Sunday, 27 April 2008

8 million francs richer......

Apr 23rd

Into the office; no post for me (yet again); give Claude two secteur’s census results nicely printed but he barely seems interested; he wants to wait until I’ve got all the results done. OK, but that means I’m going to have to text the various secteur reps and put a bomb behind them!

Take a moto to Shyogwe school. Geert has told me it should cost RwF500 from our flat; from the District Office it’s a lot further and I manage to get him down to 600 which makes me feel good. (In English terms I’ve saved 20p, but it’s a little victory for my bargaining power which will come in handy when I’m bargaining for longer and much more expensive runs). It’s nice to be out into the countryside again. Geert lives at Shyogwe in a tiny little cottage; there’s a shared kitchen with the cottage next door. It’s cosy and feels very homely. He’s got a very young domestique, Chantal, who cooks beautifully and cleans up after his every move. They absolutely worship Geert in Shyogwe village and he’s going to be such a difficult act to follow. By the way, at Shyogwe you just ask for “la maison du muzungu” – everyone knows him, and everyone knows where he lives.

Shyogwe is a simply delightful little community. It’s only a couple of miles outside Gitarama, but is surrounded by lots of trees and feels sylvan and rustic. Birds are singing in the trees; the senior priest in the place introduces us to his cows and some of his children (in that order). Both Tom and I agree that if we were going to buy a house in the Gitarama area, we would ensconce ourselves in this village.

The Bishop’s away on tour in Europe until June, so we’ve got his permission to get on with our work without him. We meet in Geert’s office in the Diocesan compound. (Whereas I work for the District, Geert works for the Anglican Diocese and his patch overlaps at least three Districts, but only the Anglican schools within them. Since most schools in Rwanda are owned by the Roman Catholic church, any Anglican officer has to do a lot of travelling because his schools will be few and far between. Both Kersti and Ghislain are also volunteer education officers attached to the Anglican Dioceses of the North and East provinces of Rwanda).

With the help of Jan who climbed the volcano with us, Geert has transformed a spare room at the diocesan centre into a computer training centre, with about six machines all linked to the internet. Unfortunately today MTN phone reception is down (there’s a surprise), and the internet is totally not working, so we can’t do exactly what we wanted. But the personal reception I get at the diocesan H Q sums up the difference between Diocese and District. The District feels huge and bleak and impersonal; the Diocese is all about warm personal relations. Within five minutes I’m introduced to about six people and have swapped phone numbers with all of them.

The purpose of the meeting is to agree how we’re going to administer a huge grant from the Dutch charity Randstad. It’s 20,000 Euros, which sounds much grander at well over 16 million Rwandan francs. We’ll know on Thursday or Friday whether we’ve got some or all the money, but it’s a rushed job because Geert is leaving for home this weekend, and we have to make plans on the assumption that we’ll get the money. (If they refuse us we’ll just gnash our teeth and try to carry on as usual). My job is to act as the VSO liaison person with the Dutch charity, and send them progress reports plus photos of how the money is being spent, on a monthly basis. The school and the Bishop will decide how to spend the money, but we have a shopping list including new classrooms, staffroom, meeting room, furniture, glass for the windows, new toilets, and even electricity for the classrooms if we can stretch the money that far!

After the meeting I go on a tour of the school with Stephanie, the Head. She’s a mother of seven children, does a full time job in the biggest primary in the District, and copes without her husband who is in prison (presumably on Gacaca related charges. Even Geert doesn’t dare ask for details….). She’s chatty and friendly, and it feels as if I’ve known her for ages. I wonder how on earth she coped with the INSET Boot Camp, or, rather, how her children coped. The oldest is 22, but the youngest is only 5. Juliette, one of the other teachers, has four children and a husband who was hacked to pieces in 1994. Yet she’s cheerful and smiling. She’s been to England and knows Southampton, so we’ve got something in common straight away. Emmanuel, the senior priest, has even been to Sherborne, as well as London, Hereford, and also Southampton.

The school has a more tangible physical connection with Southampton, too. In the centre of the courtyard there’s a huge water cistern, built with money raised by Marchwood primary school. It’s exactly what the place needs, and three cheers to the Marchwood school. Just imagine the alternative – two thousand children and forty staff in a place without any drinking water during hot summer months!

The purpose of going round the school is for me to take a bunch of photos of the present state of the buildings to send to the Dutch charity. The classrooms are almost all in “semi-dur” around a courtyard; along one side there’s a block supported by buttresses to stop the wall falling outwards down into the valley. The walls are cracked, and when I tap on them I can hear voids behind the outer skin of rendering. One wall is certainly made up of rubble which is crumbling to dust and even I, with my lack of architectural know-how, am wondering what’s holding up the roof. There are six toilets for 2103 pupils. At the end of break times there is a small river of urine trickling away down the hillside (Geert has a photo).

There is no staff room, no store room, no staff toilet, no office. The head teacher in a school of 2000 does her admin jammed into the corner of whichever classroom has the smallest number of pupils. There’s no electric light, or power points, no duplicating or photocopying facilities. There’s not a blade of grass in the courtyard where children play at breaktimes. The classrooms only have windows on the courtyard side, so they’re dark even on a sunny day. (Because mud bricks (“semi-dur”) are not as strong as fired bricks, it’s important to minimise the size of any openings in the structure. Windows are as few and as small as possible). I’m intending to put a photo-essay of the state of the school onto this blog.

Last year, during the rainy season, one entire block of classrooms collapsed. Fortunately there weren’t children inside it at the time. The Diocese has replaced the rooms with proper brick (“dur”) rooms, but can only afford 4 rooms where they need 5. So each class, in rotation, has to do some lessons outdoors. Geert has lovely photos of children sitting on blocks of fallen rubble and big stones, writing in their exercise books as if this were perfectly normal. When it rains, or when it’s blazing hot, the outside class is packed into the other rooms, but this makes them so crowded the children can’t write properly in their exercise books.

They’ve salvaged most of the roof tiles from the collapsed building; there’s a vivid contrast between recycled and new tiles on the roof. But somebody decided only to put windows in one side of the replacement rooms, so when it rains and they have to close the wooden shutters, even these new rooms are just as gloomy as the ones they replaced. I’m going to insist to Stephanie that they must have windows on two sides in the new rooms. That way, whichever direction the rain comes from, they can have some windows open and enough light to teach by! And if we can afford glass for the windows, the lighting problem will be all but solved.

We go back to Geert’s cottage where Chantal is making dinner for all of us. Stephanie is so worn out that she lies down on the spare bed in Geert’s living room and dozes off. (Isn’t that a nice touch – you feel so at ease with your education adviser that you can lie down on his spare bed while you wait for dinner). I load a whole bunch of photos from Geert’s laptop onto my flash drive; before he goes I must give him some of mine including the gorilla picture. Various head teachers and others call in; the house door is always open. It’s such a contrast to our flat which is guarded like a fortress and where no Rwandan can just drop in on us.

Eventually I take my leave and hail a bicycle taxi – the first time I’ve used one. The cyclist sweats and strains a couple of miles up to the main road, and there I decide to walk home because it’s breezy and there are plenty of shady trees alongside the main road.

When Tom comes home we spend most of the evening cooking and making up our big fruit salad. We’ve barely finished before Geert comes banging on the door; he’s been celebrating in one of the Gitarama bars and his Rwandan friend has already confiscated his moto keys because he’s too drunk to drive! Geert’s wife has phoned to say the Dutch charity has agreed to give us 10,000 euros (over 8 million francs) straight away, and up to another 10,000 later in the year depending on its own fund-raising success back in Holland. So now I’m part of a 16 million franc contractual agreement with a Dutch charity (Randstad) and duty bound to visit the school each month and send in a written report and photos. Fortunately I don’t have to write them in Dutch.

The avocado I scrumped from the Amani guest house is just starting to ripen, so I text Teresa for a recipe for guacamole (we’re feeling ambitious in the kitchen department this week) and for pizza dough (I’ve an idea of how I can make an oven. With a working oven we could even bake cakes…… drool, drool!)

Best thing about today – everything. What a wonderful day. I couldn’t think how it could have been better.
Worst thing – nothing.

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