Thursday, 26 February 2009

Rwanda pulls out of the Congo

The media here is full of triumphalist news about the Rwandan army coming home from Congo after sorting out the Interahamwe militias. Reports from the Congo, however, suggest that many of the rebels have melted into the jungle while the Rwandan and Congolese armies rampaged around, and are returning to the areas they controlled now that the armies have left. They're taking revenge on the local populations, especially, of course, the local women, and it is feared that the rebel problem has only been reduced and not solved. Meanwhile Rwanda is orchestrating a massive campaign to welcome the troops as conquering heroes.

The following pictures are from today's BBC Africa website.

After the soldiers have passed there are always dozens of newly orphaned children to be looked after.

A carefully staged shot for local consumption. The rwandan women welcoming their conquering heroes.

The deciding factor in this conflist was astute use of helicopter gunships. These Rwandan ones practise most days over the countryside around Kigali; they're based at the main international airport and clatter over our VSO programme office day after day.

Rwanda troops (front) and Congolese troops (rear) marching through Goma in a ceremonial parade to mark the successful completion of the campaign...... for now!

Pupil power, Rwanda style

Here is another litle article from today's "New Times". Nyanza is the District between me and Butare, where Ken is doing my District Education Officer role. There but for fortune could be Claude and I!

Students boycott classes, want director to resign

NYANZA – A group of students at Ecole Technique de Gitarama (ETO-Gitarama) on Monday boycotted classes and declared a hunger strike to protest against what they termed was a lack of teachers.

The group mostly composed of senior four and five students attempted to march to the Nyanza district offices to demand the local leaders’ intervention before being intercepted by district officials- who asked them to return to school and were instead asked to wait for a special meeting.

Speaking to The New Times, scores of the seemingly angry students complained that they have not been learning for months because of shortage of teachers. The striking students blamed the district education office for not intervening.

“We are not on a strike, we are aware that strikes portray a poor image of the school. However, we have opted to boycott classes until the provincial authorities addresses the issues at hand because they have neglected our problems for long,” a student who asked not to be named said.

Following the strike, an abrupt six hour meeting aimed at calming students was held between the students, the school administration and district officials, at the school premises. However, most of the students were unruly demanding that the acting director, Ezekiel Ngoboka be replaced immediately.

Ngoboka explained that some teachers have unexpectedly abandoned teaching largely due to personal reasons while others got better jobs, but the administration has employed other qualified teachers. He castigated the students for undermining the school’s efforts to employ new English speaking teachers.

Eduard Mushimiyimana, the district education officer, dismissed the students’ claims, saying most of the issues which were being raised were resolved in 2008. Calling for calm among students, Mushimiyimana cautioned them against strikes and promised to recruit more teachers.

On the replacement of the director, Mushimiyimana said the appointment of a new director was in the pipeline but called on students to cooperate with school authorities.

Meanwhile, the officials pointed out that the students’ demand for the resignation of the school director could have been instigated by people with vested interests, and they promised to launch an investigation into the matter.

Demenagement, Gitarama style!

February 25th

It’s one of those days with a flat, matt grey sky and you know it’s going to rain. The only question is when….

At the office I manage to get through to the Tronc Commun head mistress at Cyeza and tell her and the primary head that I’m coming and that’s OK, isn’t it…. At the last minute, just as I’m starting to pack up my things, Claude breezes in and says he’s off to Nyakabanda all day and wants my data on secondary unplaced students. I remind him that it’s not complete, but he says give it to him anyway. I think the mayor’s breathing down his neck.

I take a big moto to go to Cyeza; I know from previous experience that if I take a little one, and the machine isn’t in really good form, I’ll end up doing a lot of walking! Cyeza is one of the two schools Sally is working with, and I’ve arranged things with her that this week she’ll be at Bilingaga which will give me a clear run at Cyeza. I’m going to Cyeza for two reasons, one is to see how well the new TC section if settling down, and the other is to go to the primary because it’s exam results are still among the bottom ten in the District. But, unlike at Remera school, I’m not going to wave a big stick at Cyeza because I know that Jeanne is doing all the right things, and in any case she’s got Sally giving her more help than I ever could.

Jacqueline, the head of the TC section is rather on the defensive when the muzungu walks in, but Jeanne welcomes me like a long lost friend and we get on fine. I listen to Jacqueline’s tales of woe about the tronc commun situation – no copies of the syllabus, no textbooks, no teaching materials at all. Just three classrooms, 140 children, and four teachers with whatever folders of notes they’ve saved from their own school days. It really is pathetic. (In other words, the situation I saw at Mata yesterday looks as though it’s going to be repeated in every single TC section).

I watch a pretty hopeless Geography lesson. To begin with it’s conducted entirely in French (even though some of the children ask questions in English), because the teacher doesn’t have an English translation of the course material. That sets the scene for her entire attitude. First we revise last fortnight’s work about the solar system (well, I suppose you could call that Geography), and then we start on the commercial geography of Rwanda. Crops, minerals etc. It’s enough to make you weep! And certainly enough to put you off geography for life. I come out fuming. This wretched woman doesn’t seem to mark any books, doesn’t seem to be setting homework; doesn’t seem to be setting the children any exercises to do. She just plonks herself in front of them and talks at them.

I’m glad to finally escape and go to a Maths lesson with a different class. This teacher is much better. There’s a sense that the man wants to teach and enjoys what he’s teaching (Venn diagrams). He speaks entirely in English, and the children do too. There’s a few tricky moments before the kids grasp the concept, but all in all it’s a very successful lesson bearing in mind the whole thing is being done in everybody’s third language.

Half way through the lesson the rain arrives. It pours and pours in a steady downpour. The room goes so dark you can barely see the writing on the blackboard (but at least the windows have glass, so we don’t have to pull shutters in), and after a few minutes water starts pouring in through a hole in the roof so there’s a frantic repositioning of desks. Nobody makes a big fuss – this happens every time it rains in a country where it rains every day, and if we’re honest, the classrooms these kids had in their primary schools were probably far worse. At least the rain isn’t running in the door and flowing out through gaping holes in the walls, as happened in Gihembe refugee camp!

I give the teacher a pat on the back at the end of this lesson, and then go to talk to Jeanne d’Arc and see a primary lesson. This turns out to be yr 5 science, in English, dealing with mechanic’s tools. Some of his pronunciation is hair raising – a hand drill is pronounced “han-dry”, pliers are “pleeyers” and I learned about a tool called a “scrawdeever” (screwdriver). His copy of the textbook is in English, a photocopy of one of these rare Eastern province Anglophone editions. Someone in Kigali is making a fortune this month selling photocopied versions of all the Anglophone maths, science and social studies books. It’s typical Rwanda that the primary schools, with next to no budget, are having to waste money buying expensively photocopied books (and invariably copied single-sided) rather than more durable proper printed books.

I talk to both heads together. Jacqueline grumbles that the toilets are appallingly unsuitable for her older girls (and she’s quite right), and both heads grumble at the lack of water on site. To get into the yr 5 classroom I had to walk a gauntlet of around fifty little jerrycans brought in from home by the children. So that was my cue to offer them an Afritank, courtesy of the New Elizabethan Singers and Bridport community. (Not the HTB money, I’m trying to find an Anglican school for their tank). We’ve agreed that I price up the conversion rate this weekend (there are two parties this weekend, one in Kigali and the other in Gitarama), and then I’ll use Sally as my intermediary until she leaves at the end of March. I want to get the Cyeza tank installed a.s.a.p., preferably before the rainy season comes to an end. As well as the obvious reason, it’s much harder to steal a tank when it’s got several dozen tons of water inside it!

By now the rain is easing off, and I start walking home in case my moto driver has forgotten me. But he hasn’t, and he drives with consummate skill through some really treacherous patches of mud. It’s the trickiest road journey by far since Soraya and I went on our marathon up to Nyabinoni. This lad is an expert biker and I’ll try to use him again. He also speaks fluent French, which always helps.

In the afternoon I discover that while I’ve been out, we are moving offices. The vice-mayor based in our building is moving into the other block so all three mayors are close enough to talk to each other (!), and it has freed up office space quite nicely. So Claude and Valerian are moving into the former vice-mayor’s big office, and Claude has ordered that his old office be given to the muzungus. We are going to call it the Bazungu Bureau (bazungu is plural of muzungu). Well, there are ten of us VSOs in Gitarama area so the chances are it’ll seldom be empty. Unfortunately all the stuff has been moved while I’ve been at Cyeza; my laptop and leads are safe but as I write this blog the big sheet of bubble wrap which I’ve been using to protect my laptop in transit has gone missing. It might not be stolen; there are years and years worth of files cluttering the corridors; about 400 of my rice sacks needing to be moved by a sweaty porter, and all Claude’s stuff is still in his (our) office where he left it this morning en route to Nyakabanda.

I’m not able to get much sorting out done in the afternoon because I’ve invited Sally and Nicole round to plan our training sessions for head teachers. This needs planning pronto because the girls are only here for another five weeks. Honestly, these three month placements are so short as to be ridiculous. Mind you, when I talk to Sally about Cyeza, and she shows me what she has been able to achieve, I think the policy of putting VSOs in at individual school management level is an excellent one. Both women are starting to make a difference.

I felt tired even when I got up today; by the end of the afternoon I feel really exhausted. Fortunately it’s Tinks’ birthday and we’re eating out in town, all of us, so I don’t have to cook. Innocent catches up with me as I’m striding home out of the office and gives me a lift on the District moto. No helmets again, of course…. Innocent’s even worse on a moto than I am; we stall a couple of times and weave our way very sedately round the town centre traffic. He’s on his way to a do at the big stadium, so I get off there and nip through the back streets and past Soraya’s house and home.

For Tinks’ birthday do we are in a brand new restaurant, “l’Orion”, in a building so new they’re still putting the finishing touches to it. It symbolises the brash new Gitarama. The place is deliberately pitching up-market; prices are considerably higher than either Tranquillité or Nectar, but then the ambiance is more western and less of the garden shed variety. The food isn’t quite right yet; Tinks has warned then that 15 muzungus are eating there tonight, but they haven’t made any extra mélange and they seem taken by surprise. It’s a very successful evening, and we agree that we’ll give the place another try on Sunday night, but we also make it clear that if the food is insufficient or cold on Sunday we’ll take our custom elsewhere. That’s pretty plain speaking by African standards; I just hope they get their act together.

There are days here when you don’t seem to get anything done at all, and then there are days like today when things are just non-stop. I like it when things are busy, though. It’s like I said to somebody in an email, last year I felt like a tourist or visitor most of the time; this year I feel as though I’m doing a proper job. I just happen to be doing it in Africa. (and for peanuts…)

But it shows just how much Claude is backing us VSOs if he’s argued the case for an office for us, and it suggests the mayor has decided we’re a positive asset to the District, too. That makes today a good day by any standard.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Measles, potato mildew and cinnamon pancakes

February 24th

I spend an hour fiddling around trying to phone Cyeza school; neither the number for the primary head nor that for the T C head seem to be working. So in the end I give up and arrange to go and see Mata school out in Muhanga secteur. Mata also has a tronc commun section, and what I really want to do is see how the TC sections are settling down.

I show Claude the draft certificates for good achievement that I’ve done for the best performing primary schools; he’s very happy with them and tells me to do some for the best secondaries as well. I want to find some decent card to print them on, but I remember from last year that the very thick card doesn’t go well through either the computer printers or the big offset machine upstairs.

As I take a (slow) moto out to Mata I’ve got time to look around me. It’s a fabulous morning. After Sunday’s rain the air is clear; it’s very cool and crisp, and every single line of hills stands out sharply. The sun is low and everything is backlit to perfection. It’s “good to be alive” weather. In the valley floors there is dense white mist, flat topped as if someone had levelled it with a ruler, and as we grind our way along the tarmac road I can see the mist slowly rising as the sun draws it out of the valleys.

By the time I reach Mata school the mist has risen to road level and visibility is down to a few yards. That means that if we hear an Onatracom bus charging towards us we have to get on to the verge and cringe – the stupid bus drivers stop for nobody and take no account of road conditions. They rely on the fact that their vehicles are built like tanks, and however many other people they kill, they will always come out unscathed.

Mata has long drives, one more than a kilometre long, but I find it easier to use an unofficial entrance which is a steep ramp up from the tarmac road. To my surprise I find that this has been made into a nice flight of concrete steps since my last visit. But when I reach the top of the steps the fog is so dense I can’t get my bearings. Fortunately I’ve been to this school twice before and know it must be slightly uphill from where I’m standing, so I grope through the fog until, sure enough, I see the buildings looming just above me. If it was a school I’d never visited before I would have had great difficulty finding the place.

Claudine, the head of the primary section, remembers me and makes me welcome. Mugabo, the head of the TC section, also knows me because I’ve printed off a lot of syllabus material for him. They have partitioned Claudine’s office into two. I’m still not exactly sure how this new system works; Claudine and Mugabo seem to have a modus operandi as two equal heads of the two parts of the school, but at Kabgayi I know that the TC heads insist that they are the overall heads of the whole school and the existing and very experienced primary head is relegated to a deputy head position. It’s a strange set-up and I don’t really like it. It makes me feel uneasy, especially when I know the primary heads very well and the TC heads are total strangers.

I do my usual dipstick inspection with Claudine, and we watch a maths lesson. The children are yr 4 and are still struggling somewhat with English numbers. They’re very reluctant to speak in English even when they’re confident with the maths operations. But there are children sitting by the door who never volunteer answers to questions, and the teacher never goes near them, so they daydream contentedly all through the lesson. And the children don’t seem to want to take the initiative and use tables to solve the enumeration questions he has set, so most of them end up with only two or three correct answers out of seven. It’s all a bit listless and feeble. And, of course, the room is bleak and bare with virtually nothing up on the walls, nothing to stimulate or help them. There’s just one rice sack poster from the training session Cathie and I did here back in June, and it’s drooping, out of context and all but forgotten, in one corner.

The tronc commun section is based in the better rooms, and the primary children have had to reoccupy the older rooms with lower ceilings and no glass in the windows.

I see two lessons in the TC part, an English one and a Science one. The English lesson is pretty dreadful. The teacher is acutely nervous of having a native English speaker in with him. He shouts rather than talks, and in the entire lesson he does nothing more than revise material they’ve already covered. The class consists of 33 young people with ages ranging from about 13 or 14 up to well beyond English student age. I’d say the oldest are in their mid twenties. I’ve no doubt that some of the women are married and with children. (And bear in mind that this is a first year secondary class – year 7 in English parlance).

The entire lesson is spent listening to this man haranguing them and answering the questions he fires at them to check understanding. There’s absolutely nothing remotely active or participative in their learning, and nothing contextual or to give interest. If this were to be an English school, the class would have rioted or walked out after thirty minutes.

Then I go into a science lesson. Here, again, we spend twenty minutes revising previous work but at least the woman covers some new material. I can’t work out how what she’s doing relates in any logical way to a syllabus. It’s all about diseases, and is simply a list of diseases, their symptoms, their causes and their prevention. But in one lesson she’s covering viruses and fungal diseases, she’s covering diseases of humans and plants – it’s a mish mash. So after 45 minutes I’ve learned all about measles and potato mildew, and about a human scalp disease called Tenia which is new to me.

This tronc commun section seems to have no books or resource materials at all. It consists of 33 children in a room, and a teacher using his or her notes, which I wouldn’t mind betting are their notes from when they themselves were at secondary school. How on earth can we teach science to “world class standards”, as the government intends, and prepare these children to compete with their counterparts in Europe and Asia, when there’s not a book in the entire place?

I’m in the middle of debriefing with Mugabo when Claude suddenly arrives at the school. And he’s not alone. With him is an official Rwandan Government school inspector. Fortunately the inspector is looking at buildings and facilities rather than classes, and both he and I see the funny side of both of us descending on the same school. I tell him what I’ve seen in terms of lack of resources, and he shrugs and says it’s the same everywhere. He doesn’t quite say “what idiot decided that all this change had to be done instantly and without any preparation?”, but it’s implied in his tone.

Claude and the inspector go on to look at Mushushiro; I go back to Gitarama. I’m determined not to have to hire a moto or a vélo taxi, so I walk a mile or so up the road, and sure enough I’m able to hitch a life. Here I am in Rwanda. In a Japanese made lorry, with a Congolese driver and a Chinese civil engineer. Yes folks, it’s the Chinese road builders coming to my rescue yet again! We eventually find that I can speak in French to the Congolese driver, and he can simplify Kinyarwanda enough to talk to the Chinese guy. They drop me right outside the office, and I give the driver money for a fanta. The beam on his face says that if I ever meet him again he’ll always stop for me!

Back at the office I write my report and go home. Hayley and Charlotte drop in to remind me its pancake day today, so I whizz round the market with them and buy up some veg. Tom is working late again in Kigali, and by the time he arrives I’ve got avocado and salsa all ready, and also the batter for pancakes. We nip across the road and buy a couple of bottles of Primus while we decide what we’re going to do with our batter. In the end we make a macedoine of vegetables and fry them till cooked, then pour most of our batter over the top so that we have a thick vegetable pancake. It’s something between a filled pancake and an omelette special with flour rather than eggs, but it works. It’s certainly very filling!

And then to crown the day, we have proper pancakes with cinnamon and syrup. (Thank you, Cathie, for leaving us a little tub of cinnamon powder when you left!).

At this point we’ve barely got enough energy to do the washing up, and by just after nine o’clock I’m tucked up in bed listening to music.

Best thing about today – the food, the lift home, being out in the countryside.

Worst thing – the lack of resources in the tronc commun sections of our schools, and the poor deal these wretched children are getting. If they could spend a week seeing the amount of kit and resources their English counterparts take for granted, there’d be a revolution here in Rwanda tomorrow….

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Am I getting closer to wearing dentures? Decrepitude rules, grrr!

February 23rd

Up at five o’clock, well before dawn. Off to Kigali on the half past six bus with all the early commuters sleeping and yawning their way to the capital. Beautiful valley mist all the way in; last night’s rains have cleared the air again and everything looks crisp and fresh. Cool, though, in Gitarama, and I’m glad I’m wearing my fleece.

I’m in the VSO office by eight o’clock; everyone’s just arriving and surprised to see me. Bosco’s going to run me to the dentist because he knows exactly where it is and apparently it isn’t an easy place to find first time. So I have an hour to spend in the office while I wait for him to take me. There’s some documents from Saturday’s Volunteer Committee meeting I need to go through, and I arrange with Charlotte to get them to me.

I rummage through the box of left-overs from recently departed volunteers, and discover some bottles of Permethrin anti-mosquito treatment for bed nets. On Saturday we had intended to make one bottle do both my net and Tom’s, but in the event it all got absorbed into Tom’s. So now I have two treatments for mine, and we’ll see if it does the trick.

At the dentist I have a minimum wait, and am seen by two people. One is a visiting Dutch specialist who like me is a volunteer. He practises in Holland but comes to Rwanda every year for a few weeks to help train local practitioners. He does the diagnosis and briefs Petronille, who will actually treat me. The good news is that my broken tooth has not become infected and it will be relatively easy to cover up and get rid of the jagged edges. The bad news is that he says there’s quite a badly infected tooth on the other side of my mouth which is actually leaking pus. It’s going to have to come out. He will have gone back to Holland by then, so I’ll be in Petronille’s tender hands….

I have to say that she seems to do a good job on sealing the broken tooth. I have to pay for my treatment, but all in all I’m lucky to have been seen so quickly. The surgery is modern, well lit, well equipped. There’s also quite a queue of people outside waiting their turn; I’m glad I made an appointment and didn’t just turn up on spec. If the latter, I’d probably have been there all day.

Bosco’s still waiting for me, and drops me back at the VSO office. I manage to get on the internet and do some business, and Bridget comes in from her placement in the east. She’s the nearest volunteer to Gahini, where I’ll be having my birthday bash. She says there’s ten of their group coming, which means I can go ahead and definitely book the Bishop’s Palace for people to stay in. Bridget is teaching at a TTC (College of Education) very much out in the wilds; very dry, and miles from anywhere.

I return to Gitarama laden down with more books to read from the VSO library, plus a lot of “dead mail” where letters have come for volunteers after they’ve left. I’ve brought letters sent for Karen, Marisa and a couple of others, and sent them emails asking if it’s OK to destroy these old letters – almost without exception these are old bank statements. (Every time you write a cheque here the bank posts you a statement, but the thing takes about a fortnight to arrive. So it’s inevitable that when people are closing down their accounts and settling up last minute business before departure, there’s going to be a flurry of bank letters arriving just after they’ve gone).

In the afternoon I’m supposed to be contacting schools to book visits for the rest of the week, but I discover the phone system’s down yet again.

So I occupy my time finishing making a summary of a wonderful book about African financial culture which Christi has lent us. It’s a riveting read; having been here quite a while now, I can find examples from my own experience to match most of the examples the book gives. It’s the kind of background reading that new volunteers ought to have before they arrive.

Tom’s also been in Kigali today but is very late coming back, so I feed myself and the guard and then settle down to read a book for the evening. Nobody’s put any money in the meter for the outside lights at the back of the flat, which means that the steps down are a death-trap after dark. Twice in the past week I’ve almost fallen down the steps while carrying plates full of food for the guards.

Time for an early night tonight, because I need to be in the office early and phoning schools at seven tomorrow morning!

Best thing about today – getting one tooth fixed.

Worst thing – facing an extraction in a week or so’s time.

A desperately sad tale from Rwanda

This is from last week's "New Times" newspaper. Kamonyi is the District between Gitarama and Kigali, amout 15 miles away from Gitarama. They key to the whole desperate story is in the last paragraph.

baby retrieved from pit latrine


KAMONYI – Police and students at College APEC-Rukoma in the Kamonyi district on Wednesday rescued a newly born baby which had been dumped in a school pit latrine by the mother.
School sources said the mother, Venancie Uwamurera, a Senior Six student of the same school had a normal delivery before dumping the baby in the pit latrine. The infant was discovered by other students who heard it screaming.
Uwamurera said that she was aware of her late pregnancy but didn’t intend to dump the child in the pit.
“I didn’t realise that I was supposed to deliver, I felt like going to the toilet, and only heard the baby falling into the pit,” she said.
She added, “it was a shame and it won’t be easy to face this child and say the truth, but I will ask my child for forgiveness when she grows up.”
The girl who reportedly experienced severe bleeding was later together with the baby transferred to Kigali Central Hospital for immediate medical attention.
The Kamonyi District Police Commander, Chief Inspector of Police, Innocent Semigabo, condemned the incident and appealed to parents and teachers to always monitor children.
Police say she could face charges of attempted murder, which attracts 25 years imprisonment on conviction.
Uwamurera claims that the pregnancy was as result of sexual abuse by one Nason Nsengimana, though she had never reported the case.

Sunday a la maison in Gitarama

February 22nd

I decide today’s going to be a domestic day. Tom’s off to church and I’m staying at home as a heathen.

Firstly I’ve got some washing to do, and then we decide that the answer to our mosquito problems is to impregnate our bed nets with Permithrin. Permithrin has a dodgy reputation here; many of the girls say they have had skin rashes from contact with nets once they’ve been treated, but Tom and I reckon that in both cases our nets are well above face level so we can safely use the treatment.

The bottle comes with dire warnings about the need to use rubber gloves etc, but doesn’t actually include any rubber gloves. Fortunately we’ve got a pair between us. Our intention is to make the bottle do both his and my net, but we discover that his net absorbs virtually all the stuff. No matter, it’s Tom’s bottle of Permithrin and I can easily get another one at a chemist in town.

So by mid morning there’s both our nets, his well treated and mine with a token smear of the stuff, drying on the washing line.

Now it’s cooking time. I cook up a kilo of dried beans to eventually freeze and use as and when we need them. The secret of cooking these beans is to do it in stages. They’re notorious for needing a long cooking time which costs a bomb in gas or charcoal or kerosene, depending on what kind of stove you use. But we’ve learnt that if you boil them for ten minutes and let them gradually cool, and then boil them again for twenty minutes and let them cool; by then they’re nearly soft and it takes very little extra cooking to get them completely tender.

I also experiment with yet another batch of soup. This time its potato and onion with loads of herbs in. By sheer good fortune I discover that when I try to liquidise it the potatoes are just cooked and stay as lumps; the onion and all the rest whizzes into a lovely sauce. So when I box it up and put it in the freezer we know we can either use it as ready cooked spuds in a sauce, or add some water, cook a bit more and whizz it into proper soup. Cool, eh?!! I’m feeling pretty chuffed with myself. (Ok for most of you reading this rubbish it just proves to you what a useless cook I am).

In the early evening it rains and rains and rains. Tom and I brave it to “Nectar” in a gap between the deluges, but most of the girls don’t make it for the meal. We have two gap year students with FHI for a couple of weeks so we have some new faces to talk to. One of them might come out with me for a school visit later in the week. Michael says the Bishop of Shyogwe is blowing colder and colder about us borrowing his car to go and do the Nyabinoni schools. I think it’s a case of this Rwandan trait of not wanting to cause offence by saying “no” outright, so you put off and find reasons for not agreeing to something and hope that eventually it will go away of its own accord. I know that if even we don’t go to Nyabinoni I’ve still got more schools to do this term than there are days to do them in. Tinks is feeling very down that the Shyogwe people are not getting any firm direction from the Diocese and she in particular isn’t getting out to schools to visit them and work with the teachers. She’s feeling under-employed and is considering packing it all in and leaving early. All the people in Diocesan placements, too, are plagued by having schools scattered far and wide so that transport is an even bigger issue than for me. (At least I have around twenty schools within a five mile walking distance and another twenty or so within cheap moto range). I know that Tiga has still not properly started on her teacher training job and it’s a good month and a half since the start of term. It’s all very well the Diocese pleading poverty, but they wanted to have teacher trainers in the first place….

We squelch home through the mud and puddles up the main road. It’s raining as opposed to pouring; the storm drains are a foot deep in water and everywhere you go there’s the sound of dripping or cascading streams in gutters, down drainpipes, and pinging off corrugated iron.

Back at the flat after the meal I read – I’m reading a book called “Suite Française” by Irène Nemirovsky; it’s a beautifully written account of life during the fall of France in 1940. Rivetting stuff. She died in Auschwitz in 1942, so having been to the camp I feel a kind of empathy.

By the time Teresa rings I’m already more than half asleep. There are mosquitoes in the room but they seem so far to be keeping well away from my bed net. That’s good news.

Best thing about today – NOT rushing off to Kigali; NOT waking up dehydrated or worse, NOT staggering around after three hours’ sleep. Oh dear, I’m turning into an old fogey. I’m already wearing carpet slippers inside the flat. Before you know it I’ll be in woolly cardigans and toting a hot water bottle.

Actually I know of at least one female volunteer in her twenties who has a hwb which she uses on cold nights………….

Don't be late for school.......

This article is taken from the BBC Africa website.

“'I'm ashamed to meet my pupils now”

The Tanzania Teachers' Union is taking legal action after 19 primary school teachers were caned. The teachers were caned by a police officer, some in front of their pupils, after an investigation into poor exam results at three schools. Ativus Leonard, a 33 year-old teacher at Katerero Primary School, 20 miles outside the regional capital Bukoba, and one of the victims of the caning, told the BBC what happened:

On Wednesday morning, the District Commissioner came to our school. He met with the head teacher and called a staff meeting. Once we were gathered, the DC told us that they had been keeping track of the teachers who arrived late for work. He read out the names of the teachers in question. I was one of them. I had been late for work twice in the last month. He asked each of us our reasons for being late. I told him there were different reasons. It could be family problems, or if I had been feeling unwell. The DC said our lateness was causing the school to fall behind and that it was unacceptable. He said he was going to punish us now.

At first I assumed he was joking. I told myself that it could not be possible.
But once they locked the doors of the staffroom and made everyone line up to receive their strokes, I knew that they meant business. Seven of my female colleagues took strokes of the cane on the palms of their hands. When it was my turn, a police officer ordered me to lie down and receive my punishment. I refused, so he kicked me and I fell down. Once I was lying on the ground, he carried on kicking me. He brought out a big cane and beat me with it. He hit me everywhere; my legs, my chest, my arms, my hands. When it was over, I went to the hospital for treatment. I was given medicine but I still have a lot of pain in my chest. My legs were also injured. But worst of all, this has affected me psychologically.

This has made me feel ashamed to meet my pupils. They did not see me take the beating but they know about it. I have not been able to teach since this happened. I feel inferior to the children now. I am married with four children. My wife is also a teacher at a different school. She is furious that they have done this to me. Right now, I'm still very angry. But I'm also stunned and amazed at what has happened. The DC must be punished for what he has done. Caning teachers must be against the law. I am seeking financial compensation from the government for what I have suffered.

Volunteer Committee in Kigali

February 21st

Tom’s having a major lie-in today, so I’m up and off reasonably early for a VSO volunteer committee meeting in Kigali. We meet at Karibu, which is in the old colonial quarter close to the city centre and just up from the infamous “Mille Collines” hotel.

We’re an interesting bunch this time, and it’s a mark of how time is passing by that apart from Martine, Tiga Épi and I are the three longest serving volunteers on the committee.

We have a very good natured meeting with plenty of meaty issues – a new all embracing volunteer handbook which has come out in draft form but hasn’t yet reached all the committee (me included). It’ll take a lot of editing and I’m going to be chairing that meeting in May.

We also have a good chew around the subject of visa renewals; I’m certainly not the only one who is going to incur a fine this year for late renewal. There’s an awful lot of confusion over exactly what the procedures are, and above all there is confusion over when we are allowed three months grace for a tourist visa and when we have to ensure our successive year’s visas are dated end-on. I think the best way to look at this year’s problems is as a one-off which needs solving before any other batch of volunteers comes up to renewal time.

After the meeting I come straight back to Gitarama and fall asleep for an hour. Tom’s been doing some cooking. We both decide to have a lazy afternoon and evening; in a way it’s nice not to be going to a party; I think we both need to recharge our batteries this weekend.

I draft a schedule of visits which means I’m going out on visits every single day to the end of this term, and even then I’m not going to get to all the schools I want to inspect. I wonder how many days this schedule will last before outside events blows it to smithereens!

We spend a lazy evening reading and listening to music. On the one hand it feels a bit of a letdown not to be off partying on yet another Saturday; but after last weekend’s disasters I think it’s time I acted my real age for once instead of pretending I’m still m thirty….

How to authorise a credit card in Rwanda...

February 20th

Into the office early. I manage to catch Claude without any queue of people outside his door and sit him down for ten minutes. In that ten minutes I get more stuff sorted than at any other time since I came back after Christmas. I get a complete list of all the Tronc Commun Heads and their phone numbers. I get Claude’s agreement that after this week I concentrate on visiting and inspecting the new tronc commun sections. We agree that I will also make a point of visiting all our failing primary schools, however far out into the wilds they are – VSO will get some hefty transport invoices during March! We agree that both of us need to inspect the four worst performing traditional secondary schools, and we allocate the week leading up to my birthday as inspection week. We agree that it might be a good idea to give all the new Tronc Commun heads some training so they know what they’re supposed to be doing. (Has anyone told them about development plans, for example? I don’t think so. Apparently they’ve been begging Claude all week for some detailed description of what they’re supposed to be responsible for). We even agree that I should design some certificates to award to high performing schools so that they have something to put on their entrance walls and boast about.

I come out of the meeting feeling very happy.

While I wait for Soraya to get her contract signed and stamped by the mayor (it’s only seven months since she started doing the job, after all) I pinch Claude’s modem and get a lot of electronica sorted. Amongst other things I make sure I’ve downloaded all the primary curriculum and tronc commun curriculum onto my desktop from the Rwandan NCDC (National Curriculum Centre) website. Word is getting out that I’m the person to come to for documents, and within half an hour I have Étienne from Rongi and another head asking me for copies of just these new syllabuses. I send Étienne scampering upstairs to find a flash drive; when he eventually arrives he’s pinched Védaste’s flash. But everything he wants I’m able to provide so my cred is rising with these guys.

While I’m still waiting for Soraya I discover two striking articles in today’s press; a sad but funny one about Tanzanian teachers being caned by the local police for lateness, and a desperately sad one about a local upper sixth form girl in Kamonyi district (next door to us in Muhanga) giving birth in the school toilets. If I remember I’ll post them for you all to read.

Eventually Soraya is ready and we escape to Kigali on the bus. I want to activate my new credit card; Soraya wants to get her visa application stuff under way.

At the VSO office I manage to get my business done within ten minutes of arriving. The moral to my story is that if you need to ring an 0800 number from Rwanda you have to do it on a landline. Quite apart from the technical side which MTN mobiles don’t seem able to handle, when you eventually get through in England you get first one of those automated answering systems which play nice music while you wait for ages, and then you get put in a queue. Just imagine how much that costs when you’re ringing in peak time from the middle of Africa!

VSO office is busy; the “Disability” volunteers are all arriving for a big meeting. Last year the place was always packed on Fridays because all the volunteers who were teachers in schools arranged things so that they had Fridays off to go shopping and get ready for the weekend. This year we don’t have any volunteers working as teachers in schools; we’re all either teacher trainers like Soraya or District Advisers like me. So in general Fridays are now good days to come into Kigali…..

Soraya eventually gets all her business done, but by then it’s gone two in the afternoon and we’re homeward bound. We’re just sitting in the bus in Kigali centre waiting for it to leave when she gets a phone call from her Philippina friends saying that they’ve seen her with me in town; that it’s so and so’s birthday today and why isn’t she coming up to the house for the party? So Soraya jumps out of the bus and manages to re-sell her ticket to a Rwandan, and off she goes.

Back home I feel really weary. I try to plan all my visits between now and the end of term and realise there simply won’t be time to do all the schools I want to do – and that’s before any of the inevitable disruptions get in the way. Still, many visits can wait until the summer term and it’s always better to have too much to do than too little. All I need to do is get my tooth sorted and I’ll be right back on form again.

VSO tell me that if I can get to the office by eight on Monday, someone will drive me to the dentist’s place in Nyarutaramba. It’ll save me a moto fare and while I know roughly where the place is it’ll be so much easier to be dropped at the door. It’s only a few hundred metres from Kersti’s school so I might arrange to pop in during the morning and say hello to the crowd we took up the volcano! The only thing is that in order to be in Kigali VSO office by eight, I’ll have to take the six o’clock bus from Gitarama and five o’clock is a pretty heroic time to be getting up in the mornings!

Tom and I cook up an absolutely enormous supper and end up so stuffed we’re groaning. Once again I feel absolutely tired out; I can barely write this blog entry. Last night I slept so soundly I hardly stirred in the bed; I’ve got no ideas whether there were mozzies inside my net or not. (We’ve both been getting mosquitoes inside our nets; we’re wondering if the little sods walk up the bed legs. Neither of us has holes in our nets and we both make sure the nets are well draped when we go to bed. Perhaps mozzies are evolving into cunning little blighters….)

Best thing about today – getting things sorted with Claude (only the baby naming ceremony is still hanging in the air); getting my credit cards activated.
Worst thing – wouldn’t it have been lovely if I could have done the dentist while I was in Kigali today instead of having to make yet another trip in on Monday!

Friday, 20 February 2009

Many family members and friends have received traditional Rwandan baskets, called "agaseke" (the ones with the conical lids). This is a condensed article from the "New Times" which shows you just how useful and important the handicraft industry can be to individual Rwandan families.

Agaseke (Rwandan traditional basketry) is currently considered as one of Rwanda’s hottest export commodities. Also known as “Peace Baskets”, they have become a critical economic lifeline to many families. For example, in Ngoma, there are 15 cooperative societies of Agaseke weavers with about 150 members, 62 of them women.

The cooperatives are organised as a co-operative called Covepaki. Covepaki is the point of sale where they take their finished products for onward transmission to the export markets. This, according to the members, is the best way to sell their final products as it enables intending buyers to access the products from a centralised place.
Most of the members view Covepaki as an answer to their prayers, as it has helped them support their families with basic necessities and eradicated poverty in their homes.

“Compared to the situation I and my family were living before joining Covepaki, I now see a big step forward in development,” says 34-year old Cecile Mukamusoni, who has been a member since 2000 when the cooperative started its activities.
Mukamusoni, who says she started as a student, now earns between Rwf50, 000 and Rwf70,000 monthly. She has managed to buy land and a house for herself and her mother, the only surviving parent. She has also managed to pay school fees for three children, two of whom are her younger sister’ daughters.

Like any hardworking person, Mikamusoni has targets and aspirations. She hopes to own a cow and bring piped water in their home before this year ends. At 34 and still single, she also looks forward to getting married and raise her own family before the year’s end.

According to John Ndayisenga, 33, Covepaki has made his dreams come true. “I had never thought of owning a house not until I started working with Covepaki,” he says.
“It is until you try something that you know how beneficial it can be,” he added, disclosing that he had all along refused to learn how to weave Agaseke because he never thought of getting the best out of it. “I have now realised that everything is possible if you do it with one heart and love it.”

Another resident who gave his name as Ndayisenga, a bachelor, has managed to build a house worth Rwf.1m and he earns Rwf.50, 000 monthly.

Charles Ntezimana, a father of two says being a member of Covepaki has helped him buy land and iron sheets. He hopes to build his house before the year ends. “I see very many people out there who say they are jobless even when they never went to school. I urge them to join this industry and they will know the better side of it if they have not seen it when they get started,” he appeals.

According to Pascal Bazatsinda, the cooperative president, many members of the society appreciate what they do and the returns of their labour. He says every member earns approximately Rwf50, 000 a month.

Started in 1989, Covepaki stopped its activities in 1994 during the Genocide and it resumed its operations in 2000. It has since trained about 200 students most of whom have become members.
Bazatsinda, said the cooperative however still faces some shortcomings which include lack of a large market to sell their finished products and a shortage of skills among the members.

a day spent dialling 0800.....

February 19th

A short blog today because nothing much is happening. Today I have two priorities; one is to activate my new credit card, and the other is to get to a dentist.

The Dentist Christi recommends can’t see me till Monday morning. That’s four more days. I text Piet at Kabgayi hospital to see if there’s a dental specialist there, but he never replies to me. With Soraya we try the VSO office to see if they know of anyone who is good and might see me on Friday, but to no avail – the best they can do is get me an earlier appointment on Monday. Oh well, it’s going to be a quiet weekend this time!

I fare even less well with the credit cards. I must have tried more than twenty times to ring the number, and every single time I get the recorded message saying the number is not available at the moment, and to try later. I try using Claude’s land line but discover it’s a pay-as-you-go system and he’s already hundreds of francs over his credit limit. So the machine won’t let me place the call. I’ve decided to go into Kigali tomorrow and try to use the VSO office phone. They’re always having to contact London so at least there should be a good connection. If we can’t get any sense from the Kigali office we’ll have to try a bit of subterfuge to solve this particular problem!

In terms of productive work for the District, I do almost nothing. I daren’t make an appointment to visit a school in case someone finds a dentist available to see me at short notice. It pours with rain again, so it’s just as well I’m not out up-country. A couple of census forms have just arrived at the office (I didn’t even know they’d been sent out yet), so I can enter up the data. Valerian didn’t get round yesterday to phoning the two secondary schools whose results data have gone missing from the office, so I make him do it this morning. One school promises to bring a copy of the results a.s.a.p. (i.e. sometime in the next ten days); the other denies any knowledge of their whereabouts. So we’ll have to do our planning with incomplete data.

Claude’s out of circulation once again; he’s got a meeting with some of the new tronc commun heads. They seem to be getting no in-service training for the job.

I get very bored at one point (we’ve been banished into Claude’s office because he needs our big office to talk to all these heads, so Valerian, Soraya, Beatrice and Innocent and myself are all displaced and not really able to get on with our jobs for a couple of hours). I rifle through a load of papers I’m not supposed to see and load n behold I find a sheet with about half of the new head teachers’ contact details, and also a detailed list of which schools are scheduled to have tronc commun sections in them. Since Claude wants me to keep an eye on the bloody things, wouldn’t it have been a good idea to let me have a copy for myself……… Fume, fume!

In the afternoon Nicole comes in to the office to do some printing, and I manage to hold back some tronc commun subject schemes of work for the two VSOs working in the teacher training college. Thus I meet Kelly, who’s Australian, only just arrived, and is the tenth VSO based in and around Gitarama this year.

It’s a typical muddly African sort of day. The weather is cold, grey and damp. The Mayor has declared an afternoon umuganda at about two hours’ notice, so all the shops are shut in town. (Soraya and co have got caught out with nothing to eat in the house, and I’m just lucky that I did a big shop-up yesterday). There’s supposed to be a big meeting in the stadium with the mayor addressing the assembled throng. Innocent asks me if I’m coming, but I tell him that as it will all be in Kinyarwanda, there’s not much point.

Back home I have some time to prepare and do a good English lesson with John-Robert – probably the most effective thing I’ve done all day. Tom comes in before I’ve finished the lesson, and we decide to have a second try at our ill-fated marrow and cheese bake for supper. Due to part boiling the vegetables this time, it’s a triumph and really seriously tasty. Definitely a winner, and especially so because it’s completely vegetarian and therefore ideal if we’re entertaining the girls at any time in the future.

So a much less stressful day than it might otherwise have been, but my two major targets not achieved.

teething troubles

February 18th

My broken tooth is starting to give me trouble and I think I’ll have to go to a dentist. There are only about 4 or 5 Western style dentists in the country and I think they’re all in Kigali, so it’s not going to be as easy an operation as seeing a dentist at home. My tongue is sore and swollen where it is rubbing against a jagged remnant of tooth and I’m having some difficulty in swallowing……

However, I’ve got to get the dentist details from Christi, who has also been to a dentist during her time here and had a good experience with the one she saw, and I can’t contact her by phone at the moment. (Text messages are very arbitrary at the moment; sometimes they go through in seconds, while at other times they can take hours and hours to arrive).

In the District Office I explain to Claude and the others that I can’t finish the analysis he wants for secondary results by gender because two schools’ data has gone missing. We search and search the office, but we can’t find the missing sheets. We think the two schools must have each taken both copies of the figures. I ask Valerian to ring the schools to see if they can help us, but I’m not sure if he ever gets round to it.

Meanwhile Claude is anxious for the primary results by gender. This means going through all 5000+ names of the candidates and deciding whether they are male or female. About two thirds are easy, but the remainder are real problems for me. And, on top of everything else, a small proportion of Rwandan children are never given a “western” style Christian name – they only have one name and in some cases it’s an androgynous one so that nobody can tell what their gender is.

Claude wants the results a.s.a.p., and I need to get help. Fortunately Védaste drops by to nick the internet modem, so I suddenly have a brainwave. In his office there is usually a group of students hoping he’s going to employ them to help him with his degree research projects in coffee plantations. Right at the moment there’s a tremendous tropical storm going on outside, with rain so heavy that everyone is marooned inside the building. We can press gang these students to help me.

So I get Védaste to get all the students organised to go through the data sheets and annotate the genders. That means up to eight people all slogging through sheets of names. We manage to get through the lot in two hours, which is pretty good going.

Meanwhile, Védaste wants to get on to the NCDC (Rwandan School Curriculum) site on his computer. It’s not an easy site to find, and the quickest way I find is through a link on my blog page. So Védaste sees my blog, and immediately wants to set up his own website. I tell him that to set up a website from scratch isn’t easy and needs special software (“Pagemaker etc”), but that a blog is the easier and quicker alternative. So at the same time as the students are going through the lists of names, Védaste is getting me to show him how to set up a blog. Sure enough, by the time the rain stops and the lists of names are done, he has a blog in operation and a grin from ear to ear!

At lunchtime it is still raining (a second storm is passing by), so I stay in the office and press on until I’ve finished the analysis for Claude. By now it’s about three o’clock and too late to go to “Tranquillité” for lunch, so I go home and make something for myself. Then I do a sweep through the market and buy half a ton of vegetables – we’re right out of everything.

The big storm in the morning has flooded half way across the living room floor, and within an inch of the spare mattress. Before I can do anything else I have to get the floor mop and sweep gallons of water back under the gap in the French windows and out onto the balcony. What a stupid design to have a two centimetre gap at the bottom of a door!

By the time I’ve done all this I’m feeling so tired I actually doze off in an armchair for half an hour, which is unusual for me. I’m fed up with crunching numbers, and I’m determined not to do any more work on the computer today.

Tom’s somewhere in Kigali and will be pretty late coming home, so I cook for us and by the time he gets in, so tired he can hardly eat, there’s a three course meal sorted.

I’ve got a whole stack of weekly newspapers that are either unopened or partly read, so I spend the evening going through them, doing crosswords…..

In the evening Teresa rings to sort out details about replacement credit cards for the ones which were stolen last weekend, so tomorrow’s going to be a day of phoning England and going to the dentist. Christi finally gets through to me with the dentist details in Kigali

Best thing about today – getting a difficult job finished in record time for Claude.
Worst thing – sore mouth. I really wanted to get out to another school today, but even if I had, I would have been either drowned in the storms or marooned for hours up country, so in hindsight it was precisely the right day to be working in the office.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

a lovely visit to Kivomo

February 17th

Tom’s off to Kigali very early; I set my alarm for 5.30 and discover that its pitch dark at that time. Dawn comes up very fast here; by 5.40 you can see what you’re doing and by 6.00 you don’t need any lights on at all. What a difference ten minutes makes at this time of the morning!

At the office I want to catch up on emails and post blogs, but Claude’s left the modem at home, so I can’t. Perhaps they had a sleepless night with the baby. Then he collars me and asks me to do a gender analysis of the exam results because he needs to know how many boys and how many girls there will be for local places in tronc commun and upper secondary sections. (I honestly thought all that had been sorted out). In theory it’s an easy exercise which will take me all of five minutes. Except that nobody has listed on the results sheets what gender each pupil belongs to, and the Rwandan names are so convoluted and impenetrable it’s too hit and miss for me to make a guess. So I arrange with Emmanuelle, who just happens to be in the office, that I’ll come to her school this afternoon and she can help me out! (How’s that for cheek!). Meanwhile there’s no electricity in our office (but there is power in the main block). Eventually we discover that our block is on a pre-payment meter, just like our flat in Gahogo, and that nobody’s bothered to put any money on the meter for ages. So nobody can work until somebody – whoever is the person responsible – trots off to Electrogaz and parts with the dosh. Isn’t it nice to have a system so ad-hoc that all Muhanga’s finest are hanging about gossiping until somebody can put more money in the meter!

Soraya’s furious because she’s been charged a fine of RwF20,000 for leaving it so long to get her green card. That reminds me to text the VSO office and ask what’s happening about my visa and passport. Flavia texts back (eventually) to say it’s not done yet and I’ve also incurred a fine of RwF20,000 for going beyond my visa date even though I had started the application process in time. I have to say that I can’t work up a sweat about this. I have been back for over a month and won’t be charging VSO a penny in transport claims. And I would be entitled to up to RwF40,000 a month. So by visiting nothing but local schools and going everywhere on foot or on the cheapest motos for a month I’ve saved VSO twice the fine….

Eventually I get a moto and haggle him down from 1500 to 800 and I’m off to visit Kivomo school. This is a new one for me, but Ernestine, the head, is the Muhanga sector rep and one of my friends among the headteachers. Hers is the only school in the secteur I’ve still not been to. It’s tucked away in a fold in the mountains with wonderful views in every direction. And it’s a brand new building, just finished this year. The old buildings – cramped, low and unattractive – are still there. Nobody can bring themselves to demolish them. I sure hope nobody has the brainwave of trying to use them for tronc commun (or even worse, putting the TC children in the new buildings and condemning the youngest primary children to an indefinite future in condemned buildings. You never know, it could happen).

The school sits on a hilltop on a very narrow site (not more than about forty yards across), with steep drops on two sides. There’s not a blade of grass in the yard, which doesn’t even have soil. It’s just gravelly, sandy, rock pulverised by 500 pairs of little feet every day.

The new buildings are lovely, with plastered and emulsioned walls. They’re light and airy and real pleasure to teach in. I’d love to work in this place. They’ve planted some shrubs around the place and eventually (little feet permitting), the rawness of the new buildings will be softened.

Ernestine takes me on a tour of every class (there only seven; this school has less than 550 children which makes it a tiddler by Muhanga standards). In every class I am welcomed, and greeted in English; even the yr 1 children who have only just started full time school can greet me. I even go into the maternelle and they speak to me in English. They’re learning the words for mother, father, children, so I’m able to do some good pronunciation practise for a few minutes.

Muzungus don’t come to Kivomo, it’s too far off the beaten track. It’s about a mile on a gravel track off the Ngororero road, and all along the track approaching the school I’ve been getting gobsmacked stares from women tilling their little plots of sweet potatoes and manioc. The maternelle children look at me as if I’m an alien as well as a giant, and then turn to their guardienne for reassurance that I’m not about to eat them….

Ernestine is very organised and I decide that Kivomo really is a super little school. They’ve got the luxury of a staffroom, and every day they run a short self-help session to improve their English. What a lovely idea. They’ve organised someone to cook lunches for them, and they all eat together. There is a real team atmosphere and genuine mutual support. Last year, even with all the disruption of building work and those grotty old classrooms, they still managed to come 15th out of 94 schools in the District. With their lovely new rooms, and no class even approaching the new maximum of 50 pupils, they should be able to do better.

Kivomo’s in a deprived, poor part of Muhanga. Soils are exhausted, slopes are steep; it’s a real struggle to make a living from the land. So isn’t it nice that at least these children have a realistic escape route through a decent education. If only we could replicate this place about forty times over to remove all the rubbish buildings in the area!

I join the yr 6 class, much to their amusement, for maths and English. In maths we’re doing the properties of triangles, and the teacher is competent and his English pronunciation is acceptable. Some children are having trouble adding up the three sides to find the perimeter, but as soon as I show a couple of them how to write the measurements as a simple sum, they race through the questions. Then, as usual, they all descent on the muzungu to get their books marked. Obviously 5/5 from a muzungu is a better mark than 5/5 from their regular teacher. Ernestine’s in the room with me and laughing as I get swamped with hot little people and their scrappy exercise books. But these children are so polite and pleasant. They chant and yell all the key phrases: THE – PERIMETER – OF – A – TRIANGLE – EES – THE – SUM – OF – THE – THREE – SIDIES echoes under the tin roof and must be clearly audible to the old man in the next field who’s inspecting his potatoes.

I walk back to the main road just as it’s thinking about raining, and get a cycle taxi back to the office. The lad on the bike is lathered in sweat by the time we get there; he’s more than earned his 800 francs.

In the afternoon Emmanuelle helps me decode the genders of last year tronc commun students. The range of names is awe inspiringly quirky, and if I get time I’m going to compile a list. There are medieval names, Old Testament names galore, and a sprinkling – just a few – of the old Kinyarwanda names. Not everybody succumbs to the Catholic church’s Europeanization of names. What’s conspicuously lacking is any Rwandan equivalent of the Shanes, Waynes, Darrens etc: American culture has simply not penetrated here. Yet.

Tom’s probably staying in Kigali over night so I cook for myself and the guard. Easy stuff; we’re still finishing up leftovers from the weekend.

It’s been a nice day and once again I feel I’ve done a good day’s work.

beware of the Abashitsi....

February 16th

I decide to stay at home and work on translating another section of the yr 5 Social Studies book. Michael has given me his parts of the yr 4 book, which in theory is completely translated. Unfortunately either he didn’t load all his stuff on a flash disk, or I was in too much of a hurry to download it, and part of it is missing. It’s not a huge problem, but it may have to wait until next weekend before we can get together to resolve everything.

Kersti and Vicky are supposed to be coming for lunch on their way back from Kibuye, so staying at home gives me a chance to get something prepared. I’m at the bank early and hey presto there’s almost no queue. I’m served and out in five minutes which is almost the quickest ever. A far cry from the ninety minutes I was languishing there last time!

I come back via the market after having managed to get a good deal on both avocadoes and peppers. Both Tom and I love the Rwandan avocadoes and we seem to be eating them more and more often.

The rest of the morning is spent slogging through the textbook, with gaps to chop up a raw salsa to go with avocadoes. In the middle of all this Kersti rings to say that they’ve been bumped off the bus from Kibuye (very unusual to happen to muzungus but not unheard of), and by the time the next one leaves it will give them too little time to call in on me and still make a deadline in Kigali. So they’re not coming for lunch after all. That’s the second time people coming from Kibuye have had to miss me out! It doesn’t matter; there’s no food which is going to spoil, and I’ll see Kersti soon enough because I’ve got to go to Kigali next weekend for a volunteer committee meeting.

The translation work gets interesting today; I’m doing chapters talking about traditional beliefs. I had no idea how complicated traditional weddings were; the rigmarole I’ve witnessed myself of dowry ceremonies, and formally taking leave of the bride’s parents are just part of it. As this will be a short blog entry I’m going to paste the traditional wedding sequence below.

The language in the textbooks is getting more advanced and it’s stretching my French to the limit. It’s a nice feeling to have to stretch your brain to interpret stuff; I just wish I’d brought out a bigger dictionary with me. There are a few words I just can’t work out from the context and I’ll have to get the guys in the office to help me.

In the afternoon Janine comes to clean; she’s amused when I reel off words for the various ancestral spirits that form a large part of traditional Rwandan beliefs.

Our evening meal is a breeze – it’s almost entirely made of things left over from yesterday’s feast, plus things I had ready for this lunchtime and didn’t need.

I feel rather under the weather today. I think last weekend’s still catching up with me, and I’ve got a sniffly cold (in common with almost all the other volunteers. I think it’s because the weather has suddenly gone so cold here in Gitarama, and is yet too hot in Kigali. It’s difficult to know what to wear at the moment).

Marriage: this is part of my translation of primary yr 5’s Social Studies textbook
Marriages are an important aspect of Rwandan social life. It is a union between two people. Marriages often join up two family lines or clans.
Traditional there are several successive steps to follow:
Kureshya or Kurambagiza: the future husband arranges a meeting with the family of his intended wife, helped by her family and her friends
Gufata irembo: the future husband declares his intention of marrying and sends a cow to her family. If the bride’s family accept it, a day is chosen for the next step
Gusaba: the future husband makes his official request and the two families come to an agreement on the dowry for the future bride
Gukwa: This is the dowry ceremony and presentation of the dowry – traditionally a cow or cows
Ubukwe: the wedding traditionally takes place at night and the bride is carried to her husband’s house where the ceremony takes place
Kwarama: the bride is kept inside for several days, without doing any work
Gutwikurura: together, the couple leave the house and visit everyone in the community. From now on the bride is part of her in-law’s family and takes part in household work alongside them.
Gutekesha: the wife receives permission to cook for her husband.

Here are another two chunks, this time on traditional beliefs:

When things go badly, people sometimes seek the help of people who they think are blessed with special powers. The Abafumu are diviners who consult the spirit world to heal people and prevent illnesses and bad luck. The following people play a role in the traditional beliefs of Rwanda:
Abavubyi are rainmakers
Abahennyi are casters of spells
Abarozi are sorcerers
Abacuraguzi are night dancers
Abashitsi are people able to catch wrongdoers
Abagangahuzi are healers of people struck by lightning
Abapfumu are diviners

Traditional healers
Traditionally, healers are people who understand plants and herbs and how to use them to heal people. Not all the healers hold religious beliefs. Unfortunately some people pretend to be healers when they are not.
Nowadays the majority of true healers belong to an association of traditional healers. They use more than a hundred different local plants and herbs and care for a variety of maladies which modern medicine has not succeeded in curing.
The African Union has declared the years 2001 – 2010 as the decade of African Traditional Medicine.

Best thing about today – having a gentle day and catching up with myself. And I’ve still done a reasonable amount of work.
Worst thing – having to wait for the rest of Michael’s stuff before I can print off the final version of the yr 4 book. Still, by next weekend we should have the yr 5 book finished as well!

teeth(ing) troubles

February 15th

I always find it difficult to sleep after one of these marathon clubbing nights. Here at the AEE guesthouse I’m awake by seven and can’t get back to sleep. Rwanda doesn’t seem to do decent pillows; the one on my bed is foam rubber and very dense and thick and I’ve woken up because it’s give me a neck ache. I bundle together some towels to make an alternative but, well, you just get to the point where it’s too much trouble to try and get back to sleep. And the other volunteers are clattering about in the corridor.

I’m desperately dehydrated and because I’ve very little money left I’ve not much alternative but to go back to Gitarama straight away. Thank goodness I keep a “get you home” stash of money hidden in my rucksack. It’s certainly proved its worth this weekend!

It’s a boiling hot day. I walk all the way up to the VSO office intending to go on line and cancel my credit cards, but when I arrive there’s no internet connection: the network’s down for the time being. I’ve got a choice of hanging around and hoping the network comes back on, or getting myself back home and arranging something with Teresa when she phones me tonight. I decide the latter is probably the best way forward. I’m glad I did a bit of shopping yesterday, and glad also because it means there can’t have been more than about 3-4000 francs in my wallet (less than $4.50).

Back in Gitarama Tom is cooking up a storm and really doing us proud. We have Christi, Janine and Moses coming for lunch. Moses is an FHI worker, a Rwandan, but he is based just over the border in Burundi. When they hear of my misadventures they’re all very concerned. Moses looks stricken. He tells us that the Kigali police have permission to shoot to kill anyone seen robbing a tourist or muzungu and if I had been able to identify the thief he or she would probably no longer be with us.

We don’t let it spoil our meal. OK folks, how’s this for a feast cooked up on a two and a half burner gas ring and a makeshift oven: carrot and coriander soup accompanied as side dishes by fresh avocado with tomato salsa, home made toasted garlic bread and home made pizza wedges; followed by chilli con carne including refried beans; followed by our fruit salad.

It’s a triumph and it’s all Tom’s work. By the time I get inside the door of the flat a combination of tiredness, heat and dehydration means I have to lie down for an hour and recharge my batteries.

Then the second disaster of the weekend strikes – I crunch into some of the toasted garlic bread and an entire tooth disintegrates inside my mouth. It leaves a jagged edge which as I write this blog (Monday evening) has made my tongue swell and makes swallowing difficult. Just my luck, and six months from any chance to see my own dentist. There’s at least one decent dentist in Kigali; I’m going to see how things go over the next few days but I may have to make an emergency appointment to get the stump of tooth filed down and sealed.

In the afternoon I settle down with a huge bottle of water to get rehydrated and do some school work (translating); I’m not planning to go into work tomorrow morning because I know from past experience I’ll feel sluggish in the morning, and if I can put in the hours at home then nobody can grumble at me.

The evening meal at Nectar takes forever. Thunder’s been banging round all afternoon but we haven’t had a major storm and as for thunder in general, well, we get it every day here. Just as we arrive at the restaurant there’s a power cut. You’d think that in a country where power cuts happen at the drop of a hat, and in a restaurant which relies on lunchtime and evening trade, they’d have a generator as a back up. Well they do, but it takes nearly half an hour to get it going, and then after a few minutes it stops. I think nobody has remembered to put petrol in it, or (just as likely) somebody has “borrowed” the petrol for their moto. We wait and we wait and we wait. We’re using candles and judging by the time it takes to serve us, they could just as easily have been cooking on candles as well. (Not really; they cook on charcoal and the fire shouldn’t have been affected at all. Everything seems slapdash at nectar tonight; the waitresses can barely be bothered to serve us; the usual staff who know us well and bring us our drinks before we’ve even ordered them aren’t on duty. The crowd tonight can hardly drag themselves across from the radio to take down our order.) There’s about ten of us, and that’s with at least five people not able to be there. I meet two Canadians who are working at “Momma’s” orphanage. One of them has read my entire blog from start to finish and probably knows me better than I know myself. It’s a weird feeling to meet a total stranger who seems to know everything I’ve been doing and everywhere I’ve been and many of the people I’ve met…… But she’s kind enough to say she found my comments about weather useful when she was packing clothes before flying here.

We get decidedly mutinous and there’s a consensus that perhaps it’s time to try a different venue for our Sunday night gatherings, but in true committee fashion no hard and fast decision is made.

Back at the flat the weekend really catches up with me and it’s straight to bed.

Best thing about today – Tom’s lunch party. Absolutely top rate.
Worst thing – most of the rest of the day if I’m honest. Losing a tooth out here, and outside of Kigali, is no joke.

Valentine's Day in Kigali

February 14th

Valentine’s day; it feels as if half of Rwanda has chosen today to get married. I decide to work in the morning and go up to Kigali for party time in the afternoon. Tom’s out trying to sort out accommodation for a group coming out to visit FHI; his intended venue has let him down so he’s got to scramble around Gitarama with Janine and get things resolved by the end of the morning (which he does).

I get an afternoon bus to town and go up to the VSO office to check mail and read my emails. There’s a fair bit of post for the other Gitarama volunteers so I collect it all to dish out at Sunday night’s meal. One of my items of post turns out to be a Christmas card from the Dorset VSO support group. Over seven weeks late but, hey, the thought’s there!

At the “wedding roundabout” at Kacyiru every single segment has a group having their wedding photos taken, and there are parties queuing up patiently waiting their turn.

I decide to do some shopping; we’ve been out of honey for quite a while, and then I reconnoitre the roads around Remera to find out where the party’s going to be held (Charlotte’s house). I manage to find the place, but take a wrong road on my way back and end up walking round half of Kigali in stupefying heat. Anyway, serves me right for being mean and not paying for a moto….

Eventually I find the AEE guest house (African Evangelical Enterprises). It’s the first time for ages that I haven’t been able to stay at Kersti’s, and it’ll do me good to have to fins my own accommodation. (It comes recommended by Soraya, and sure enough the man at the reception desk remembers her well). Rooms are basic but cheap (RwF10,000 for a shared twin, 7,000 for single occupancy). There’s no water in the rooms, but the washrooms are clean and wholesome, albeit with cold water only. It’s just off the end of the airport runway; at Heathrow it would be a nightmare but there are so few flights into Kigali that it doesn’t matter. There are no night flights at all. Like most church guest houses they don’t officially allow alcohol in the place, and they don’t allow unmarried people of the opposite sex to share a twin room. That means both I, and also one of the girls, have to pay the full single occupancy rate which is really annoying. (For goodness sake – if we come in at 3 in the morning absolutely shattered from a night’s clubbing do they really think we’re going to be capable of making mad passionate love for the couple of hours left until dawn)?

There are already some VSO’s booked in – Tom from Kibungo; Heloise from Nyagatare and her sister who is visiting en route to doing voluntary work at Moshi in Tanzania. Then Els arrives with Kerry and Mary, two lovely American girls working at a secondary school in Nyamata, and Chris from Nyagatare.

We all drift up together for the party; what took me at least half an hour of hard walking in the afternoon takes just fifteen minutes when you know where you’re going…..

Charlotte’s house is beautiful; modern, airy, spacious and clean. The walls are decorated with blow-ups of her photos; she’s pretty good with a camera. There’s a wonderful balcony with panoramic views across to the airport and beyond.

This party is a joint one for Mike (the country leader), Charlotte and Sonya, whose collective ages come to exactly 100. There’s a huge crowd of people there, many of them not VSOs. The food is lovely – guacamole, home made hummus and three beautiful birthday cakes, one of which seems to be almost solid chocolate. It tends to disappear fast!

Mike has to leave his own party early; his partner is going into labour with twins and they’re arriving a bit early, so he’s off back to London on the Brussels flight and we can see his plane take off and disappear into the African night as we chat and drink on the balcony.

After the party a huge group decamps to KBC to go clubbing, me included. KBC is jam packed; it must be a good 100 degrees inside and the noise is so loud you feel it as much as hear it. I thought KBC was supposed to be better than Cadillac, but tonight you can barely move for crowds of people. I’m dancing with about eight of our girls and two or three of our men. Rwandan men keep cutting in on the girls, but after a while they start getting too up-close and personal and the girls come back to me to get away from them. It’s funny to watch. Tina’s dancing with an installation artist we met at the party; his name is Innocent but his dancing style is anything but…

Eventually by three o’clock we decide we’ve had enough and leave the club. That’s when weekend disaster number one strikes. As I weave my way through the crowds to the exit I’m pick pocketed. I feel it as soon as it happens, but the place is so dark and there’s so many people and the thief is so professional I haven’t got a hope in hell of recognising who has dipped me.

They’ve only got a small amount of cash because I was running low and intending to go to the bank on Monday. There’s a couple of phone cards and my VSO identity card which is out of date. (It the wallet is thrown away it might make its way back via the ID card). The annoying thing is that I had both my credit cards inside.

I feel angry with myself – when I’m in the clubs I check my pockets every minute or so, and yet this person has managed to get me. I think they must have been watching me and even tailing me, waiting for an opportunity when I’m so pressed against people that I can’t react. I’m especially cross for having left my credit cards in my wallet – I never use the things here and I’ve just forgotten to take them out and leave them in Gitarama.

Vicky has to lend me some money for a moto back to the guest house, but I have emergency money in my rucksack so all in all I get off very lightly.

A pity – it leaves a sour taste in your mouth after what has been a good day and a really excellent party.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Chucking bombs at Remera

February 12th

I’m well into a very pleasant morning routine these days. I’m up and out of the flat before Tom stirs, so I have a quiet time to gather my thoughts - a very healthy thing.

At the office, the first hour is admin time – I go on line, check emails, update my virus checker and scan the entire computer, print off visit reports from the previous day, read the “New Times” on line and the check the BBC Africa site for news. There’s a fair bit of meeting and greeting friends as they drift in and out of the office, and all the above comfortably fills the first hour.

Today I’ve started getting lots of replies to my Birthday Bash invitations, and it’s already clear that I’m going to need a quiet afternoon to finalise everyone’s accommodation wishes!

I arrange local visits to schools to arrive around half past eight; that means the schools have had an hour to get going and for heads to sort out any problems involving absent staff. It also means I can get a two or three hour visit comfortably finished before lunchtime. Nothing’s going to come between me and my lunch!

At just after eight today Claude announces he is ready to escape the office and come with me to inspect Remera primary school. Soraya wants to come too. Claude and I go on one of the District motos; Soraya has to hire a commercial bike. He gives me his diary to hold, and I have my wallet of papers, so I’m holding on the grab rail with just one hand. Neither of us is wearing a helmet – VSO will carpet me if they read this! Claude is not a natural moto driver, and his gear changes are jerky and erratic. Also, throughout the morning he’s getting phone calls every five minutes, so as we’re driving on the main road he’s fumbling in his pocket for his phone. When he’s got his phone he uses his throttle hand to hold it, so we’re coasting throughout the time he’s talking and gradually getting slower and slower as his phone conversation progresses. We’re weaving all over the road (the trunk road to Ngororero and Kibuye) and I’m hoping to God there isn’t a juggernaut bus bearing down on us from behind. On one occasion he leaves it too late to regain control of the bike and we’re within a split second of being dumped in the middle of the tarmac. When we leave the main road and take the dirt lane to Remera things get even more exciting; we suddenly lurch to a near stop in front of a ditch or rain gulley, and his gear changes are so snatchy that several times I’m all but thrown clean off the bike. I can tell you that it’s a relief when we see Remera school in the distance!

Yesterday Claude was looking very executive in a dark suit and scarlet tie; today could be “dress down Friday” except that it’s Thursday. He’s wearing a teeshirt from one of the many evangelical groups around here. So here we are, off to give Remera school a ticking off and a not-so-veiled threat of serious repercussions if they don’t improve, and yet written across Claude’s back is the slogan “humbly confess to all people you have offended; sincerely forgive all your offenders”. The trouble is, we’re not in a particularly forgiving mood with E P Remera!

The school failed dismally in last year’s exams. It ranks 92nd out of 94 in the district (compared with Mushubati next door which came 21st); it is by far the worst in the “home” secteurs close to Gitarama town. Just over 60% of all its pupils failed the exam, and if we had continued with last year’s simple pass/fail system I estimate that over 80% would have nothing to show for their 6+ years in school. There’s no obvious reason for such a woeful performance; the area is not as destitute as Cyeza; it is not exactly remote (I can see my flat and the whole of Gitarama town from its playground); the buildings and facilities are crummy but so are those in many far more successful schools. So it’s beginning to look like poor leadership and ineffective, sloppy teaching.

The previous head was given her marching orders over Christmas, and Felix, her replacement, is somewhat shell-shocked at what he’s walking into. At one point his hands are visibly shaking as he’s confronted with the District director of education and two scary muzungus. He’s left under no illusions of the magnitude of the task ahead, either.

This is the first time I’ve ever gone into a school and been seriously on the war path, but there’s just no excuse for this place’s bad results. The new head isn’t to blame, of course, (he’s been transferred from Gitarama primary school which is consistently one of the best in the District), and I’m really after the teachers. Many of these are long-term time-servers and I fear rather complacent.

We watch a maths lesson, all three of us plus the new head teacher. Emil, the maths expert, speaks in English for most of the time; he’s well prepared; he’s in control and his manner is calm and professional. His vocabulary and pronunciation are adequate. The children are suitably cowed by having five adults in the room and behave well. But it’s a repeat of a lesson given previously with very little new material. The classroom roof is in a dreadful state and some of the tiles look pretty precarious to Soraya and I. There’s almost nothing on the walls except an ancient map of Rwanda so eaten away at the edges with vermin that it’s scandalous it’s still in use, and some dingy, dog eared home made maths posters mounted so high that few pupils look at them. The cartridge paper they’re drawn on has turned grey from years of sunlight and dust. The teacher divides the kids into groups and pits each group against the other, so he’s ticking a lot of boxes. If all the teachers at Remera were like this I would be hopeful, but the problem is that they’re almost certainly not – I think this guy has been hand picked because he’s the best they’ve got.

Finally Claude and Soraya and I sit all the staff down and tell it to them straight. I say that their results are absolutely unacceptable and must improve, or else….. Claude takes over and completes the threat: if the results are not vastly better next year, then they can expect to be replaced as teachers. I know from the fate of so many head teachers that this isn’t just an idle threat. So do they – they’ve seen their previous head dismissed. They squirm in their seats and look at the floor. I go on to point out that they’ve got no excuses – their children are not as poor as in other secteurs; their buildings are neither better nor worse than many; they’ve got just as many and few resources as other schools, and in fact they’ve had more training from us than almost any other secteur.

We find something to praise, of course, but the overall message is pretty clear and stark. Part of me wants to be around next year to see whether we’ve succeeded in putting a bomb behind these teachers. But part of me thinks that a lot of these people are not capable of improving. We tell them we’re setting up opportunities for them to visit their counterparts in the vastly higher achieving schools that surround them; you’d expect them to jump at that chance but they just look miserable. I hate to say this, but I’m beginning to understand why OFSTED in England came up with the idea of being in “special measures”. It needs applying very sparingly, of course…..

Two little snippets from this maths lesson tell you a lot about why education in Rwanda is failing so many of its children. The lessons are so dull that they get bored, switch off and drop out of school. Imagine you are living in a basic hut with no facilities and existing on a diet mainly of beans and rice and about RwF300 per person per day (36p). You’re then set with this maths exercise: “If meat is sold at RwF 2460 per kilo in a market, how much would you pay for 0.755 tonnes of meat?” For God’s sake – these children never eat meat, let along try to visualise a tonne of meat! And just look how arbitrary the amounts are: 2460 per kilo, and 0.755 tonnes. In what way can this piece of work be said to have the slightest relevance to these children’s lives?

The other example – this entire maths lesson was on “Divisibility”. In other words we’re looking at the abstract concept of how you can tell whether a number is exactly divisible by, say, three, or eight, or eleven. It’s so dry and meaningless! I say to the teacher, you must put this stuff into a concept. Why not say that you have a group of eight children and you discover under a tree a bag with RwF 12682 francs in it? Can you divide the money exactly among you so that everyone’s happy? (or some similar context). All it takes is a bit of imagination on the part of the teacher.

Back at the office I help Agnès from Cyeza write a letter in English confirming that she’s been dismissed from her post at Kivumu because she’s too old, and asking for advice and help from the social secretary. (How’s that for a surreal thing for a volunteer to be doing, and to one his best allies among the Rwandans, too?)

I print off copies of my Social Studies translated yr 5 textbook for three schools and I know that word is going to get round that the muzungu has done the translation, and I’ll have half the district banging on my door next week for more copies.

Claude wants my advice on how to buy a good second hand English (i.e. RHD) car at an affordable price (there’s been a rumour circulating here that Rwanda is going to change to driving on the left, and in this country the wildest rumours are the ones that become fact). I’m not quite sure how to advise him other than to look at websites.

Védaste has given me the second draft of his thesis (72 pages of it) and wants it proofed again a.s.a.p. I’m not sure how many of my original changes he’s actually put into place.

Michael rings to say his diocesan schools are getting hysterical at not having Social Studies books in English, and can he help me translate them. I arrange that he’ll do part of the yr 4 book and I’ll do the rest. I really MUST get started on that tonight!

One thing has been cleared up today – the “new” head of Mata school comes into the office with Florent from Nyabisindu, so I’m able to ask them in French about the situation with these new headteachers. They both explain that the new people are the heads of the tronc commun sections only, and that the “old” heads are still in charge of years 1-6. Thank God for that – it’s a far more sensible situation than I feared. Jeanne, the dolly-bird head at Nyabisindu, had given me a false impression; I hope it was just a translation glitch and that she hasn’t got airs and graces about being the top dog….

In the late afternoon John Robert comes round to the flat for his English lesson, we have a discussion-based hour and he’s starting to open up about issues such as press freedom in Rwanda (if you don’t support the government in every way you tend to get forgotten from briefing meetings etc).

Then Tom texts to say he’s being held very late and I’m to ignore him and cook for myself and the guard. I’m setting to in a sharp thunderstorm to make an omelette before the power goes off! Just as I’m getting started, in come Soraya and Charlotte to collect the soup they left in our fridge last night. But it’s throwing down a storm and they’re wet through, so they stay here and heat up the soup on our cooker. (Hayley’s doing her own thing back at Soraya’s place). They call it soup, but it’s so thick they can eat it with a knife and fork, and so spicy that I have to run for a glass of water before my mouth lining dissolves.

As I’m walking home tonight I notice that the “Secret Garden” restaurant is being demolished. I don’t know what for – whether it’s being rebuilt or whether it will become yet another block of tiny grocery shops all selling exactly the same things. Also, on a plot at the end of the market there’s a steel framework for what looks like yet another petrol station going up. Honestly, the pace of change in Gitarama is just mind-boggling.

Best thing about today – everything. Just reading this through shows the sheer range of things I’m getting up to, and how much I’m becoming accepted as part of the team at the District Office. If anyone reading this is thinking of doing VSO then I can’t think of a better day to show them the sheer variety of working life here!

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Wanted - two benefactors!

From time to time every VSO gets requests for financial help from local people or organisations. We can’t help everybody. My local community in Bridport has raised large sums of money which we are using to provide clean water to primary schools whose supply is non-existent, or polluted, or a long way from the school.

But here are two different recent requests which I and my local community can’t afford to support. There hundreds of you out there reading my blog; if any of you feel moved to support either of the two following causes, either in whole or in part, please can you make contact with me. My email is It would be lovely to find a “fairy godmother or godfather” who is willing to come to their aid.

Thank you in advance to anyone who is able to help.

Munyinya is a big primary school of well over 1000 children on the outskirts of Gitarama. It has just started a tronc commun (secondary) section. The school needs help to pay for a string of pylons and cabling to bring electricity to the buildings for light and power. This will mean they can teach computing; it means they can use the school after dark for parents’ meetings and potentially for adult education classes in the evenings. The school is well run with a dynamic head mistress, is popular with local parents and is well supported by local (but poor) families.
The sum needed on the quote we have from the electricity company is £750 ($800)

E is the head mistress of one of the most successful primary schools in the district. She is midway through a university course which will improve her effectiveness and job security. Last year one of her family members got married and the money she had saved for this year’s tuition and transport fees for her course had to be used to help pay for the wedding. (This is normal practice in Rwanda where weddings are taken very seriously but consume large parts of people’s savings). She is an effective head teacher and is also the local secteur representative. She is a widow with two teenage boys to support and has no source of income other than her salary.
E needs a total of £700 ($750) to cover tuition fees and an allowance for transport.