Thursday, 4 September 2008

The school pig

September 1st

Off early to the District Office. I need to print out some sheets of statistics before going off to inspect at Kibanda. Of course, there’s no sign of Claude; he’s gone to some conference in Kigali. I know Tom’s getting really angry that Claude’s messing him about with my rent, and that Tom’s going to have a fruitless journey up to the Office to try to find him. Tom’s mobile phone is playing up and I can’t text him to warn him not to bother coming.

More fun and games – the only printer in the education department has run out of toner. Of course, there’s no reserve stock. So I wander the corridors looking for an office with a working printer. When I eventually find one (and have to bump someone off the computer they’re using), the damn thing won’t print and it eventually takes three more people and all our combined ingenuity to work out why it’s not working. By the time I’ve got my stuff printed I’m behind schedule.

I walk back to the bus park because to go to Kibanda I need one of the big, powerful motor bikes. The crummy little motos won’t make it up the first hill towards Kibanda and I’m blowed if I want to be walking most of the way!

I find the last big bike in the bus park, we negotiate a price which is high but not too extortionate and roar away into the morning sun.

I love the Ngororero road. The Chinese engineers are now well away into the distance, and even the loose chippings have been swept from some sections. But not all – on one mountain bend there’s a car which has come to grief, half in the storm ditch, roof caved in and a huge dent in the driver’s door. Somebody would have been lucky to get out of that without serious damage.

This road is just so beautiful. At every bend (and there’s not a straight section in its entire length) you get yet another lovely view. As you climb over the first mountains the view just gets better and better. Every so often you pass a little col, where the ground drops away precipitously on one side or the other and for a second or two you’re looking right down one of these enormously deep, steep-sided valleys each with its own settlements, schools, roads, farms. You can’t really call it “work” when you’re being driven through scenery like this!

Just before we reach the col above Gisiza School we turn off right onto another of these little tracks that lead up the mountain side. There’s absolutely nothing to say it goes to Kibanda, and I’d never in a month of Sundays be able to find it on my own. After a kilometre we cross over the ridge and the view in the morning light just takes your breath away. The recent rains have cleared the air and the panorama is eye wateringly good. Like a fool I decide to wait and take pictures on the way back. This turn out to be a mistake – by mid day the sun is high and the air much more hazy and it’s nowhere near as good for photos. Moral of the story – be late if necessary, but stop and take pictures as early in the day as you can.

Eventually we see Kibanda nestling down near the bottom of the valley. It’s one of these schools located next to the parish church, and the maternelle has use of the church as well as one brick classroom and another in mud brick which the parents have just built. The local population is producing children as if there was no tomorrow… 85 in the maternelle alone, with one teacher.

The school is simply delightful. I’m made so welcome. The Head, Melchior, is young and enthusiastic and competent. The buildings are all newish, in brick, with tin roofs and water collection into a stone cistern. Even better, they’ve managed to persuade whoever built the school to put false ceilings under the tin roofs. This is a brilliant idea. It reduces the noise of rain to a level where you can still work in the classroom even during a downpour, and it reduces the heat of the sun radiating down from the metal roof. Why don’t they do this in all the schools? Because it costs that little bit extra, that’s why. The need for more classrooms is so acute that everybody has to cut corners wherever possible, so you get a dozen shoddy rooms rather than ten good ones.

The school has extensive gardens, all beautifully kept up and obviously respected by all the children (and there are 991 children, so potentially more than enough little feet to trample anything that tries to grow. Melchior is proud of his gardens, and when I wax enthusiastic he shows me some unusual plants. One tree sapling, recently planted, is the Rwandan symbol of unity and reconciliation. It’s in pride of place, surrounded by lots of flowers. Flower beds are rare in Rwanda because land is so scarce and every square metre is needed for food. So Kibanda’s gardens are a little haven of peace. Kibanda even has a school pig which will raise a good bit for the capitation budget when it gets sold.

The school, like just about every single one, is short of toilets (7 for 991), but it sums up Kibanda that the Head has galvanised the parents and they’re building six more. There’s a damn great pit already dug (actually covered with branches to stop kids falling into it), and a pile of bricks ready to do the building. See why I like this place?

I’m taken round the school and introduced to every class; the first years sing their welcome song for me (in Kinyarwanda, French and very broken English), and I tell them all who I am and why I’m here.

Then I have a session with the Head to do the “Inspection Administratif”. Meanwhile all the first years are out on the volleyball court (yes, this school not only has some flat land even though its on a very steep hillside; the volleyball court is tarmacked and has proper posts and nets at each end. Someone’s put serious money into this place); they’re doing measuring in maths with a metre rule. Two or three children are measuring; about 100 others are watching.

Kibanda is a very successful school. It has the best maths results in the District and came 7th overall out of 107 schools (including the private schools with their much more favourable staffing ratios and miles better equipment). Only in English is Kibanda’s performance below the District average. The Head regularly observes lessons. The staff is young and not cynical and lazy. The buildings are conducive to work, and while they haven’t had the benefit of our resource making day like the Nyamabuye schools, the rooms are usually covered in posters. Some are home made, a few are bought in (usually world maps and diagrams of the male and female reproductive systems, about ten times life size, which dominate the walls of the year 6 room). One room has a rice sack with one of Cathie’s posters from our training day last term!

I watch a fair French lesson and much better English lesson. I debrief the two teachers in Melchior’s presence, and we end up with a bottle of Fanta each. He’s a genuinely nice guy and I’d like to work more with him. But, of course, my brief is more to kick backside in poorly performing schools, and Melchior is in the District top ten. But I’m going to sing his praises to Claude because this guy deserves promotion and mustn’t be allowed to rot away for ever in this little valley.

Melchior walks back up the hill with me for a while as we wait for my moto, which I’ve ordered to return. The valley is still lovely; a river winds through it and every square inch of valley bottom is farmed. But the mountainsides which glower above us are so steep that they’re mostly forested, and in places there are even patches of bare rock and cliff showing. This is the serious Muhanga hill country! As Melchior says, when they built the foundations for the school they didn’t need to order lorry loads of stone; the children and half the valley population just carried bloody great boulders on their heads down the mountainside until they had enough for the construction. I’d love to see that proposed in Dorset…. Sometimes things in Rwanda are so straightforward!

Back home I start doing my write up, but mid afternoon there’s a huge storm with hail, and so strong that water comes under the French windows into the lounge and I have to stop to mop up. Then the power goes off for the rest of the afternoon so there’s no chance to finish my report until the evening. Never mind.

I haven’t been able to make it to the VSO planning meeting in the afternoon, but I’ve had a far better day.

Best thing about today – everything. It’s the best school visit by far this term. I’ve now done the same number of schools in less than a fortnight than I did in the whole of last term, so I’m feeling very smug.

Worst thing – once again its getting embarrassing that Claude hasn’t paid my rent, and Tom (quite understandably) is getting really hacked off. The problem is, I’m doing so many inspections this week that I’m not going to be able to see him even if he does deign to spend an hour or two in the office.

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