Friday, 27 June 2008

Gitarama blues!

June 25th

After yesterday’s euphoria, today’s blog is much more heavyweight!

Into the Office all fired up and ready to do my best shot at the census presentation.

Claude meets me at the office steps to say sorry, but there’s no room free today so he’s postponed the event until sometime next week. I now feel like a punctured balloon. Suddenly this week’s gone from being madly busy to being almost empty. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday’s events all cancelled or postponed.

And it’s worse than just a minor nuisance because we’re right at the end of the window of opportunity for visiting schools. Next week is exam week, then marking week etc, and if I can’t get into schools this week then I’m stuck until the Autumn terms begins in mid August.

On top of everything else I’m still suffering badly with a chest infection which I can’t seem to shift. My voice is back to normal, but I’m coughing and sneezing and bringing up thick phlegm everywhere. (Sorry, you really didn’t want to hear all that, did you?)

So I’m caught all ways. I’m not really well enough to be doing anything worthwhile, but at the same time I’m not ill enough to be bed-bound. But, hey, we’re VSOs and infinitely flexible so we’ll make the best of the situation.

In the Office I find a new report just come in. Its all about orphans and OVCs (“Other Vulnerable Children” in Rwanda, and it makes chilling reading. I make a summary of its main points. This is exactly the document I’ve been looking for and it answers all my questions about orphans arising from the school census.

In summary, Rwandans DO define orphans as including one-parent families. Now just think about these figures
There are 825,000 orphans in a population of 9.3 million
There are 2 million vulnerable children
Over 79% of all the children in Rwanda are considered “vulnerable” (i.e. their health, education, life expectancy and general quality of life are significantly reduced, mainly as a result of poverty)
23% of all children in Rwanda are orphans
Of these, 22% are AIDS orphans and 26% are “true” orphans (neither parent alive)
67% of the entire population in my southern province are living in poverty and 12% are destitute “living in abject poverty” in the words of the official definitions. This is the worst situation in the entire country.
Rwanda is ranked 163rd out of 172 countries in the world in terms of development and poverty levels.
Only 13% of households earn or produce to the value of more than $0.33/day (about 20-25p per day in English money)
So even on my VSO allowance of £150/month I am in the top 1% of wealth in the southern province
The population is growing at 2.75%. And if 2.75% seems a small figure, it isn’t! It means the population will double in 26 years. There’s not a hope that Rwanda will ever be able to feed twice as many people as it has now – it can’t feed the people it has at the moment! There’s no land left, and what land there is has been farmed already to the point of soil exhaustion and declining yields. So there is a window of, maybe, 10 years to try to do something – reduce family size, educate people, get industry going, square up to the Catholic veto on birth control and abortion – before we reach a tipping point. Otherwise there will be civil unrest, massive deforestation and soil erosion, famine, war etc. The first things to go will be the national parks – how can anybody justify keeping territory for antelopes and gorillas when people are starving to death?

So I must shut up whingeing if my meetings are postponed and get on with trying to make a difference in this sea of misery and poverty. Isn’t it ironic that all this destitution exists among one of the most beautiful places on the globe.

Before I can digest the facts in this report Védaste comes to claim me and I spend the rest of the day working through the secondary census figure with him. Now Védaste
really is both dyslexic (he has to have two goes at spelling almost all words of more than five letters) and also dyspraxic (for someone who works all day on a computer he’s amazingly clumsy with his keystrokes, and I don’t think it’s got anything to do with me being there with him). We crawl through the presentation, changing things and checking all our data once again. We work right through lunchtime, and by four o’clock I’m starving and we’re both glazed from looking at computer screens. But we’ve agreed what we want to say and he’s written it in French in a form he thinks won’t cause offence to the assembled multitudes!

Here’s the key point. We know that here in Muhanga there are at least 5000 children every year in the top class of primary school. At present the numbers who go on to secondary schools are less than 3000, even including children in the new schools that are being built. But from 2015 the Government is committed to making secondary education both free and available for all children. (I think it’s linked to the “Milennium Development Goals” that Gordon Brown is so proud of championing). So all 5000 will want to go on to secondary schools, at least for the first three years (“Tronc commun”). So from 2015 we’re going to need at the very least15,000 secondary places in tronc commun, plus a minimum of 5000 in the upper three years of secondary. So we need a minimum of 20,000 secondary school places. The total secondary population at the moment is well under 12000. We need to find 8000 places in seven years. That’s at least ten big schools of 800 children to be built – more than one a year. But, wait – Muhanga only has 168 places in its teacher training school, and barely half of those actually go into teaching when they finish at the school. So we have to build at least one other teacher training secondary school. And we’ll need at least 200 classrooms to equip with furniture, books, computers etc.

Now, given the poverty indicators I’ve described above, how on earth is this going to happen? And how can I emphasize the importance of modernising rural primary schools, installing electricity, water tanks etc etc against this background?

I don’t want you to think everything in Rwanda is doom and gloom. Rwanda has bucked the world trend in AIDS/HIV, though nobody really understands why. The AIDS infection rate peaked here in about 1993 and has been dropping ever since. The women in this country are among the most emancipated in sub-Saharan Africa (though that fact hints more about what’s happening in other countries than suggesting anything really exciting about Rwanda). There is political stability and one of the fastest growing economies in Africa (though at the cost of heavy-handed discouragement of any realistic political opposition).

It looks as though my contribution to world development, peace, harmony etc etc is going to be through a handful of power points alerting this District to what the data is showing, and the need to plan ahead. And if I can manage that, then my placement here will not have been a waste of time and I will be able to come back to Dorset with a clear conscience. Everything else – training teachers, school inspections, being an ambassador of goodwill etc – pales into insignificance. I’m one of only a tiny handful of VSOs with access to massive data on a District scale and also (because of my gender and age) people will listen to what I’m saying.

Now you see why my statistical presentation to the Head teachers and District officials is so important!

On the domestic front, Tom and his parents are back from Kibuye and have enjoyed their trip. They insist on cooking supper and I revert to my usual role as washer-upper and chopper of vegetables.

In the evening I finish going through the Orphans report, but I’m feeling really grotty and I think I’m running a slight temperature, so it’s an early night.

Best thing about today – the orphans report, and feeling that I’ve got something important to say and figure to back me up.

Worst thing about today – I just wish I could shift this chest infection.

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