Monday, 11 May 2009

Cyiciro - a really good school!

May 7th

Today I’m inspecting with Jenny, the ex-Eritrean VSO. I feel very weary and decide not to go up to the office fist thing in the morning. It also gives me time to finish writing up yesterday’s visit. Today we’re off to Cyiciro (“chee-chee-ro”), not to be confused with Cyicaro (“chee-char-ro”) or even Cukiro (“chu-chee-ro”), all in the same District. Cyiciro is one of my top ten schools, and when we get there my certificate of excellence is very prominently displayed on the head’s office wall.

Our journey to Cyiciro is sedate, to put it mildly. Jenny has never been on a moto before, and is very apprehensive. Fortunately for her we have about two thirds of the run on a tarmac road (the road to Kibuye), and most of the off-road section is reasonably level without too many rocky patches or bad bits. It’s just the last mile or so which plunges steeply downhill through the endless banana fields and huts that have her gripping the bike like grim death. But let’s give her credit – many people would simply have refused to come this far out in the wilds for their first run on a moto; by the time we get back to Gitarama at lunchtime Jenny has conquered her fears and can truthfully say she’s bested most of the problems that moto travel can throw at you!

The Head at Cyiciro, Alexie, is a lovely young woman, and it becomes evident that there’s particular ethos in this remote school which is all about team work and valuing success. And problems are there to be got round, rather than piled up into a defensive wall behind which you retreat and plead inability to do well.

The buildings are OK, but nothing is modern. The main block is the typical catholic architecture of the 1950s and 1960s, orange brick with rounded window heads and high roofs. They’re built like battleships; with good maintenance these rooms will last forever.

Just down the sloping site is the Catholic Church – another one of the semi-circular ones I keep bumping into here – and behind the church a couple of mud brick rooms, one of which houses the maternelle. We go into a small room crammed with little weenies, who yell “good morning” at us at the tops of their voices. Two of them manage to tell me their names in English and then collapse into giggles.

Cyiciro has a water tank, but the tap is broken and I immediately tell Alexie to get it fixed and I will pay. She can’t believe I’m offering her money and we have to have the conversation twice.

Her documentation is excellent, and we get on with visits to classes. With Jenny as a qualified teacher it means we can between us see a lot more classes than is usual, but unfortunately one of the key teachers is absent and we tend to see a lot of English lessons and not much else. But the standard is good; much higher than usual. Little Joséphine, the year 1 teacher, does a cracking lesson in telling the time; the children are out of their seats, jumping up and down like jack in the boxes, and it’s a textbook example of how to make learning active and participative. She makes learning into a game; if the children get an answer wrong she has a “prison” (pronounced “pry-zon”) in the middle of the room, and they have to practise saying their numbers before being allowed back into the circle. We all applaud when a group of children get the right answer, and to see a muzungu clapping the same as everyone else sends them off into gusts of excitement. Like many Rwandans they have real trouble with the word “six”. So they are shouting “It is siggis o’clock” for the best part of forty minutes……

Peter does a really good lesson too with his year 3s; he begins with a song; he’s bursting with energy; the class is actually using our new English textbooks and has enough for one per pupil. We are learning the names and spellings of animals (this is year 3), cat, dog, cow and goat are easy but elephant causes us lots of problems. For some reason the children seem unable to distinguish between the words “animal” and “elephant”. Also, because Rwandans learn to write their letters in script rather than in printed form, we have real trouble with “a” and “o”. Dogs becomes dags, and goats become anything from gaats to gaots.

During the morning it comes on a very heavy rain. The school yard turns to slurry, and I’m worried about getting home. Fortunately the rain stops for us to leave, but our moto drivers are very good – exceptionally thoughtful – and take us back a much longer way round, but on a more level route. We wind and wind round earth tracks along the hillsides; I can see Jenny cringing when we cross log bridges with the rivers visible a long way below the widely spaced logs.

Eventually we reach the main road and trundle slowly back home. By now it’s late, so we eat at “Tranquillité”. While we are eating Becky comes in from Kamonyi and introduces us to two of her colleagues. Today is her first day at work and it’s been an eventful one. While she was waiting for a colleague to pick her up from the Gitarama bus park she was accosted by one of our local “care in the community” types; he grabbed her arm and wouldn’t let go, ranting at her all the time, and she had to be rescued by some bystanders. She is lucky; this man has a habit of hitting women. Fortunately her lift arrived just in time so she was able to get away from him. Then her employers decided to take her out in the pickup truck to see some schools. On their way to the first school the driver manage to overturn the truck into a ditch by the side of the road. Nobody was hurt; they climbed out through doors or windows and continue to the school on foot. Once at the school they rounded up the entire year six, told them to bring spades and picks, and used the primary pupils to get the truck back on the road. Can you imagine the uproar if someone did that in England? Fortunately the truck was still driveable, but I expect the tracking is all out. Pickup trucks weigh a couple of tons, and there’s no way they would have been able to sort things out by themselves. For some reason Becky’s colleagues decide they are coming all, the way back to Gitarama for lunch, so I’m able to meet a couple of them. Syriac remembers me from the training I helped do in Kamonyi last spring, so it would appear I’m notorious even beyond my own district. Eventually they go back off in the muddy pickup to look at four more schools during the afternoon. Becky’s accommodation may be a shambles at the moment, but she’s so happy to be starting work at last and we are all pleased that at last something seems to be coming together for her. But, wow, - how’s this for not even a first day at work but a first morning in your new job as a volunteer?

While we’re in “Tranquillité” it comes on a real storm which lasts for an hour and a half. The rain is torrential, with thunder and lightning, and all we can do is sit and wait for it to pass. Water falls from the tin roof in a steady curtain; the waiters get a massive oil drum and position it under the biggest torrent to catch it to use for washing up. Mains water is expensive here, and if you can use gutter water for washing clothes or dishes it saves you real money! Eventually Jenny makes a bolt for the internet café and me back to the flat.

Back at the flat I feel absolutely, totally exhausted. In all my time here in Rwanda I have never felt so tired. I’m not sure whether it’s just a combination of a hectic weekend at Kibuye and a heavy schedule this week, or whether I’m sickening for something. I put myself to bed for two hours. Tom arrives, and I try to get up and start writing up my report on Cyiciro. But I can’t concentrate on anything. So at six o’clock I admit defeat and put myself to bed for the night. No evening meal, just oblivion.

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