Sunday, 31 August 2008

Fun and games on the road again!

August 26th

Today I’m inspecting on my own at Remera, one of the primary schools on the fringe of Gitarama. I haven’t the foggiest where it is, so Innocent gives me rough directions and tells me it should be about 300 francs on a moto.

Outside the Office, one moto driver asks for 2000 and the other tries to undercut him by wanting 1500. I tell them what they can both do, and walk up the road a few hundred yards to the next junction. Here a driver takes me for 300 francs.

The trouble is that yet again he takes me to the wrong place. He assures me the buildings up above me are Remera primary school, but they turn out to be Karama secondary. A woman passing just gawps when I ask her the way to Remera; she doesn’t know and is terror stricken that she can’t tell the white man what he needs to know. She looks as if she’s afraid I’ll strike her for not knowing. Then a farmer comes out of the field and rescues the situation. He takes me back to the main road and calls a cycle vélo for me. Back we go to the main road junction. The cycle driver is pouring with sweat because he’s had to pedal uphill for a mile. He gestures up a hillside and says 300 metres. Oh Yeah…..

In three hundred metres I pass a primary school, but it’s Mushubati School, which I’ve booked to visit tomorrow. A teacher there confirms I’m on the right track and up I go, up the hillside, past the maternelle where sixty little people all rush out to watch the strange sight of a muzungu walking past their little school. And on I go, and on, and on. A mile and a half later I see a school in the distance; surely this HAS to be Remera. And it is. It stands on a wide hilltop, strung out across a wide flat expanse of ground. It feels spacious and there’s even some grass left in the playground – remarkable here in Rwandan schools.

There’s a big maternelle, overflowing from their little hut and the chapel they use as a temporary classroom. For fully ten minutes they sing to me and do their little action songs. They sing about being little birds so I tell them this big bird has come from England, across the lake, so meet them. Cue gales of shy giggles from the girls and some serious formal handhakes from little boys. Some parents are doing voluntary umuganda this morning; they are rebuilding another mud-brick hut to use as a further extension for the maternelle. One man is up to his calves in thick mud, mixing it into mortar to glue the mud bricks together. I make a point of shaking hands with all of them and thanking them for their efforts. This is a diplomatic thing to do, and they’re clearly deeply touched that a white man has even deigned to speak to them, let alone thank them for working.

I realise that across the valley is the whole of Gitarama spread out before me, and that I’ve travelled about five miles in a letter “C” shape this morning to end up barely a mile from my flat.

Remera is a funny set up. The head mistress is long on her problems but short on strategies. She has no development plan, no budget, and no targets to raise her standards. Her results are the worst in the district. Yet she’s a lovely woman, caring, kind, sensitive, and the children clearly like her. She has huge numbers in her 1ère, and these will give her real accommodation problems as they move up through the school.

One teacher welcomes me into her room, beaming all over her face. And on her classroom walls are no fewer than five of my rice sacks, with the human skeleton, maps, and language rules in multicolour on them. It’s a lovely sight. The most decorated room in any primary I’ve visited, and absolute proof that our training days are paying off big time.

I sit in on English and French lessons. The problem in this school is that virtually nobody on the staff is fluent in English; the training need is absolute. I agree to come back and spend a day teaching English with them. I’ll make sure I bring some resources with me which they can use, too. I’ll also try to get Soraya up here to work on a more regular basis with them.

I’m talking with the Head as we’re finishing. She asks me about my family. I then discover this woman is trying to cope with two physically handicapped young children at home, as well as run a school. I don’t know if there’s a husband around to help her, either.

Back at the flat I work hard all afternoon finishing entering primary results data onto my laptop. It’s so good being able to give these head teachers a sheet with a statistical breakdown of their results subject by subject. There’s usually something I can praise them about, and it makes my inspections so much more constructive.

Just as I’m getting into the report on her school, my phone rings. It’s Charlotte from the VSO office. There is a possibility of two short-term (3 month) NAHT primary Headteacher placements here in Muhanga, and can I suggest two likely schools. Oh, and can I do this by the end of Friday. Well, Remera’s certainly a place where an organised, efficient English head could make a huge difference. I’ll need to go back to the school and talk to the head again, very soon.

Suddenly VSO seems to be setting up a real cluster of placements here in Gitarama, where Karen and I would be the experienced volunteers. Karen, Me, Soraya, Geert’s replacement at Shyogwe, a Rwandan “national volunteer” possible sharing accommodation with Soraya, and two English head teachers.

Best thing about today – I’m getting back into the swing of work, and things seem to be going well. I’ve had another interesting journey trying to find a school, too. I now know the exact locations of almost all the schools in Shyogwe, Nyamabuye and Cyeza secteurs, and that’s a quarter of my entire district. That’s very satisfying to me.

Worst thing about today – I spent so long entering stats into my laptop that I didn’t get the Remera report finished. Tomorrow I’m off to another school and I know, I just know, that I’ll muddle the two of them up when I do the rest of the report!

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