Thursday, 2 October 2008

the riddle of Muhazi Primary School

September 29th

Back to work again. We none of us yet know whether Eid ul Fitr and its public holiday are going to be on Tuesday or Wednesday. It looks like Wednesday; I have Charlotte texting me from Kigali asking when we can rearrange our meeting with primary heads. Hayley wants to know the phone numbers for Home St Jean in Kibuye. Amy wants to know how she goes about claiming transport costs. It’s all very well being the fount of all wisdom here, but I’m fast running out of credit on my phone!

At seven o’clock this morning I still haven’t got any school to visit today, but I’m determined that I’m not going to be beaten and text Muhazi school. (Muhazi is this funny place which certainly exists as a school but doesn’t appear in any of the league tables).

Of course, there’s no reply. Up at the District Office I get Claude to ring for me. And of course, he can’t get through. From 8 till about 10 the whole telephone system seems to go down. Too many phones; too much profit taking by MTN and not enough investment in new capacity.

I decide I’m going to visit the school on the off chance. At least Claude and Innocent know where it is. You take the main road to Mushubati and head off towards Kibuye on the tarmac road. You go down an endless hill – nearly 4km of constant descent – and end up in a little valley surrounded by high hills on one side and the lower slopes of Mt Mushubati on the other. That’s where it is. Hooray; it means that since there’s no uphill driving I can go there on a little moto. I only pay him RwF500; it would have been about 1500 for one of the big machines.

Fortunately the school has got my message and is expecting me. Well, more or less. The 1ère teacher is off sick and has been for a fortnight so nobody is teaching her class. The 6ème are doing end to end tests ready for the concours this time next month. So there’s not much point in visiting them either. The head doesn’t have an office, or a store room. A lot of the discussion we have to have takes place outside in the shade of a tree.

Muhazi has three blocks of two classrooms. It’s a small school – less than 400 children. Two rooms are brick built, with covered passage ways and very pleasant too. To are in “semi-dur” and just about acceptable. But the 1ère and 2ème rooms are awful. Too small, and with walls in such poor condition that you can see daylight through them in places. Even in the good rooms you can see daylight through gaps in the roof tiles. I’m writing this blog during an afternoon rainstorm; those poor children at Muhazi must be having to constantly move their desks to get out of the way of drips from the roof and rain blown through holes in the walls. It’s just not good enough.

These two awful classrooms look as if they’ve been extended from some sort of barn – a couple of extra courses of mud bricks to give more height, and internal partition walls knocked down. There’s bits of mud brick projecting out into the room; the interior walls are only half plastered so there’s really nowhere to hang pictures. The floor’s just earth, and uneven. The “furniture” is just like at Busekera – mud brick benches with either banana leaf mats to protect your clothes, or thin laths of wood polished to a glassy smoothness by scores of little wriggling bottoms. Honestly, I doubt whether Health and safety would allow you to keep animals in these conditions in England.

Muhazi is an Anglican school, like Shyogwe and Gikomero, and the Anglicans always seem to be terminally short of money to invest in new buildings.

Despite all this, the teacher is kind and efficient and carries off her lesson as if she was in the best room in Rwanda. I’ve been given the best furniture in the room to sit on. It’s a wonky stool (from the teacher’s table), cracked across the middle of the seat so that I have to sit very still so as not to damage myself.

The school has virtually no gardens, is not fenced, and it just looks forlorn. I think of how lovely some of the other little schools have been; it makes you want to weep for these little kids. It’s another desperately poor area; you can tell by the lack of shoes and the rags some of these little ones are wearing.

Muhazi does have two things going for it. One is that it has the best ratio of toilets to pupils of any public school I’ve yet seen. And it stands at the confluence of two permanent streams. (One of which is the river Tereza). There is no tap, or water tank, of course – children have to go down to the river at the start of each day and fill jerry cans, one for each classroom. Bet that’s fun in the mud and slime of the rainy season!

There is a maternelle, and as at Remera there are two parents sweating buckets in the hot sun digging foundations. Then I make an amazing discovery. In the woods a few metres from the school is a massive brick building the size of an aircraft hangar. It’s huge. Before the 1994 troubles it was a factory producing bottled spring water from a source high up on Mt Mushubati; the very same water that’s flowing past the school every day. The idea was to sell the bottles water to the elite of Kigali. The business failed; the factory was looted, shot up, bombed during the genocide, but it’s so solidly built that it’s still standing. Inside it, lost among acres of space, are thirty little tots on tiny little wooden stools with a bendy blackboard propped against the wall. It’s Muhazi’s nursery school.

The sad thing is that at the moment they’ve got a brick built, waterproof barn with acres of indoor play space. When the parents finish building their new maternelle they’ll have a cramped mud-brick hut with low roof, little light and absolutely no play space. If it were me. I’d want to hang on to the old factory for as long as I could.

I watch three lessons. In two of them the children sing songs at the start and finish, and it’s obvious their teachers have come to the training session Cathie and I ran at Mata. Also there’s one of our rice sack wall posters up in a room.

The children are polite and curious; one of the 4ème lads takes me over during break time and insists I come and have a look at his room. It’s one of the better rooms in the school and all the children who use it are so proud of it. The little ones look jealously through the door at us.
I finish my inspection. I’ve decided that since Muhazi is right next to the main road I’ll hitch a lift home and save VSO some more money. I start walking with one of the teachers who’s going home for his lunch. We walk for a good three kilometres, all uphill, in the full heat of mid-day, and not a single usable vehicle comes past us at all. Eventually, just as I’m approaching the Mushubati junction, a Chinese lorry stops for me. It’s one of the road engineers, and he’s going all the way to the District Office. He even speaks some English. My luck with lifts is still holding!

I can’t say it’s a fast run. Every few hundred yards he’s stopping to chase up or give orders to groups of workmen. They all goggle at the muzungu in the cab; they think that the Englishman is supervising the Chinese man who is supervising the Africans. I think that’s really funny and do nothing to put then right!

Eventually we reach the office and I’m able to get home and write up my report before the next lot of rain starts.

Best thing about today – solving the riddle of Muhazi. The reason it doesn’t appear in any league tables is because it’s a relatively new school and this current 6ème is the first in the school’s history. So I’m able to tell the kids I want at least 12 of the 28 of them, and preferably 16 of them, to be sure they pass their test. That would put Muhazi in the top quartile of Muhanga schools and would really put the wind up some of the very big, complacent primaries!

Late evening everything changes. I get a phone call to say my dad has died suddenly this afternoon. So tomorrow I must start unpicking everything I’ve been arranging and get an air ticket home pronto. I’m so pleased that I was able to get him photos of Rwanda so he could see what I was up to, and “meet” all the people I’m working with. He’s been able to read blogs that I’ve sent, and I’ve been able to have a phone call with him while I’ve been here. He’s been so supportive and so proud of everyone who’s giving up years of their time to volunteer out here.

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