Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Andrew the story teller (they call him the ‘Wandera’) & Alexis’ Corner (Part 2)…..
November 27, 2010

Last week all teachers, supposedly, were involved in the first week of a nationwide four-week training programme in English.

I spent the early part of the week assisting Andrew, course trainer at Nyabitare School. He is a well qualified Ugandan with a BA and Masters in English Language and Literature. He is hoping to be sponsored to study for a PhD in the States next year, possibly at Harvard.

His family home is on the Ugandan border with Kenya although he teaches at a secondary boarding school and lectures at the university in the capital city of Kampala.

Like so many people I have met he has a whole series of interesting anecdotes to share. Part of his name is ‘Wandera’ which apparently refers to the umbilical cord being wrapped around his neck.  He pointed out that many Ugandans are named after the circumstances of their birth.

Andrew is a young man with a passion for literature, a thirst for knowledge and a desire to better himself through hard work. Interestingly, one of the books his students have been studying  with him is ‘The Last King of Scotland’. We talked about the film version and Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of ‘Idi’ which he thought was very good although he maintains the storyline was over embellished!  

He is another devout Christian who for some time was destined for the priesthood. He is committed to supporting his family and as early as ten years old he contributed to the ‘pot’ by smuggling goods across the border from Uganda into Kenya. On one occasion in the dark of night he was pursued and tripped over, catching himself on a wire which cut his chest open.

He still carries the scars along with other more recent additions following a recent near fatal car crash in Kampala, when his ‘automatic’ failed to respond and he rolled it over, and also after falling from the back of a ‘moto’ when the road ahead dramatically subsided following a rainstorm. I told him he’s not the sort of guy I would like to have as a fellow passenger on an air flight!        

…………………………………………………………………………………..

On Thursday the District Office asked me to go out to the more distant Mpanga Sector to report the training at Kankobwa School. This was actually a timely break from the tedium that was beginning to settle in after three days of ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’, and the like, at  Nyabitare School.

It’s some time since I last rode pillion to Alex. He greeted me with his usual broad grin and a slap on the back. It was then that I made the mistake of asking how long it would take to our destination. ‘Forty minutes’, was the prompt response and we set off in a cloud of dust, at a rate of knots.

It’s funny how you get used to your ‘moto’ driver. Recently I’ve been with Daniel who I have to say drives in a relatively sedate fashion, carefully picking his lines and avoiding too many bumps along the way.

Although I feel perfectly safe with both, Alex is more of a speed merchant and goes for the roller coaster approach! Ten minutes in, he looked over his shoulder and pointed into the distance informing me that, ‘Kankobwa is at the top of that mountain’. Technically it might not have been a mountain but it was a hell of a steep, near vertical,  ascent.

Once on the top we made up for lost time. As we glided to a halt in the school playground and I dismounted in rather shaky fashion, Alex was grinning again and proudly pointing to his watch while announcing, ‘Forty minutes!’

On the return journey we unexpectedly drew to a halt outside Alex’s home. I had been an honoured guest some weeks ago and I hadn’t anticipated another invitation.

‘Welcome to my home,’ he announced, grabbing my backpack and crash helmet, before leading me down the slope, where a piping hot pan of rice with fish sauce was waiting on the table. I was provided with a bottle of Primus and Alex drank Fanta Coca, informing me that now he has a wife and children he no longer drinks beer.

We talked a little more about his fourteen years in the RPF, under Paul Kagame, where he made his way up from boy soldier to the rank of sergeant. After, he took me to meet the extended family, mother, father and sister-in-law, and to check up on his cows. According to his graphic mime the mother is yielding copious amounts of milk.

Alex proudly announced he is now the head of a five cow family, three at home and two grazing up in the hills.  He led me across to a small rondawel with thatched roof, home to his latest arrival a still small black calf. ‘It is a girl,’ he told me with another huge grin.     

With that we were back on the road for the final part of an eventful and memorable journey.         

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Mützig and jambo with the lads!
November 17, 2010

Today was my final visit to Nyamateke School, to lead a training session on Classroom Observation, although I will be seeing the teachers again when they join with the staff at Nyabitare next week to start a four-week MINEDUC national English training programme for teachers. 

Sadly Wellars, the Headteacher, was not present today. One of his five children, a son, has gone down with malaria and he needed to take him to hospital for treatment. Fortunately, I understand it is not too serious.

Malaria is still rife and a big killer out here and we have recently received an email alert from VSO warning us that an unusually warm wet season has led to an increase in mosquitoes and reminding us to keep taking the tablets and bed down under our nets.

In Wellars’ absence Anaclet, a young teacher with good English, had been briefed to look after me and he was insistent that the headmaster had said he must take me for ‘refreshment’ after the session to thank me for my work.

Before we set off down the hill to the local ‘bar’ I lined all the teachers up for a group photograph outside the school and promised I would send them a copy on my return to England.

Six of us squeezed into the small, dim room with its rustic furniture and coloured poster of a smiling Shakira, adorning the wall. Things had gone full circle as this is where I had been treated to ‘Fanta Coca’ on my very first visit to the school.

This time around we were on the beer – well it is the school holidays! Once the bottle tops had been removed Xavier, ‘a good Christian’ according to Anaclet, said ‘grace’ in Kinyarwanda. Xavier later told me he had given thanks for the work I had done with them and asked God to be with me when I return to England – very touching!

Next I was told I had to partake of ‘jambo’ for lunch. Jambo turned out to be a tin of sardines with the brand name ‘Hello’. The barman cut open the small cylindrical can with a large machete and we all sat scooping the fish out with a fork before slurping down the remains of the tomato sauce!

As is often the case the best conversations are those over a shared beer and we touched on a whole number of varied but interesting topics. We somehow got on to university fees. All of my drinking companions were still in their twenties and keen to continue in part-time higher education.

Apparently a part-time university course costs around 450,000 RWF (£450) a year plus travelling expenses every weekend. It may not seem excessive to us but is prohibitive for many of them.

I tried to explain the English student loan system. Their faces displayed instant recognition and I was told the same set up had recently been adopted by Rwanda. All was made clear as they informed me that Paul Kagame is very close friends with an English adviser, Tony Blair!

Cows are never far away from the thoughts or conversation of Rwandans. They still can’t comprehend that we don’t keep cows as domestic animals in the UK!

It was explained to me that each year one teacher from each sector is nominated by his colleagues to receive a cow for his services to education. Last year in Nyarabuye sector it was, Seraphin, one of the Nyamateke teachers who received a Friesian cow from Paul Kagame (not Ankole!).

Ankole cattle with their enormous horns, whilst well adapted to East Africa and able to survive on limited water and poor grazing, are short on milk. Friesians which produce far more milk are gradually being introduced. Unfortunately Seraphin’s cow had not lasted long but he had been promised a replacement.

Anaclet had phoned my moto driver and rescheduled him to pick me up from the ‘bar’ not the school (a good advert for VSO volunteers!) and it was with some regret that I had to depart the scene so soon. I’m sure it is enjoyable interludes such as this that will remain with me for a long time when I return to the UK.

A severe dose of ‘man flu’…………..
November 15, 2010

Apologies to my ‘regulars’ for the lack of postings over the last week or so, principally the result of a severe bout of ‘man flu’ which I’ve managed to recover from with the help of an emergency cache of paracetamol, Strepsils and Lemsip which Dorothy had stashed away before her departure and for which I was very grateful.  

A moto-ride to O Sole Luna

Following my whistle-stop tour of the Volcanoes National Park and Lake Kivu I returned to Kigali and met up with my VSO colleagues who had been toiling through another week of in-country training.

I was running a bit late when I left the Hotel Isimbi and immediately realised that I had not allowed for the Friday night rush hour in the capital city. I decided to forget the matutu (mini-bus taxi) and take a moto. It was quite an exhilarating experience (one I wouldn’t even have considered when I first arrived here)  as we bobbed and weaved through queues of traffic, surging between the static rows, with a hair’s breadth to spare, in order to take pole position at the traffic lights.    

I made the rendezvous with time to spare and we enjoyed a really pleasant evening at a highly recommended Italian restaurant on the edge of Remera, called O Sole Luna, which provided stunning views from its terrace across the twinkling lights of Kigali (no power-cut that night) and more importantly a genuine wood fired pizza oven!

Service was a bit on the slow side, which is pretty standard anywhere – time is not considered important here, but well worth waiting for. My four cheese pizza even had genuine chunks of brie and gorgonzola!

At the end of the evening it was time for hugs and fond farewells with a number of very nice people who I have come to know over the last ten weeks and who I will not see again before I return home. I wish them all the very best for the remainder of their long-term placements.     

A rising temperature but the show goes on!

By Sunday afternoon, and a three-hour bus journey courtesy of International, I arrived back at Nyakarambi with a rising temperature, sore throat and streaming nose. A throbbing head soon joined in and basically I felt pretty grim for the next three days.

Unfortunately it coincided with my first two scheduled workshops which I didn’t want to cancel so I dosed myself up and ploughed on regardless. I wouldn’t recommend facilitating a four-hour session on creating an effective classroom environment as the best remedy but I got through and lived to tell the tale.

It was rather disappointing, given the work I’d put into the preparation, that only 50% of the staff showed up at one school and about 75% at the other. It is the school holidays (for pupils) but I had been led to believe teachers were expected to attend any in-service training that was made available to them. I’m still not clear whether their contracts oblige them to put in an appearance. Clearly some of them think it’s optional or don’t fancy the idea of a muzungu droning on about raising standards for four hours!    

Going Postal in Kibungo & Caribbean curry

On Saturday I visited Kibungo in search of our nearest Iposita (post office). These are a rare commodity in Rwanda. This one, quite a walk from the centre of town, is the only place that sells stamps ‘locally’ and is the sole repository for incoming mail.

None of the properties in Nyakarambi and the surrounding villages has a postal address and there is no postal delivery service so if residents or schools wish to receive mail they need to set up a ‘post box’ in Kibungo.

Periodically they then have to make a bus journey clutching the key to their numbered box with its little yellow door situated outside the main post office building, which incidentally doesn’t strike me as being overly secure.

It’s been a ten week odyssey to find and purchase post cards, and then locate the post office in Kibungo, which of course was closed by the time I arrived.

Fortunately there are two young lady volunteers living in Kibungo who will post the cards for me later this week. Cathy and Louise also kindly offered to cook me a meal and put me up for the night in their ‘guest room’. So it wasn’t a wasted journey.

We had a pleasant time shopping in the local market where they both showed how their Kinyarwanda lessons are paying off as they enquired about prices and exchanged pleasantries with the stall holders who now recognise them as local regulars.

A very healthy, vegetable laden, Caribbean curry (due to the presence of fresh pineapple) and rice went down very well later on Saturday night, followed by a rare treat of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk (made under license in Kenya). On Sunday morning they also kindly rustled up pancakes for breakfast I left for home. I must have looked in need of a good feed. Thanks for looking after an old-timer girls!                   

This week I’ve got four consecutive days of workshops, two on lesson planning and two on classroom observation. I’m pleased to say things have started quite well with an improved turn out today.        

End of School Year Celebrations – Rwandan Style
October 31, 2010

Friday marked the end of  the Rwandan school year. I spent the entire day ‘celebrating’ with my two schools.

Over a week previously Flora, head of Nyabitare, had invited me to spend the afternoon over there. On Thursday evening  I took a belated, but welcome, call from Nyamateke asking me to spend the morning with them – so as luck would have it there was no clash to negotiate.

With 10.00 am the appointed hour I arranged a moto with Daniel for 09.30. I was enjoying my first outing of the week, soaking up the bright morning sunshine and taking in the unfolding views when another bike pulled up along side. It was Alex and who should be sitting behind him but a be-helmeted and grinning Wellars, head of Nyamateke.

Having exchanged ‘high fives’ there ensued a race, of kinds, towards Nyamateke. However there was only ever going to be one outcome given that the combined weight of Alex and Wellars was probably about half that on Daniels’s moto!

Wellars was already dismounted by the time Daniel’s, ‘made in  India’, 125cc bike had hauled us up the final steep approach to the school.

The children of Nyamateke enjoyed an extended period of recreation, for about an  hour and a half, whilst Wellars and his staff finalised the end of year prize giving ceremony. Eventually we were all assembled on the grassy bank facing the school building and the presentation began.

Three children from each class had been selected, based on their test results, to receive a prize of an exercise book (alarmingly many of these had pictures of either Manchester United or Liverpool on the front cover) and a biro.

Everything was wrapped up by 12.30 when Daniel arrived to take me on to Nyabitare for the second leg but Wellars was adamant we couldn’t leave without a drop of liquid refreshment. Crates of Fanta and inzoga had materialised in the office, and it wouldn’t have been right to turn down his hospitality, so the first slightly warm and frothy Mützig of the day was slurped from the bottle before moving on.

The tortuous, but enjoyable, cross-country route between schools took about fifteen minutes and as we wound our way around groups of children, homeward bound for the holidays, they turned with beaming smiles on their faces and waved their pink report cards.

At Nyabitare a sheltered seating area had been erected on the grassy quadrangle between the classrooms and as I arrived a sound system was being tested. What followed was a joyous P6 leavers’ performance of song, dance, speeches and prize giving.

The teachers and P6 students were all turned out in their Sunday best and the celebrations were watched by an impressive group of invited parents’ committee members.

Mid way through proceedings, my boss, Telesphore, the Director of Education, rolled up. This was quite unexpected, as far as I was concerned, but handy as I hadn’t seen him for a while and he could see I was out visiting one of my schools on a Friday afternoon, not slipping off to Kigali for an extended weekend!

Following the obligatory Fanta break, Telesphore, open necked in ‘designer’ jeans and trainers, (‘dress down Friday’ has obviously reached Rwanda)  made a speech during which he exhorted the P6 leavers to work hard at improving their English.

It was obviously thirsty work as immediately he had finished I was invited to retire to Flora’s office for a ‘quiet word’ which consisted of chewing the fat (literally) over a bowl of melanje and downing my second Mützig of the day.

Daniel arrived at 5.00pm for our homeward journey in the final glowing embers of the day. As I bobbed along on the back of the moto, feeling just a tad queasy, I felt quite elated and privileged to have spent such an uplifting day in the company of the students and staff at Nyamateke and Nyabitare schools.

Chance encounters…….
October 27, 2010

This week has been very slow. Being exam week, and the final week of the Rwandan academic year, heads and teachers are so tied up that school visits would be rather pointless. Although on Friday afternoon Nyabitare School have kindly invited me to their end of year ‘celebrations’ which will no doubt be an enjoyable occasion.    

As an interesting aside, Wellars, the head at Nyamateke  had told me that he would not be available as he would be at Nyarabuye Secondary School, all of this week, with his P6 students who have to sit their important external exams. He explained that for most this would entail a daily return cross-country trek, up hill and down dale, of up to 10km.  They will need to leave home at around 6.00 am to be sure of arriving by 8.00 am to register for a test which begins at 9.00 am.  

Somehow I can’t imagine Y6 pupils in the UK, or more to the point their parents, agreeing to such an exhausting schedule during SATs week!     

Most of my time this week has been spent preparing booklets and visual aids for three workshops I’ll be leading, during November: ‘Ten Steps to Creating an Effective Classroom’, ‘A Ten Step Guide to Lesson Planning’ and a ‘Classroom Observation Guide’ – maybe rudimentary stuff for teachers in the UK but essential ingredients of school improvement out here.   

Technology at the District Office is not the most reliable but this morning I took a chance and went along to print off and photocopy my workshop materials only to find paper was in very short supply. As I was going to need quite a large amount I went in search of some. I didn’t hold out much hope given that shopping in Nyakarambi is a bit of a lottery.

It is not always easy to tell what is sold in any given outlet from the often misleading signs they display but once within their dark interiors many of them turn out to be, what you might call, ‘general stores’ stocking an often random selection of goods.

As luck would have it I bumped into a Victor, a secondary school English teacher, I had been introduced to some time ago. Having gone through the whole hand shaking greetings ritual, which is so important here, I explained my quest and he immediately led me off to an unprepossessing looking shop where, sure enough, three reams of photocopying paper sat on the shelf along side a tins of sardines and packets of Nice biscuits – two very popular luxury items in these parts!   

The next hurdle, as always, was negotiating an acceptable price. 3000 RWF suddenly became 3,200 when the lady in the shop saw she was dealing with a muzungu but having, to my surprise, located such a rare commodity as photocopying paper I wasn’t about to haggle over 20 pence!

With mission accomplished I was by now feeling a bit peckish and set off up the high street to Auberge Ikirezi. The mainly French-speaking staff here are always very friendly and it has a pleasant open courtyard to the rear. More importantly I have recently discovered this is the only place in Nyakarambi where I can get a proper cup of icyayi, hence I’ve become a bit of a regular.  For the princely sum of 600 RWF (60p) they provide a china mug, two tea bags, a thermos of hot water and amandazi (a local type of doughnut).

As I headed back from town towards the District Office I enjoyed my second chance encounter of the morning. A young lad greeted me with a confident, ‘Good morning, how are you?’ and quickly fell into step introducing himself as fourteen year old Gwsenga from the local secondary school. He had finished his exams and had ‘free time’ now until he collected his results on Friday.

Gwsenga had only been speaking English for two years, having previously been taught in French, and I was surprised how fluent he was. He accompanied me for the rest of my journey, during which time he told me he liked English but wanted to improve. He was working hard at his studies and was fortunate that his parents were able to support his secondary education by growing pineapples which were sold on to markets and retail outlets in Kigali.

Gwsenga’s family live near the local medical centre and one day he hopes he can become a doctor and help cure the many ill people he sees around him in his country. He told me that he had been a little bit frightened to approach me, a white person, but he wanted to practice his English and could we exchange email addresses so that we might correspond when I return to England. I was pleased to do so.      

I was most impressed by Gwsenga. Bright young men and women like him, with a social conscience, who are motivated to improve themselves, through education, can provide a bright future for this developing nation.

Alexis’ corner of Rwanda
October 7, 2010

Kirehe is the driest district in Rwanda and although we are in the ‘short wet season’ (September to December) there has been precious little, much needed, rain until yesterday when the heavens opened with two short but torrential storms accompanied by rolling thunder.

Luckily I managed to avoid both of these on my moto drives to and  from Nyamateke, where I spent three hours or so with the  headteacher, Wellars,  sorting out an  Action Plan for the remainder of my placement.  It looks like over the next three weeks I will be providing him with management support for writing a new school development plan and possibly some help with ICT if he can get his laptop up and running.

That will take us up to the end of the school year. Thereafter, during the month of November, I will spend the final four weeks of my placement providing in-service training sessions for his staff, a mixture of education methodology and some English sessions based on themes of their choice.

Today I go through the same action planning process at Nyabitare but I suspect it will be a much slower process as Flora, the head, speaks French but very little English.

Daniel, my usual moto driver, got a puncture yesterday so I was picked up by Alex (Alexis). I had met him a few times but only been on his bike once before. This was a free ride he gave me one evening when he saw me walking into Nyakarambi. As he was headed in the same direction direction he kindlystopped to give me a lift, insisting there would be no charge. 

Alex is very proud that he owns two cows. Cows are extremely significant in Rwanda. They are tangible assets, a sign of prosperity and of course a source of milk.  As we were driving along he suddenly pointed out a small clay brick, cement rendered property with a corrugated metal roof. Next to it stood a rustic wooden  shelter, home to his pride and joy.   

This was Alexis’ corner of Rwanda, just off the dust track, part of a small settlement on the edge of a banana plantation, with wonderful views across the valley.   

He pulled over, parked up his moto and led me across to take a look at his long horned cow and calf. I was taken into his house and introduced to his wife and two young boys. The oldest of them had recently started school in Nyakarambi.  Alex explained who I was in Kinyarwanda and primed him to greet me in English which he did with, “Good morning teacher!”   

Alex’s wife then appeared with two jugs of piping hot boiled milk, from the family cow, and a plate of rice and beans which Alex and I shared. The milk was served in large mugs with a heaped spoonful of sugar.

Alex passed me the family photo album, largely pictures of his wedding and some of him going through exercises in combat gear. He told me had been in the army for 15 years and is now 30. It is therefore highly likely that he was a boy soldier with the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) during the aftermath of the genocide, which was probably borne out by another photograph in the album, that of Paul Kagame.    

It was a very kind of Alex, who I barely know, to take me to his home in this way and I felt very privileged to have met his family and to have shared lunch in this way. I took a few photographs of Alex and his boys. He is very relieved to have sons as apparently girls are too troublesome!

With this most unexpected and enjoyable interlude to my journey over we carried on to Nyakarambi.

Teachers – more precious than gold!
October 5, 2010

Today October 5th, in observance of World Teachers’ Day, Rwandan schools were closed and teachers countrywide engaged in a celebration of their profession.

I was invited to attend the Nyarabuye Sector celebrations which covered four schools including those to which I’m attached, Nyabitare and Nyamateke.

Rwandan timings are not the most reliable so when Wellars, the head at Nyamateke, informed me the day would run from 09.00-16.00 I decided to arrive around 10.00!

It was a 40 minute trek, cross-country by moto, to Nyarabuye Secondary School where the day’s events were being held and when I arrived Daniel had to dust me off with an old towel he carries on the back of his bike.

As I suspected the main part of the day, speeches and the like, wasn’t due to start until lunchtime. The morning was given over to a football match between primary and secondary teachers from the sector.

Nyarabuye is high up and the match was played on a bumpy cabbage patch of a pitch which, whilst not conducive to the beautiful game, provided disinterested spectators with extensive views across rolling hills, with grazing Ankole cattle, towards distant lakes.  

The match was high on endeavour if a little low on quality and finished goalless. Once the final hand shakes were exchanged, and the players changed, we assembled in the main school hall to await the invited sector and district dignitaries.

These included the local mayor who I was told has many cows. Cows are a huge status symbol and a sign of wealth in these parts. 

Needless to say it was quite a wait and a couple of teachers started up some traditional songs with clapped accompaniment to keep the crowd occupied. As is so often the case in Africa the people seem to have natural harmony and rhythm and a love of singing. It was a very pleasant diversion.    

Once the main event got underway, about an hour later than scheduled, I was invited to sit with the local heads at the top table. A whole string of speeches followed, all in Kinyarwanda, but thankfully interspersed with song, dance and martial arts exhibitions performed by the secondary school pupils.

The Rwandans are generally a reserved people but when the get a public platform, as today, they can talk and talk………

I sat and listened to over two hours worth of Kinyarwanda which meant precious little to me, apart from the odd word with an anglophone derivation. At one point a shopping bag with the logo ‘Teachers are more precious than gold’ was held aloft to a great round of applause.

I was just thinking of making my excuses and slipping away when I was asked if I would like to make a brief address. Luckily I had been warned by Dorothy that this might happen and had prepared a short introduction about myself in Kinyarwanda. Admittedly I read from a piece of paper but my efforts seemed to be appreciated.

I padded it out, in English; by saying how impressed I had been by the local teachers’ attitude and commitment to learning and improving, that no nation could progress or develop without education and that they and their students were the future of Rwanda. All good stuff, I think!         

I also told them, to their utter surprise, that there would be no holiday for teachers and very little public acknowledgement of their worth back in the UK.   

Following my ‘speech’ there was a drinks break and I was rewarded with a bottle of Mützig which was warm but none the less welcome. As the only muzungu present, it had been an honour and a privilege to be part of the teachers’ special day.

Thumbs up beneath the starlit African sky
September 30, 2010

Yesterday was given over to further classroom visits at Nyamateke School. However on this occasion I had timetabled gaps between observations in order to record my findings as I went along.

I’d previously been reluctant to take my laptop into school, given the bumpy moto ride, but it has been  very time-consuming typing up my notes during the evening so I wrapped it in my waterproof, stuck it in my rucksack and risked it.  

When I unpacked it in the head’s office it caused quite a stir. Andrew, the admin officer, in particular got very excited and kept leaving his desk to peer over my shoulder, desperate to have a go.

He brought out the school’s single, rather forlorn looking, HP with a missing key, to compare notes and rather poignantly reminded me that they were hoping to buy a small generator soon, finances allowing.    

Wellars, the head, had been called to yet another meeting at the District Office in Nyakarambi. Heads seem to spend more time out of school than in it but before he left we had confirmed which lessons I would be watching.

I duly arrived for a P3 English lesson after morning break to find 40 odd children sitting in the classroom without a teacher. There is no such thing as supply cover out here and if a teacher is absent they are either watched over  (baby sitting not teaching) by a teacher who has non-contact time or, more often than not, they are left to their own devices.

It amazing how well-behaved the children are in these circumstances. They all remain at their desks and wait patiently until someone turns up to take them. As I entered the classroom they greeted me in the usual way by standing up and chanting, “Good morning visitor!”  I thanked them and asked them to sit down, following which they gazed up at me with expectant eyes.

I could have left them but my conscience wouldn’t allow it, so I embarked upon an off the cuff 40 minutes of trying to communicate with them in English. Pleasingly some of them had remembered my name, Phillipi, from last week.

Things started off with a tendency for them to parrot, in unison, everything I said which was a bit unnerving but  not at all surprising as this is the predominant method of curriculum delivery they are used to.

I muddled through, supplementing my English with the odd bit of French, Kinyarwanda  and plenty of mime (much to their amusement). I taught them how to use thumbs up and thumbs down in answer to simple questions about things they liked or disliked and by the end of the lesson there were quite a few smiles and I think we had all enjoyed the experience.     

After a year in Nyakarambi, Dorothy leaves on Saturday. It has become clear, in the short time that I have been here, that she has integrated really well and become a well liked and respected member of the community.

Last night Awunic, a headmistress, and Eric, a secondary school teacher, who both live close by, hosted a farewell meal for Dorothy to which the new volunteers were invited. It was quite an atmospheric occasion as we sat around illuminated by a single kerosene lamp and flickering candlelight.

No sooner had we arrived than soft drinks were served. There seems to be a never-ending thirst for Fanta this, that or the other.  Daniel, the moto driver, is obviously wise to this and turned up with his own Mutzig!

Awunic had gone to a lot of trouble and served a typical home-made melanje of meat in sauce, rice, vegetables and chips. The customary prayer of thanks was said before we ate.

The climax of the evening was a presentation to Dorothy of a traditional Rwandan costume and head-dress all of which had been made to measure. There was great excitement a she tried it on.

As is considered polite in Rwanda we, the departing guests, were escorted some distance along the route towards our homes where we finally exchanged protracted farewells, lots of  hand shakes, thumb pressing and hugging  beneath a stunningly beautiful starlit African sky.

It was thumbs up all round for another interesting day and a very pleasant evening!

Ubumwe, Umurimo, Gukunda Igihugu
September 27, 2010

I’m not quite sure why I bother shining my shoes and dressing smartly for school visits. By the time I climb down from Daniel’s moto I’m covered from head to toe in a layer of red dust. In addition today, at lunch time,the wind got up, whistling across Nyamateke’s exposed hill-top location throwing up a sand blizzard.

Following a 7.30am arrival today I had a full schedule of lesson observations ahead of me, nine in all. I admit I was losing the will to live by the time I left the last class at 3.40pm.  Three out of nine were okay!

The teachers are tremendously handicapped by large class sizes, 53 pupils in one P5 English lesson I observed, lack of teaching resources and the requirement to teach in English.

In one rather good maths lesson I watched, about finding the area of polygons, the teacher had borrowed a pair of blackboard compasses from a neighbouring school, in order to construct a hexagon, because Nyamateke don’t have any.

My feedback to teachers was dominated by a desire from them to know if their English was okay. I have tried to give them as much encouragement as possible with regard to this despite the fact that there is commonly an r/l confusion in Rwandan English so, for instance, when a child does something well you often hear, “a crap for him /her!  

There is also a tendency to put an ‘i’ sound ending on words. In one English lesson today, about prepositions, I couldn’t help but smile as the teacher told the children, “ The chalks(i) are in(i) the box(i).”   

I really admire their efforts though. Can you imagine what it would be like for teachers and pupils in the UK if overnight schools were required to switch to French?   

A social studies lesson for P6 pupils (aged 12+) also proved quite informative. I learned that the Rwandan national anthem is called Rwanda Nziza (Rwanda Flag) and the horizontal coloured bands on the flag represent peace (blue), wealth (yellow), and agriculture (green). A golden sun with 24 rays is also present in the top right and corner, symbolising new hope.

The Rwandan national motto is Ubumwe (Unity), Umurimo (Work), Gukunda Igihugu (Patriotism).

Fanta Coca at Nyabitare and Nyamateke!
September 23, 2010

The early morning scramble, through les pays des mille collines, on the back of Daniel’s moto and the return journey in the glow of the late afternoon sun are becoming far less of a white knuckle experience and more of an enjoyable start and finish to the working day.

Over every hill and around every bend is an unfolding vista of sun dappled banana plantations, clay brick villages, grazing Ankole cattle, tethered goats, kites circling over head and of course the people, head loading bananas, sugar cane, sweet potatoes and huge jerry cans of water.      

Daniel has been Dorothy’s driver of choice for the last twelve months, renowned as ‘safe and reliable’, but she has now kindly passed him on to me. We hardly got off to a flyer though as he was an hour late for my first solo jaunt to school on Tuesday, due to a misunderstanding over time, easily done here due to the unusual method of telling the time. The time is counted in hours after 6 o’clock (sunrise or sunset). To be fair Daniel has been spot on ever since.     

However my lateness didn’t seem to worry the head or staff at Nyabitare School. They probably didn’t even notice because most things operate on  African time here which is very elastic (although I should be setting a good example!)  No sooner had I dismounted and introduced myself than the first Fanta Coca of the day appeared.

I’m not a big lover of fizzy drinks but the locals can’t get enough of them. All soft drinks regardless of brand are referred to as Fanta plus the flavour, so it’s Fanta orange, Fanta citron, Fanta coca etc. At every break time the teachers come to the staff room to take their pick and get their sugar fix. 

Flora, the head at Nyabitare is lacking in confidence with her English and prefers French. However as English is now supposedly the language of curriculum delivery in school we have been told to speak English wherever possible and supplement it with French and Kinyrwanda as needed! Luckily the English teacher was freed up for most of the day to act as an interpreter so things went pretty smoothly.

There are 1,415 primary school pupils at Nyabitare attending on a double shift system, either 07.20 -11.40 or 12.40-17.00. P6 the oldest pupils do both shifts in preparation for their end of year tests which are coming up shortly. Because some children start school later than others and they also operate a redoublement system some P6 children can be as old as fifteen.

Today was my first visit to Nyamateke School which sits atop a mighty hill. In fact both schools are high up and enjoy the most spectacular views. Wellars, the Headteacher, who I had already met at the district office last week, greeted me like a long-lost friend. 

Nyamateke School has 1,126 pupils double shifting and runs a similar daily timetable as Nyabitare. It is a growing school, as so many are, and a number of new classrooms being built.

Most classrooms are of clay brick or breeze block construction with open windows, shuttered but no glass, a concrete floor and a corrugated roof . There is usually a wall mounted blackboard at each end of the room and a series of all in one bench/desks that each three or four children.

Neither of the schools have electricity or running water and trips to the out house toilets with their concrete foot prints hovering above a fly ridden pit, are best avoided if at all possible.

The staff at both schools have been very welcoming and are delighted to have a volunteer linked to their schools. They are keen to develop as teachers but most off all they want help with their English which for many is proving a huge barrier to improvement. 

It has been hugely challenging for staff and pupils who had to change overnight from a French based education system just over 18 month ago. French was a second language form most anyway and many struggled with it but it was much more widely known than English.

When school closes for lunch the morning pupils all leave and those staff who live near enough to walk home do so. Today Wellars kindly took me to lunch, a 10-15 minute walk down the hill to a little clay built ‘box’  in the village which serves as a ‘bar’. We both had Fanta Coca and a small packet of sweet biscuits.

During our conversation he bemoaned the fact that he had been provided with a laptop but without access to electricity at school or home he has been unable to use it. He is hoping to buy a small generator for school and hopes it will arrive before I leave so that I can give him a few lessons.

He also told me that although education is greatly valued and a major government priority teachers are very poorly paid. Because there are so many the government can’t afford to provide the type of increase required to bring them in line with the armed forces for example!

A newly appointed teacher gets a starting salary of 29,000 RWF per month (£29.00)!