Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Doling out the dosh in Cyeza

April 20th

First day of term. Into the office well before seven. Claude’s already there, but nobody else. Unfortunately Claude’s forgotten his modem, so the first main job of the day is nullified.

A clutch of census forms have arrived during the holidays, so I spend two hours getting them all logged. Our new tronc commun sections are very quick in responding to requests for information, and half of them have already sent in their returns. (Perhaps it reflects the light work loads of their head teachers at the moment)!

It’s another beautiful day outside, warm, sunny, and with perfect visibility. The volcano was beckoning to me as I left our flat…..

By now it’s starting to cloud up and it looks as if it might rain. I leave the office and return to the flat. Janine seems to have changed her cleaning days from Monday and Thursday to Tuesday and Friday, so our bags of dirty washing are still in pride of place in the lounge.

I grab a bag of money and set off on a moto to Cyeza school, having first checked that the headteachers are there. It’s a long time since I ventured up the Great North Road. In places they have been filling in the ruts with fresh earth, but where we have had rain the earth has turned to mud, and the first lorries to go through have dug new ruts into the surface. The only solution is to tarmac the roads, and a road as important and well used as this one is desperate for an all weather surface. I’m beginning to think that little illustrates the extent of poverty in Rwanda as much as the state of our rural roads.

At Cyeza I spend some time talking to Jeanne (the head of the primary section) and Jacqueline (tronc commun head). These two women get on well together and work as a team. One has the degree, the other has the local knowledge and experience.

When I leave they are happy people, and with good reason. I have given them a wad of half a million francs, the first of four instalments towards building a water tank for the school.

We discuss the site – Jacqueline has done her homework and we identify the perfect position. There are no tin roofs at the school, but two big, long blocks with tiled roofs in good condition. If we put the tank on the gable end of one of these blocks we can lead guttering from both blocks to the tank, and it should fill in no time at all!

Cyeza has four blocks of classrooms. One, the oldest, dates back to the late 50s or early 60s. It is in semi-dur, riddled with termites; the roofs are too low and the rooms too small. These rooms are still very much in use but are beyond redemption, and any money spent in refurbishing them will be wasted. They need knocking down and replacing. Another block is also in semi-dur but the rooms are bigger, higher, and in much better condition. That leaves two blocks in brick which are in a reasonable state; one has three rooms and is being used by the three classes of the first year of tronc commun; the other has the older primary pupils.

Jacqueline and I talk about problems for the future – unless the government builds three more rooms this year and three in 2010 there will not be anywhere to put next year’s intake of secondary children. And another reason for siting the water tank in its proposed position is that it leaves room at the far end of the school site for more buildings. The only downside is that the site they have chosen for their tank is the school’s one and only little patch of garden which doesn’t get regularly trampled by hundreds of little feet. It is a riot of flowers at the moment and looks very pretty. Never mind; I’m sure they’ll find somewhere else for their plants.

I impress on Jeanne and Jacqueline that we need to get a move on with the tank. I’ll give them three more instalments of money when they need it. I make it clear the tank is for all the children, primary and tronc commun, and that the money isn’t to be used for anything else until the tank is finished. (If there’s a small sum left over at the end of the work, they can spend it on whatever they like). We agree that they’ll ring me when there’s progress so I can come and take more pictures for the Bridport community.

The only thing I regret about today is that there were no children out of classes to pose for me in the pictures, but I’ll sort that out when I come next time. At least people in Bridport can get an impression of what the school looks like.

Sally, the short-term VSO who was working at Cyeza last term, has also given the school a small sum of money, and the women want to use it to refurbish the “admin block” (i.e. mud brick hut). The room they are using as their office they want to make into a staff room, and the small store room behind it they intend to convert into their joint office. It’s a sensible idea, and realisable with the money they have. But the Bishop quite rightly points out that the roof of this building is in bad repair, and when it rains heavily they have to reposition furniture away from the drips. The roof needs re-tiling, and a proper ceiling putting in to replace the roseaux (elephant grass canes) which at the moment are all that separates the room from the roof tiles. Periodically bits of bird dung drop down from in between the roseaux. So what they have decided to do is to hang on to Sally’s money for a few months and see if Kabgayi Diocese can come up with some funding for the roof, and then use her money to make the internal alterations.

I leave the school feeling very positive. It’s nice to see the two heads working as a team, and it isn’t always like this, believe me!

While I have been visiting the school my moto driver has been lounging in the sun out on the dirt road. I’m paying him the usual rate for a trip to Cyeza, so he’s on to a good thing and knows it. The sky is getting even more cloudy when I finish at the school, and we get back to Gitarama pronto before it rains.

Back at the flat I start to do some analysis of the census data. The tronc commun returns are only half there but already you can see trends. The teachers are overwhelmingly male. There are a lot more girl pupils than boys (I’m pleased with this because it is the education of girls and women which will eventually change Rwanda’s culture); the average age of first year secondary pupils is 16, reflecting the number of times they have to repeat years, and the extent to which the lack of free secondary schooling in the past has held children back. Less than 10% of the teachers have degrees, and for around 80% their only qualification is to have finished secondary school themselves. Very few indeed have received any formal training in how to teach.

And you all know from my previous blogs that there’s barely a single textbook in any of the tronc commun sections in the whole District. It’s no good expecting miracles from such a situation, and progress in Rwanda will come in little bites while the rest of the world moves ahead in giant strides…..

Tom is late returning from work; I’m getting quite concerned about the hours he’s putting in and the stress he’s putting himself under. He desperately needs a proper holiday. I start the cooking and we dine in style – avocado, a mega main course with eight vegetables including imboga boiled with peas and French beans (takes the bitterness out of the imboga), and for a pud we treat ourselves. I have an enormous Christmas cake which I’ve been saving for a rainy day (Ed: you mean you just forgot about it), and we break into it. It’s perfect!

I spend the evening watching a video (The Usual Suspects), and by the time that finishes it really is time for bed!

Best thing about today – everything except not being able to post blogs and email home. It’s been a good, productive day.

Worst thing – Teresa hasn’t rung either on Sunday evening or Monday. I hope all’s well at home.

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