Before you Go:
A physical exam is required.
- Discuss your travel plans with you personal physician. In addition to normal routine vaccinations, in Rwanda it is advisable to be vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B, Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Tetanus, and most adults will require a Polio booster. Some of these vaccines need to be administered several months in advance to be effective, so plan ahead. THE ENTIRE PROCESS INCLUDING THE APPLICATION PROCESS, OBTAINING VACCINATIONS AND IN COUNTRY LOGISTICS PRIOR TO BEING CLEARED FOR WORK CAN TAKE UP TO SIX MONTHS. THEREFORE, IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A POSITION WITHIN 0-6 MONTHS, WE MAY NOT BE ABLE TO ACCOMIDATE YOU.
- Malaria prophylaxis is also recommended: ask your doctor which option is best for you.
Read up on the country and talk with others who have visited there. Learn about its history, geography, people, and customs. This will make you experience more enjoyable and help you integrate and understand the culture you enter. It will also allow you to make an informed decision on volunteering in a particular location.
- Rwanda is primarily a Christian country, though other religions do exist in small pockets. Regardless of your personal religion, it is expected by most people in authority that you act in a “Christian” manner. This means no drunkenness, lewd behavior, or drug use. Both women and men dress modestly – no short shorts or tank tops are permitted.
- Rwanda is also VERY hilly and mountainous. You will likely be hiking on hill trails back and forth to the clinic, so take this into consideration as you will need to be reasonably fit, though by no means are you required to be a gym regular! Though you may break a sweat, this is also a great place to meet the local people and stop by a local house to look around (ask first!).
- Although most people still remember the genocide, it is not polite to ask a Rwandan what tribe they are from or what they thought of the events. This is a dark time in the country’s history and many would like to forgive and forget. The country has undertaken an extreme road to rebuilding and modernizing the infrastructure and is now considered the safest and THE country to emulate in East Africa. Although we feel that Rwanda is extremely safe, as in any country including the US, there is always the possibility of an altercation.
- Rwanda has a zero tolerance policy on corruption, so bribes by authorities, which are rampant in other East African countries, are on the decline in Rwanda.
- Most airlines have a strict maximum on baggage weight. Be sure to ask your carrier what your weight allowance is.
- At the absolute minimum make sure to bring – toiletries, medicines, mosquito repellent containing DEET, sunscreen, flashlight, jeans, lightweight pants, skirts, shorts, short sleeve shirts, one pair of dress pants and dress shirt or dress/skirt for ladies, rain jacket, sweater (it gets cool at night), a pair of good hiking shoes - do not need to be boots, hat, and anything else you can’t live without.
- Get money from you bank before you go. There are no or limited international ATMs in Rwanda (rumor has it that there is one in Kigali, but don’t count on it). Also East African banking laws require all bills to be 2002 or newer, so make sure you ask your bank for new bills only. US $50 and $100 get as much as 20% better exchange rates, so do not take many smaller bills with you. Traveler’s Checks are also negotiable for cash, but again get much lower exchange rates, so use your discretion. Most volunteers choose to take some of both. If you are going to be in the country for several months, you can easily open an account in Kibungo and have money wired there form abroad as needed.
- There are only a few airlines which fly into Rwanda, notably Rwanda Air and Kenya Airways from Nairobi, Belgium Airways, Ethiopian. Many of these only fly a few times a week, so make sure to check your schedule before booking. Delta Airlines recently became the first US carrier to fly to Nairobi with a direct flight from Atlanta to Nairobi, where you can catch a flight on Kenya Airways to Kigali. These flights will range anywhere from $1500 USD to $2500 USD depending on route and season.
- The flight is around 18 hours without layovers - please consider your ability to travel for this time without significant rest or comfort!
- VISA requirements: no visa is required for US citizens staying less than three months in Rwanda. Please check with your local embassy for visa requirements if you have a non-US passport. If you will be staying for more than three months you will need a tourist visa and green card. These are available in Kigali for a minimal fee (less than $50 USD at last check) and require a police report form you home town (be sure to bring this with you if you plan on applying for a green card), a letter of introduction (this will be supplied by HFC and/or the Anglican Church, and a description of duties (to be supplied by HFC). You have up to three months to acquire these items after arrival. If you plan on traveling to another East African country, you can waive your visa requirement by leaving and returning to Rwanda at least once every three months (the TZ boarder is not far).
Upon arriving in Kigali.
- Please allow a day or two in Kigali to acclimate to the country. We can recommend accommodations in the capital if you need. There are many wonderful restaurants, shops, and sites to see before embarking to Kibungo. This also allows you to pick up any items you may have forgotten to pack and to exchange money. It also allows you to catch up on much needed sleep before your journey to Kibungo.
- We do require a minimum of 4 week commitment, so plan on approximately 30-32 days in total for travel and acclimation.
- EXCHANGE MONEY IN KIGALI!!! You may want to exchange some money at the airport so you can pay for a taxi into town and the rates are comparable. There are no banks in Kibungo with international exchange capabilities. The best place to exchange money is either at one of the numerous Forex sites or one of the banks. The best and cleanest is in the Nakamat Center – any person or cab driver can show you the location and it is an easy walk from anywhere in town.
Traveling to Kibungo.
- The best way to get to Kibungo is by mini bus. Most likely, we will try to have one of the current volunteers meet you at the airport or your hotel to facilitate travel. However, if you need to come alone, you can ask for directions to the Nakamat Center and from there to the mini bus stands. The drivers are all very friendly and will show you the correct bus to get on. Beware that these leave when full, so you may need to sit for up to 30-45 minutes before departure. They will likely be cramped, but the people onboard often like to practice their English and ask you questions. Enjoy, you are now officially in Africa!!
- Upon arriving in Kibungo, we will have a volunteer meet you at the mini bus station if they are not traveling with you. From there you will walk to you new home approximately 15 minutes away.
LIVING IN KIBUNGO:
Housing - there are two housing options in Kibungo that we can recommend:
- One is the Anglican Guest House at the Anglican Diocese. This is about a 30 minute walk from the village center and district hospital and about another hour walk to the Karama site. It costs approximately $10 USD/day for a small room and bath including a small breakfast.
- HFC also maintains a volunteer guest house with three shared rooms and bathroom (HOT WATER!), full kitchen, dining room, and living room. The locked compound is fenced with 24/7 gatekeeper and a large yard and garden. Other volunteers will likely be there with you, so it is a good place for camaraderie and to discuss plans. It is also located a few minutes from the district hospital and across the valley form the Karama site. We rent space there for $50 USD/wk to cover our expenses.
- There are many fair, clean native restaurants in Kibungo although the choices are limited and pretty much the same at all of them. If you eat out, plan on about $5 USD/meal which includes beef/chicken/goat, rice, French fries, and plantains (matoke). Vegetarians can find food though it may not be what you are used to or a great variety.
- If you stay at the guest house, you can pick up staples in town and a variety of vegetables and fruits at the market and cook at home. There are also two large trees on the grounds for an ever abundant supply of avocados.
- There are several internet cafes in town. Most charge about $1 USD per hour of use. If you are staying in Kibungo for an extended period of time as a project manager, it is possible to buy a satellite modem for $80 USD to use on your laptop in the house. The monthly charges are then based on amount of data downloaded and are comparable to the internet café cost.
Travel while in Kibungo
- Most of the time you will be walking from your housing choice to town, internet or the health center. This is a calm time, a time that many from town will want to walk along side and chat. This can seem intimidating from a western view point, but is the culture there.
- Do not feel threatened and if people ask for money or make unwanted advances, politely say no and move on. Overall this will not be a problem, but as many people here are extremely poor, the chance of asking a possible “rich” traveler to help out sometimes is too hard to resist.
- Although single women are sometimes followed unasked, a polite refusal is usually sufficient and violence is very rare toward foreigners in Rwanda.
- For more distant sites, travel may be provided at the discretion of HFC coordinators in Rwanda.
Overall for all expenses in country (excluding travel to and from the country), you can expect to spend around $500-600 USD plus any extra vacations, sightseeing, souveniors, or other travel you encounter.
We will continue to add to this page and are more than willing to answer other questions you may have about your trip. One of the most important things we can say and this cannot be over emphasized, is that no matter how well prepared you are or where else you have travelled outside of Africa, this will be different from what you expect. It is very important to be flexible and go with the flow. Time is different in Africa and things happen on their own pace, sometimes frustrating volunteers used to a fast paced, everything at you fingertips, mentality. Most people have a few days of depression upon arriving, but this soon lifts, you settle into rhythm of the village, and your cares drift away. This is normal and to be expected. By the time you leave you will probably already be planning your next trip back.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, IF YOU APPLY AND ARE CHOSEN TO VOLUNTEER WITH HFC, HAVE FUN AND ENJOY YOUR ADVENTURE!!