So you want to learn about East Africa in a few paragraphs?
Kenya often evokes mental images of Masai Mara warriors, exotic wildlife in national parks and acacia trees on the savannah. These images still ring true today, but there is so much more to Kenya than going on a safari.
Uganda and Rwanda are so often associated with their bloody histories: the dictatorship of Idi Amin in Uganda and the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda. But conflict is just one layer of an incredibly complex history. Both countries have have lush green forest valleys, red-brown dirt roads and aqua blue waters of rivers and lakes. Kigali, especially, is a hip metropolis booming from a successful telecommunications industry.
It only takes a moment to realize that these countries can’t be summed up in a few lines. The lessons we have learned here would take a lifetime to write. Hopefully though, you will find these truths for yourself.
Independent Travel Time is your opportunity to go out there and explore on your own terms!
Catch a glimpse of mountain gorillas in the Rwanda hillsides
Climb Mount Kilimanjaro or relax on the coast in Tanzania
See lions, elephants, rhinos, and more on safari in one of East Africa’s many national parks
WITH OG YOU LIVE LIKE THE LOCALS.
In East Africa we like to keep you on your toes. Though we’ll be spending most of this trip in Rwanda, we plan to move around a lot within the small landlocked country and expose you to as much as we can. We’ll be warmly taken in by widows who survived the genocide, getting to know their stories and the families they have since raised. We’ll spend a week or so at the hostel connected to the church of St. Paul where thousands took refuge in 1994. Other nights we’ll cuddle up under the stars at the base of misty tea-covered hills, or find ourselves climbing over one another into bunks at youth hostels in different cities. We’ll eat like locals, travel like locals, and absorb as much culture as we can. As James Michener once wrote, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.”
*This itinerary is based on our previous experience with the region. Programs change every year based on the needs of our partners. This should give you a sense of what our program may look like.
When you arrive at the Kigali International Airport, we’ll be waiting eagerly to pick you up. The trip starts with a few days of in-country orientation in the stunning capital so we can familiarize ourselves with each other and with our surroundings. Participants will try local cuisine, visit nearby markets, pick up some of the local language, and find their bearings in this city of hills.
We will leave Kigali for a few days and travel South to Nyungwe National Forest. Here we will set up camp and spend two days trekking and exploring this beautiful space. On our hike into the waterfalls, we will see how many of the 13 primate species that inhabit the park we can spot. We’ll finish off these amazing two days with a canopy walk through the trees. This is a great time for us to bond as a group and explore the beauties of this country.
Once we’ve settled in, participants will connect with passionate and engaged youth from Never Again Rwanda participating in and helping facilitate workshops at the Peace Building Institute. Rwanda’s history is heavy and during this time, participants will have a lot to reflect. We’ll take two days of personal time to do so, at which time you can visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center and other memorials in surrounding villages at your own pace. We’ll also meet with officials at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to ask questions and learn more about the process of justice and reconciliation.
Once we finish up in Rwanda, we’ll start making our way over to Uganda, stopping for two days of pure adrenaline in Jinja. We’ll bungee jump over the source of the Nile and whitewater raft down its intense rapids. From there we’ll make our way to the bustling city of Kampala!
In this part of the trip we will tackle the sensitive political arena in Uganda with local media outlets. We’ll discover the role of the media by working first hand with local news agencies in the capital and engaging in meaningful conversations with experts in the field.
We will now make our way to Western Kenya and settle in at OG’s home-away-from-home in East Africa, North Maragoli. Here we will see development first hand. We will engage in a project with the community based on their requests after attending a community meeting called a baraza. We will continue onto Nairobi, getting a chance to really see the stark differences between the rural and the urban worlds. In Nairobi, we will connect with some of our oldest partners Maasai Mbili and the Mwelu Foundation.
Participants will also have Independent Travel Time (ITT) – a staple of all Operation Groundswell programs. You can travel independently if you desire, but everyone is urged to travel in pairs or small groups. During this time, participants are not under the auspices of the organized program and are entirely responsible for themselves. Participants are given the emergency contact number of trip organizers during ITT for any advice or safety concerns. ITT is the ideal time for participants to learn more about their specific interest, whether it be volunteering, traveling, or just relaxing. You may choose to climb the awe-inspiring Mount Kilimanjaro, visit Zanzibar or Dar Es Salaam on the coast of Tanzania, track mountain gorillas in Rwanda, or go on a safari in one of the region’s stunning national parks. This will be an opportunity for participants to use the knowledge and skills acquired over the past month to navigate East Africa on their own or in small groups.
The group will reconvene for a trip debrief known as the ‘Disorientation’ prior to flying home. Following ITT, the team will meet up in Watamu, a Kenyan coastal paradise on the Indian Ocean. We will re-live memories of the trip, summarize our experiences, discuss how to stay connected and collaborate on projects in the future before tearful goodbyes at the airport and our flights home.
MEET YOUR TRIP LEADERS
Get ready to spend six weeks with some of the raddest people on earth…we’re not even exaggerating! Just click on their name to read more about them.
When she watched her tent get picked up by a windstorm and fly away across the Namibian desert, Rachel knew her life had reached a new high. It all started in 2010 when she followed her passion for Rwandan politics and found herself backpacking across East Africa on OG’s first-ever trip to the region. Soon after, she joined OG as a trip leader and spent the following summer leading two epic trips through Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. She then headed south and began a five-month journey backpacking through South Africa, Lesotho, Madagascar, Swaziland, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. A graduate of Carleton University’s journalism program, Rachel works as a freelance writer and is determined to write a book exposing the often-harsh realities and risks of voluntourism.
After getting bit with the travel bug on a trip to Norway at the age of 11 with the organization CISV, Meg has never missed an opportunity to experience new things. Originally from Maine, USA, Meg came to the University of Toronto where she double majored in African Studies and Political Science. She is now working and volunteering in the city, counting the days until this summer’s adventure. Meg was lucky enough to be a part of the first OG East Africa Politics program in 2010 and loved every second of it. She is pumped to have the opportunity to put her passions and experiences to work leading the East Africa: Gender & Human Rights and East Africa: Politics and Perceptions trips this summer!