Sunday, 18 January 2009


January 15th

I have a later start today in Kigali, but still get the same bus in. I wander up to the Sierra (Indian) supermarket and have a browse to see what things they’ve got there. There’s a super collection of spices, both in bulk and in small sachets, but everything’s a lot more expensive than in Gitarama. (Italian pasta shells are 1500 in Kigali; Turkish pasta shells 900 in Gitarama – and taste just as good).

I meet first Ruairi, and then (after I’ve gone into Blues Café for a coffee to wait for our meeting to start) I find Heloise and Chris from Nyagatare. We drink coffee and generally chill for the best part of an hour. I discover that Heloise and Tom have both been to Rwanda before, doing anti-HIV work when they were students. I’m quite surprised at how well travelled so many of these young volunteers are, and how many of them have done more than one stint of volunteering with another organisation before signing up with VSO.

Today and tomorrow we have a conference for all the volunteers working in education, whether they are District Officers like me, Teacher Trainers like Soraya, HIV trainers like Heloise or others like Hayley with her YWCA brief. Just about everybody is there, so there’s a lot of meeting and greeting.

I start getting a lot of grief from VSO because my resident visa expires tomorrow, and apparently the police clearance I need before it can be renewed takes some days to come through. I could be in line for a fine. On the other hand, the dates in our visas seem wonderfully random; mine is dated neither to the day I arrived in Rwanda, nor the day I started work in Gitarama, and in any case I didn’t actually receive it till well into April. Nobody else has a visa so close to its expiry date as me: Épi’s ends in February; Soraya’s in May; Tiga’s some time in between those extremes. I may have to miss part of the meeting tomorrow to go to the Parquet in Kacyiru to collect and fill in the police clearance form. I hate all this bureaucracy; it’s very easy for Rwanda to play games with us because we don’t speak the language or properly understand the system, and I wish the VSO office staff would do the things for us. I know that in Tom’s FHI outfit, for example, there’s one person who spends virtually all her time making sure everyone’s documentation is up to scratch.

At lunchtime we meet a group of Americans who are coming to work as teachers in Rwandan schools for a year. They seem to be spread across the country, and I wonder if I will have any in Muhanga. I wonder, too, if there has been any co-ordination with the District (i.e. whether Claude knows if they’re coming), and it will be fun if I roll up to inspect a school and end up watching the lesson taken by an American!

We spend an interesting afternoon discussing VSO’s education programme for the next three years. Our existing licence with the Rwandan authorities runs out in the middle of 2009, and is largely built around the idea of volunteers going into individual schools as English or Science teachers. We have moved a long way away from that model, and at the present time most volunteers are working in Districts, like me. There’s a pretty general feeling that working in the districts is spreading ourselves too thinly, and that it would be better if we simply focussed on a few secteurs, or even on just one secteur. To make things more interesting, there’s a proposed shake up of the country’s educational administration system due, which will transfer some powers down to secteur level.

If I were to have been allocated to a secteur I would only have around one or two secondary schools and seven to twelve primary schools to work with. That would mean I could visit each school once a month, and I could begin to make a real difference. It’s far too late to change the pattern for me and the current volunteers, but working in Rwanda would be very different for those who followed me. The most needy secteurs in Muhanga district are Rongi and Nyabinoni in the far north, and if Soraya and I were secteur based we would be living in a village somewhere up there in the wilds, and not in comfortable Gitarama. I think I would miss the sheer variety of schools I see on my travels even just within Muhanga. It’s good that the Rwandan system is so open that changes of this magnitude can be discussed, but I wish they would plan further ahead and give a greater lead-in time for people to prepare themselves.

We are given a description of schools in Cameroon, visited by Ruth and Charlotte from our Programme Office over Christmas. I really must stop grumbling about Muhanga schools, because the situation in the far north of Cameroon is awful. The school buildings are so bad they’re almost non-existent, and the government’s policy is to give a community three teachers only; if the community wants or needs more teachers they have to pay the salaries themselves. As you can imagine, education in Cameroon is in quite a state! Oh, and education there is almost exclusively for boys. Rwanda really is a shining beacon of gender equality in Africa, and in some aspects (primary enrolment) is almost as good as England. (I wonder what the reaction would be in England if the Government announced that all children would only be attending school for half the day, and that teachers would be teaching nine hours a day plus marking, preparation and compulsory extra curricular activities!)

I have to wait for a later than usual bus home, and it’s completely dark when I reach Gitarama. Fortunately, yet again Tom has the dinner almost ready, and we’re both pretty tired after that. Roll on the weekend and an opportunity to rest and have a lie-in.

Best thing about today – most of it really, it’s been a nice day

Worst thing – I’m feeling pressured and stressed about renewing my visa. I really don’t want to be landed with a hefty fine because the system here is so slow that they can’t process my paperwork quickly enough.

No comments: