Saturday, 23 December 2006

Wishing you a merry Christmas and happy new year!

JK: We are reunited (Melanie got back today! December 23) and off to Greece to spend Christmas and New Year with the Kots side of the family. The picture below shows us celebrating at Brussels' Christmas market over gluwein and tartiflette.

JK&MK: We would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy, productive and healthy new year!

Thursday, 21 December 2006

Erin go bragh

JK: The Irish are "grand". That is the simple conclusion made by JK after a four day trip to Ireland for a conference in Cork. The adventure started off in perfect fashion --in Dublin-- where JK and his old high school pal Ian toured the city, consuming ample amounts of Guinness, Irish stew, and warming up with daily doses of soccer watching in some of Dublin's seemingly infinite number of hospitable pubs. The nightlife did not disappoint either, with visits to pubs and live music bars.

At the end of the glorious weekend, JK hopped on a train to Cork. He arrived just as the sun was setting, which gave him the most glorious first impression of the "rebel county". Since he was in fact in Cork for business (delivering a paper at an academic conference), JK did not get anywhere near the amount of time required to discover the city. But he vows to return to this fine corner of Europe, and next time with "the wife" in tow. ;)

Wednesday, 13 December 2006


MK: Dear readers,
Please find below the press release for the new project that I am managing at UNDP in Rwanda. Right now, it is the biggest project at our country office.

Kigali, December 12, 2006: On Thursday, Dec. 14th, the Ministry of Lands, Environment, Forestry, Water and Mines (MINITERE) will publicly launch a new Global Environment Facility (GEF) project titled “Strengthening Biodiversity Conservation Capacity in the Forest Protected Area System of Rwanda.” The 6-year project, funded by $5.4 million of support from the UNDP branch of the GEF, is being announced during a half-day meeting at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kigali, with partners and stakeholders attending from across the country.

Known as PAB (Protected Areas Biodiversity), this project represents a strongly collaborative effort including national ministries, districts, NGOs and local associations who will work together to strengthen the conservation and management of Rwanda’s extraordinary forested parks. The Volcanoes National Park and Nyungwe National Park are globally renown for their unique wildlife - including mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, and numerous rare monkeys, birds, and plants – and represent a major commitment by the government and people of Rwanda to the great variety of nature (biodiversity) found in its mountain forests. The global attraction of Rwanda’s wildlife is at the base of an increasing ecotourism, which now represents one of the fastest growing sectors of the nation’s economy. The mountain forests of Rwanda also provide important ecological functions of water catchment, maintaining water supply, preventing soil erosion, and could provide significant hydro-electric power. These services benefit a large proportion of the country.

The project PAB is led by the Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (REMA) of MINITERE, in close collaboration with the Rwandan Office of Tourism and National Parks of MINICOM, districts surrounding the parks, community-level associations, and non-governmental conservation organizations, and will be executed with support from the UNDP GEF. This extensive and diverse set of partners indicates the importance of integrating conservation of wildlife and parks with the well-being and support of rural communities.

Emphasis of the PAB project will be on building the capacity of stakeholders at multiple levels to effectively conserve and manage wildlife, the parks, and natural resources surrounding them. In particular, the project will (1) strengthen management of the two montane forested parks through applied research, monitoring and evaluation, (2) increase local and district capacity to plan and co-manage appropriate development activities on lands neighboring protected areas, and (3) strengthen the central government’s institutional capacity to finance, monitor, and manage all protected areas.

In addition to improved forest conservation, the project is expected to result in increased tourism and associated economic activities, better management of trees, bamboo, soils and other natural resources in zones surrounding the parks, maintained water volume and quality essential to the entire nation, and increased income and employment in targeted neighbouring communities.

Thursday’s opening at the Intercontinental Hotel, running from 9am to 12:30pm, will feature opening remarks by the Honourable Minister in Charge of Lands and Environment Patricia Hajabakiga, UNDP Resident Representative Moustapha Soumaré, and the Director General of the Rwandan Office of Tourism and National Parks.

For further information, please contact Jean de Dieu Kayiranga (Information Officer) in Kigali, tel. (250)08505778 or Melanie Kotsopoulos, GEF Programme Analyst (08669000).

Saturday, 9 December 2006

Worlds apart? Not really.

They may be thousands of kilometers apart, but JK and MK are still connected through one of their favourite past times...... eating! Both pictures were taken on the same day (Dec 2). MK is at a UN event outside Kigali and JK is in Aachen, Germany to check out its famous Christmas Market. Pics here: (JIV Day) and (Aachen)

Where is Melanie hiding??

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

First month in Kigali.....

MK: Well, I have survived my first month in Kigali.

For the first few days in Rwanda I stayed at the Hotel Mille Collines (made famous in the movie "Hotel Rwanda"). I am now renting a room for the time being from a nice Rwandan lady named Lilian who works for Rwandair (in Sales and Marketing). She has a charming 13year old daughter named Gloria (and a husband and 2 sons that are currently living in the UK). The house is nice and is located on one of the many hills (Gacuriro) that make up Kigali. I will be looking for a house of my own closer to my office (in Kiyovu) in the new year. The only catch with living with my host family is that I am woken up everyday at 6:00am because the neighbour behind our house has decided to perform a ritual that entails him singing, clapping, and whistling for exactly 15 minutes every morning (except Fridays of course because he is an Adventist!) .

Kigali as a capital city is nice and is relatively safe and lush with green rolling hills. Although Rwanda is the most denseley populated country in Africa, it is not really polluted and is surprisingly clean. It is by far one of the easiest cities in which to live. The downsides are: a high cost of living (rent, taxis, and food are expensive), the food is not all that exciting, and there is not much to do, so boredom comes easily.

I am working on UNDP/Rwanda's Global Environment Facility (GEF) programme. Mainly I am responsible for currently their largest project on "Strengthening Biodiversity Conservation Capacity in the Forest Protected Area System of Rwanda" (GEF resources are $5,450,000 with total allocated resources of USD$13,430,000). The project will be implemented in the Nyungwe Forest/National Park (where the chimpanzees are) and Volcano National Park (where the mountain gorillas are and where Dian Fossey carried out her research). I am organising our big project launch which will be held on Thursday the 14th of December. I have already secured the Minister of Land and Environment to give an opening remark as well as the head of all UN agencies here (UN Resident Co-ordinator/Resident Respresentative). In the new year, we will hold its big launch in one of the two parks.

I am travelling to Nyungwe Forest for an overnight stay in the Guest House on Monday the 11th of December to attend USAID's Eco-tourism project the following day. It is about a four-hour drive one-way. Because it is located near the Congolese border, I had to get UN security clearance to travel.

It is great working in the field as you never stay chained to your desk! I participated in Umuganda Day in which the last Saturday of every month, Rwandans are required to partake in community service (planting trees, cleaning up the garbage, stopping erosion and floods from the rains, etc.). For an interesting article, visit The New Times. I also took part in World AIDS Day (WAD) on Saturday the 2nd of December 2006. I had kids crawling all over me and playing with my hair! Speaking of which, there is a strange thing that happens to me all the time. I will be walking down the street or standing somewhere and someone behind me will pull my hair! If I turn around, they will give me a look like nothing happened but I will proceed to point to the clump of hair that is stuck between their fingers!!

Please check out our photos on Flickr and Picasa Web Albums!