Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Over budget!.... and bloody termites!

August 22nd

Another working day today. I meet up with Soraya at the bus park and we go off in a matata to inspect Munyinya school. It’s my first inspection since the middle of June, and high time I got myself back on the road. Munyinya is on the outskirts of Gitarama in the Kigali direction; it’s one of the easiest schools to get to because it’s only a few hundred yards off the main road and one of the rare places I can reach by bus. For Soraya it’s the first school she’s been to with me, the first she’s formally inspected, and I think it’s the first Rwandan primary school she’s been to other than as a venue for in-service training for teachers. (At Mushubi she was teaching entirely within a secondary tronc commun school). Quite a day, then.

Munyinya is a big school with just over a thousand pupils. It’s a fortunate place because almost all the buildings are modern, the originals replaced by a Belgian charity in 2003. But in typical Rwandan fashion, there wasn’t any money left to install water (children have to go a long way down a valley to a stream which is dirty), or to install electricity despite the buildings being within 300m of electricity pylons, or even to level off the central courtyard to make it suitable for games. I really can’t understand why, when they’ve got all the builders on site, they don’t just go the extra mile and make a proper job of everything.

The inspection goes well. This school is exactly on the District average in all its results, and there’s nothing serious I can find to fault it except that it’s not setting academic targets, and seem to be a bit too cosy to be average when similar schools around Gitarama are in the top 10% of the District’s results. On the other hand the Headmistress is far sighted and has a really good strategic plan where she’s looking towards having electricity, water, sports accommodation, and playgroup and tronc commun accommodation all within the next five years or so, funds permitting. Now that’s pretty good for Rwanda.

The tronc commun provision (key stage 3 in English parlance) is interesting. There seems to be a profound switch in Government policy away from building new, entirely separate secondary schools, towards extending primary schools so they cover key stages 1-3. This is called “basic education” here, and it makes a lot of sense. The policy seems to be to choose newer, bigger primary schools which are pretty central to their secteurs, and extend them for lower secondary. This means that secondary children would not have so far to travel to go to school; it means that these new buildings would not have to have boarding facilities; and it would be especially suitable for the young mothers nursing their babies who make up a sizeable proportion of the secondary school population. The local choice seems to be between Munyinya and Gatenzi primaries, both of which I have inspected. Both have new buildings; both are average in terms of results. Gatenzi has the bigger site but Munyinya is closer to the main road and therefore more accessible. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. Perhaps they’ll extend both!

We eat at “Tranquillité”; Karen is there with a group of special needs teachers. We say hello, but they’re having a working lunch so we do our own thing. Once again, Karen says our training at Biti on Tuesday is still being talked about locally in glowing terms, so at least we’ve got some things right!

In the afternoon Soraya is off to Kibuye with Caroline. The Belgian girl finishes in Rwanda next weekend, and I think Soraya is taking over care of her pet rabbit. Tiga was supposed to be also going to Kibuye but there’s something up with Tiga which we’re not certain about. She’s mentioned to Soraya that she’s thinking of leaving her school house and moving into Caroline’s place when she vacates it. I can understand Tiga not wanting to be next door to the head teacher and just across the hedge from the school site, but it’s quite an inconvenient long haul across town from Caroline’s place to the school.

I have an appointment at Shyogwe in the afternoon; it’s crunch time on the building project. First of all I take my laptop and show all the photos I took on my last visit to the master mason and all the labourers. We have to find a corner in the shade so that anybody can see the laptop screen, and I have to have three goes to show all twenty or so labourers their pictures. They’re more than happy to see themselves on screen, and I think it’ll make taking any future pictures easier! Then at the same time there several hundred little primary school children all pushing and shoving to see the pictures, too, and we have to get pretty physical with some of them to keep order and prevent my laptop being damaged in the scrum.

The meeting with Stéphanie and the builder is a bit fraught. We now discover that the materials costs alone come to more than our original entire budget for construction, and we spend most of the afternoon calculating labour costs. Each skilled mason costs RwF2000/day (£2); each labourer RwF700 (70p). That sounds peanuts in English terms, but remember that we’re trying to build and equip 4 entire rooms, and modernise some existing ones, all for 20,000 euros. That’s a tall order.

Eventually we calculate the total building costs at around 14 million francs. I have to make a decision. We could cut the number of windows, and use mud cement instead of proper cement in some parts of the walls; we could leave the interior walls bare brick instead of rendering them, but it isn’t going to save huge amounts of money and I’m anxious not to spoil the new rooms for the sake of a few thousand francs. So I tell them to go ahead with the original specification. It means we’ll just about have enough money to buy new furniture for the four rooms, but most of the other projects – water, electricity, glazing in some other rooms, teaching materials – are discarded until some other institution comes up with money.

Part of me feels terribly deflated about this – it’s as if I’ve raised their expectations and then had to pull back on them. But the Rwandans are not worried. They’ll be more than happy with these rooms, which will be the best in the school by quite some margin. I’m more concerned about how the Dutch will take it, but I don’t see what other decisions I could have made. Even if I’d penny pinched at every opportunity we still wouldn’t have had enough money to do much more than build and equip these four new rooms.

The classroom in which we’re talking has funny grooves and holes throughout its walls. When I ask, Juliette explains that they are termite tunnels – the room we’re in is absolutely infested with termites. It’s quite amazing how these tiny creatures eat away at mud bricks so such an extent that parts of the walls resemble Aero chocolate. Thank goodness we’ve remembered to include termite-proof membranes in the new building!

By the time I get back home I’m really tired. I’ve ended up walking most of the way from the primary school to the main road before finding a moto. Friday afternoon is Shyogwe market and the places is miles busier than I’ve ever seen it before; every cycle vélo and moto within a mile is frantically busy. Tom is in Kigali and won’t be back till late, and for supper I simply defrost and reheat the leftovers from last night’s lentil stew. Tom’s also knackered when he gets in and we’re too tired and lazy even to wash up (rare for us). We watch videos till about eleven and collapse into our beds.

Best thing about today – getting out on the road again. Seeing the Shyogwe foundations complete.

Worst thing – having to trim my hopes and expectations on the Shyogwe project.

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