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Volunteering Or Visiting At Padri Vjeko Centre, Kivumu?
Wednesday, 05 September 2018 Written by Valerie Kae Ken

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Volunteer or Visitor… which are you? A visitor is someone who comes to visit Kivumu, to enjoy the experience of taking in the sights and sounds of Rwanda from a village prospective. A visitor arranges their own time schedule but still respects the timetable of the friary for all meals, prayer times and arrivals and departures. A visitor stays at the friary for a few weeks with accommodation and meals, but realizes that this is the home of the friars, not a hotel.

A volunteer is someone who intends to stay for six months or more. A volunteer has a skill and/or knowledge to offer. A volunteer has a clear idea of what they are coming to achieve and doesn’t need constant supervision or being told what to do. A volunteer has researched Padri Vjeko Centre and knows something of the culture and conditions that they can expect. A volunteer is more than willing to commit to respecting the timetable of the school and not to come and go as it pleases them. A volunteer is interested in learning as well as contributing. A volunteer understands that this is not about ‘them’, it is about others – those they will be working with. A volunteer, in short, is an open minded, creative, energetic, joyful, non-judgemental and respectful individual who is willing to perform the smallest task as well take on the responsibility of larger projects.

So you are thinking of coming to Rwanda as a visitor or to volunteer at Padri Vjeko Centre?

Volonter ili posjetitelj

Here is an update to an article that I posted back in 2012 Want to be a volunteer? Planning to save the world?

It has now been twenty-one years since I first came to Africa as a volunteer. Many of the things I wrote six years ago still apply, but there have been some changes that warrant this rewrite.

One thing that has not changed is the challenge of doing anything easily… Although we have electricity, it tends to go out at the most inconvenient times! And water and paper is something that is never wasted, so it is used sparingly. This also applies to the other supplies, especially things that arrive in sea containers from wonderful people who work hard to send us much needed equipment, tools and goods.

Over these years we have enjoyed the experience of having people come from so many different countries to help out here at the project. The atmosphere created by these visitors, for the most part, is encouraging and energizing. Our teachers get to work with new faces, many of whom bring their knowledge and skills that they are eager to share. This allows the staff at the school, as well as the students, to learn how things are done a little differently in other locations and to benefit from all this.

But sometimes there is a downside to having volunteers/visitors… this is when people come thinking they know everything and that there is nothing to learn from their experience here. And when they disrespect advice, like not to freely hand out things to begging children, which does nothing except teach the children to continue begging. It is not helpful at all. Or people who come and spend one or two hours at the school at any time that pleases them and expect the school to accommodate their erratic schedule.

Volonter ili posjetitelj

We have even had volunteers/visitors who have gone behind the backs of those who work hard to encourage people to earn what they receive. Some of these ‘volunteers/visitors’ have made promises of money to a few individuals, sending money to some, while leaving so many others to go without and again this undermines the real, long-lasting development work that is being done here. And what is truly sad is the many ‘selfies’ that are taken in front of poor villagers and posted to Facebook. While this might make the ‘volunteer/visitor’ feel important, it simply serves to perpetuate the stereotype of poor African people.

So if you want to be a volunteer, and truly volunteer your time and effort and to share an opportunity of a lifetime with others who can teach us as well as to learn from us, by all means, do it! Only it is most important to respect those who have chosen to actually live here in order to help those less fortunate.

And if you are lucky enough to be invited to stay at the friary, please understand that this is the friars’ home. They have certain routines to be respected. Loud voices and cell phone calls are intrusive, especially when they are in prayer. And the sitting room is their domain, not a common room to lounge about in and check your emails. Mealtimes are set times and need to be respected and the kitchen is off-limits for volunteers to use. As for laundry, it is helpful if smaller, lighter items are washed by hand and the machine be used for heavier items like jeans, towels and bed linens (and this is done by Oswaldi, not for personal use). And smokers are kindly requested to remain outside the friary area – this means smoking at the volunteer section only. The friars do not smoke and they do not need to be subjected to smoke from those who do.

If you do come to Kivumu to volunteer at Padri Vjeko School, you are most welcome, but realize that there is a working schedule, with working hours of starting and finishing. You are invited to come to assembly every morning and to show up for scheduled times and leave at the end of scheduled times. Things do not get rearranged or delayed just because a volunteer decides to sleep in and show up late or leave early in the day! Our teachers don’t have the luxury of not completing a full days work and leaving things unfinished, and the impression left by an unfortunate few volunteers who do this is not a positive one.

One thing about clothing… some volunteers/visitors come here with old clothes to leave behind. If you want to leave something behind, why not make it something good that you yourself would like to wear? Our teachers and students also appreciate nice things. Our teachers try to dress as best they can. In fact, our teachers often dress better than visitors! And please leave your stretchy leggings, spaghetti strap tops, short shorts and other such clothing to wear at home. This is a village with people who dress modestly, even when they are digging in the fields.

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And now, because things have changed somewhat here in Rwanda, as it does anywhere in the world, here is an updated ‘Packing List” in case you are wondering what to bring in your suitcase...


  1. Passport – make sure that it has at least 6 months still before expiry!
  2. VISA – you get it upon arrival at the airport now.
  3. USD – bring bills more recent than 2009 - VERY IMPORTANT (in Africa they scrutinize the bills and won’t accept older/tattered ones). Euros do not have a date limit.
  4. Any important paperwork that you think you might need – medical, etc. Note: I don’t buy extra medical insurance myself and in 21 years I have not had any need of it…… when I need a malaria test, or amoeba test I simply get one at a local clinic and costs next to nothing!
  5. Credit cards, bank cards
  6. Sunglasses, Glasses (if needed)
  7. Cell phone, Camera, Laptop, iPad, etc and chargers for all items
  8. Extra batteries if you think you will need them
  9. Any prescribed medications (but note that you can buy almost any kind of medication here…or the equivalent for most things)
  10. Jewelry – nothing too expensive or too flashy if you don’t want to lose it...
  11. Cosmetics, Hair dryer (if voltage convertible, Comb, brush, elastics, hair clips
  12. Toothbrush and toothpaste (can buy toothpaste here), dental floss
  13. Shampoo and conditioner (can buy here – more expensive and not the same choice)
  14. Creams, lotions, etc. (but again – you can buy here)
  15. Mosquito repellent (we have some that others leave behind) You can also buy a mosquito repellent ‘plug-in’ unit – works very well)
  16. Pillow (if want to use your own pillow….:) You can even leave it behind… the pillows here are stuffed with ‘mystery’ things….rags, bits of sponge, etc….. …
  17. Smaller, lighter backpack for carrying items when traveling, or walking back and forth to the school (also – for women especially, we make very nice large cotton shoulder bags in case you want to buy one from the school)
  18. Any DVDs that you might like to watch/listen to (and even leave behind)….Note: there are movies and books, at the friary that can be borrowed.
  19. Small ‘torch’ (flashlight) – for nights when the electricity goes off….:)
  20. Plug ends (3 prong ‘English’ for Uganda, 2 prong ‘French’ for Rwanda) for as many things that you think you need to plug in at one time...
  21. Clothes hangers – they have some here – local ones are shaped wire made by hand… A ‘multi-skirt’ hanger is very useful……And, again they can be left behind…?
  22. 'Organizer’ items (like a hanging unit for shoes, or a clip unit to dry underwear, etc. in your room)
  23. Any berry jams (raspberry, strawberry, etc.) that is either home-made (ideal) or store bought that is nice and tasty is very much appreciated at the friary– we can buy some here, but it is expensive and often has too much sugar and food colouring and little real taste!
  24. Finally, a bottle of liquor if you like … but note that you can buy almost any liquor in nearby Muhanga or in Kigali and beer is easily available.


  1. Underwear
  2. Sleepwear
  3. Flip-flops (note: you can buy them cheaply here. They are everywhere)
  4. Good hiking sandals or running shoes/hiking boots (with socks)
  5. Sandals for day and a pair of simple dressier shoes or sandals for special occasions
  6. Cargo pants (with lots of pockets….:)
  7. Capris for women or long shorts for men (short shorts are not worn here)
  8. Trousers for both men and women, as desired
  9. Short sleeved shirts or T shirts for day wear (no muscle T-shirts please)
  10. Long sleeved shirts or blouses for evening
  11. Longer skirts or dresses for women - the village appreciates modesty
  12. Something ‘comfy’ to wear on Saturdays and Sundays
  13. A dressier outfit for church or other occasion… people like to see us dressed up rather than wearing shorts and T-shirts all the time….:)
  14. Windbreaker jacket or hoodie
  15. Shawl and/or sweater for women
  16. Hat, if you like to wear one (we even have caps with our school logo if you want to get one from us….)
  17. mbrellas – little travel umbrellas are useless here in rainy season because when it rains, it usually pours. Umbrellas are cheap here and can be purchased or borrowed from the friary...


  1. Bedding
  2. Towels
  3. Toilet paper, soap, laundry soap
  4. Mosquito net
  5. Iron available (if you need to iron anything)
  6. Water is boiled and filtered so don’t worry.
  7. Food, including teas, coffee, freshly made bread, etc.

Note that all food is prepared by our cook, Oswaldi, who is a great cook and a great guy! So in conclusion…….coming to Kivumu is one of the best life experiences to be enjoyed and if you, as a volunteer or visitor, are open to what life has to offer while respecting others here at Padri Vjeko Centre, you will be most welcome.

Father Vjeko Center

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