Tuesday, 10 February 2009

An envelope full of cash

February 9th

We’re all three of us up and leaving Épi’s place by half past seven. It’s a good thing Faustine is coming to work for Épi because she’s virtually out of clothes and there’s a mountain of washing for the poor girl to get through!

We say farewell to Épi and go to the bus park where we’re pounced on by ticket touts for at least three different companies. All the big, comfortable “Coaster” buses have already left (to be at Kigali by eight you need to have left Kibungo by six), but once again our luck holds and an extra Coaster arrives for the quarter to eight departure. So our ride back to Kigali is so comfortable that we both doze off along the route. The view from the window on the return trip is just as enjoyable as the outward one. Here in the eastern province, as in the far north of Rwanda, there are a lot of traditional round huts in use, and several still being built. Despite the large numbers of returned refugees settled in the east, levels of poverty and deprivation don’t seem as acute as in parts of our own southern province. We see no children with kwashiorkor, for example, and clothing is often a lot better than in the up-country parts of Muhanga.

Soraya gets off at Remera bus station to go to the VSO office; I carry on to the town centre and have a quick flip round the big Nakumatt supermarket before heading on home.

Back home I feel really tired and ready to crash on the bed, but seconds after I arrive Janine turns up to do the cleaning. She has another English test tonight as part of her university course, but she came top of her class in the last one she did so we’re not worried for her at all. As soon as she’s gone I make some lunch and then take a moto out to Shyogwe. I have an envelope of cash to give Stéphanie; we have to make a proposal for another sum of 2200 euros from Randstad, and at the same time I want to do a more formal visit to see how lessons are being taught in English and how they’re coping with the timetable.

I forgot to say in the weekend blog that we had a phone call from Geert in Holland on Saturday night; it’s lovely to hear his voice again. He’s probably coming out with a school party in the summer and I desperately want all the various financial projects tied up and finished when he arrives!

The Euros bit is easy – Stéphanie and I open Geert’s envelope together and count out 900 Euros, to be used to buy materials (rice sacks for posters, science equipment etc) for the classrooms. Stéphanie will end up as head of the best equipped state primary in the District. But then, she has well over 2,200 pupils. That’s far, far bigger than any primary school in England and bigger than all but a tiny handful of secondary schools. Funnily enough, the double shifting in place since January makes the school seem a lot smaller because only half the population is on site at any one time.

The admin block still isn’t finished; workmen are putting finishing touches to the doors and windows, but there’s no glass in either and nor are they painted. So drawing up a wish list for the 2200 Euros is quick and easy – paying for roof tiles (Stéphanie bought them on credit at the end of last term), paying for glass, paint, cement flooring and a cement apron round the building to shed the copious amounts of rain coming off the roof during tropical storms. (If you don’t do this, the building will quickly get undermined). Then we want to run electricity into this building. Fortunately there’s a secondary school next door with power, but we need to get an electrician in to see if the wires will cope with extra current or whether we need to be buying more cables and a transformer. If the latter, I don’t think that even 2200 Euros will be enough, so at the moment we live in hope.

No more progress has been made on my four classrooms and I’m so disheartened at the moment that I don’t even want to go and look at them. For all I know they have been reclaimed by the jungle and we’ll have to hack our way through undergrowth to find them at some point in the distant future!

I watch two lessons; one is a pretty good maths lesson, all in English and doing “proper” maths. The following Science lesson, with the same year 4 group, is less successful. The teacher gives the lesson in English and her pronunciation is adequate, but she translates most of it into Kinyarwanda. She has a diagram of the water cycle which is so small that half the class can’t see it and those who can, can’t understand it because it’s so unrealistically drawn. (If only I’d known she was teaching this topic; I have a full sized rice sack of the water cycle all drawn up and ready for use).

This lesson is a good illustration of the problems Rwandan teachers are facing when they try to teach science in English as Kigali is demanding. Firstly there is a lot of basic vocabulary which most of the children haven’t yet met because their English lessons are so grammar centred and with such a narrow range of vocabulary. So for the water cycle words like “sun”, “cloud”, “hill” river” need to be covered first. Then there are the technical terms like “evaporation”, “transpiration” which are harder to explain because they are more abstract and it’s so difficult to show them in a drawing. Finally there’s the completely abstract conceptual stuff such as the idea of a cycle within which water is constantly circulating in its different states. Now this teacher at Shyogwe is trying to get all that information across at the same time and in one 45 minute lesson, plus some notes copied out from a text book which sounds as if it’s intended for GCSE level rather than primary yr 4. You won’t be surprised when I tell you that most of the class end up with drawings that don’t resemble anything at all, and a jumble of poorly spelled words and terms in English. Way to go, Shyogwe, but a valuable lesson for me in just how tricky this language conversion is going to be. If only Rwandan schools would try to widen children’s basic vocabulary, they would find all this so much easier.

Apparently two teachers from Marchwood Primary school near Southampton have just spent a fortnight in Shyogwe. Neither made any contact during their time here which I find strange since there are such close ties at the moment between the school and the various English and Dutch VSOs. Shyogwe is getting more visits and help than any other school in my District.

I leave the school and call on Michael in his cottage just up the hill. We have a long conversation about everything, and I have sheets of data to give him to help with his Diocesan work. Tinks has just arrived back from England, but is off to Kigali today so I miss her. But it’s lovely to have her back.

We are getting very much closer to our planned expedition to inspect all the Nyabinoni schools, and I hope that we might have everything fixed by the end of this week. The Bishop has to confirm availability of his car; I have to book us in to the Nyabinoni presbytery, and Claude has to phone all seven heads and tell them it’ll be a sackable offence if they’re not in their schools and ready and waiting for us when we arrive! We can even do at least two separate training days at the end of the week, with me and someone else doing resource making and Soraya and the other one doing teaching methodology. We are provisionally booking all this for the first week in March, but things have a habit of slipping further and further back. I’m quite looking forward to the trip!

In the evening Tom phones to say he’s on his way home from Kigali and for me to take a shepherd’s pie out of the fridge. I’m feeling very tired by now, mishear the message and take out something from the freezer which I think is the meat part of shepherd’s pie but turns out to be a batch of vegetable dahl. When Tom arrives I’m peeling spuds for England to make the mash on top. Cue in a very perplexed Tom…! Anyway, the shepherd’s pie will live to die another day, and we make a massive meal out of dahl, rice, spuds and heaps of vegetables followed by fresh fruit salad. Tom seems to have spent most of Saturday cooking and preparing food, bless him!

Everything seems to be running late today, and by the time we’ve cleared away we’re both dead on our feet. Truly, it feels an awful long time ago since I was getting up in Kibungo at six this morning!

Best thing about today – just the idea of returning from a jolly and yet still managing to fit in a day’s work.

Worst thing – now I need a holiday to recover from the weekend……..

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