there without understanding much of what was going on because all programs were conducted in Kinyarwanda. I was the only non-Rwandan or perhaps non-African, except a couple of summer interns from the U.S.

It was my first time to attend the formal ceremony and also the first time to watch the Rwandan traditional "Intore" (lion) dance. The dance had a lot of rythmes, but the movements looked rather simple. Young men, the chosen ones, were raised to be special warriors in the past and only the chosen ones were allowed to particiate in the dance. They wear long golden hats, symbolizing the male lion's neck hair.

Our bank staff also participated in the parade wearing the same shirts and caps.

I was grateful for the new bank branch that will help serve the most vulnerable in the Muhanga area more effectively.

One of the two big differences that UOB has with other institutions is that we reach out to the clients in the villages many times on motorcycles, rather than they come to the bank. This creates substantial burden on the bank financially, but it is the right thing to do. It is more incarnational than otherwise.
The other difference is that UOB is the only institution that uses the biometrix technology. When a client opens an account, we take the picture and the fingerprint. When a customer wants to do a teller transaction, he/she puts his/her fingerprint on a device and the system will load up the picture of the client to ID him/her immediately. The transaction processing time is less than one minute. The clients love it and so do the government people. The government emphasizes so much on "customer care" and this is a great example that they use in promoting innovative way to improve the "customer care."

I had to hurry back to the Kigali home office to sign and submit a proposal in time, so I missed the fellowship opportunity. But it was a great encouragement to work with those who share the same faith and eternal life. Praise the Lord! - Jeffrey

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Amanda's Wedding... a Great Blessing!

The highlight of our trip to the U.S. was Amanda's wedding.

The wedding ceremony was perfect! A panoramic scenery. A wonderful weather. A beautiful couple. A godly officiant. Harmonious bridesmaids and groomsmen. A good company. Great foods. Terrific reception settings. A well balanced program. What else can you ask for?

It was a great blessing. Praise the Lord!

Wonderful was that Mr. Warren Hansen, the groom's father was the best man and Mrs. Hansen (Janice) sang the wedding songs. How beautiful they were!

Now Amanda is Mrs. James Hansen and we have a new son!

Both Mr. and Mrs. Hansen are the commissioned officers of the U.S. Air Force. I am proud of them and I thank God for them. May the good Lord bless them, watch over them and become the central thread of their marriage tapestry! - Jeffrey