Thursday, 13 August 2009

More navel gazing

August 11th

I’ve only been back a couple of days and already I’m feeling tired….. Get a grip, man, and get on with things!

Today is the VSO partnership navel gazing day at Gitarama. The first problem is to find the venue. Much to my mortification it turns out to be only a couple of hundred yards from my office, and yet I never knew it existed. CEPAS is a Japanese funded women’s organisation, doing empowerment work and things like computer training. There is a big meeting hall, decorated with green, yellow and blue ribbons ready for wedding receptions (both Kerry and Soraya have already been to a wedding in the building), and there are rooms for overnight guests and a big kitchen and dining area. It really is very well set up. It’s hidden away a few metres down a dirt road behind the police station. In Rwanda you don’t ever linger near police posts, and that partially explains why I’ve never noticed it before.

I walk past it without realising it’s there – the sign is very discreet and you can only see it from one direction - and fortunately meet Claude just as he’s leaving the District office on a moto. I jump on the back with him; this time he only stalls once before we pull off into the main road. Down we go, me without a crash helmet, past the police station (riding without a helmet breaks Rwandan law and VSO rules, so I’m risking my neck by putting all this on a public blog), until we reach the turning for CEPAS. Then we discover that where the Chinese engineers have rebuilt the main road, they’ve forgotten to put in a little bridge to give access to the CEPAS road. I jump across the gap, and Claude has to drive up and down until he can find the next little bridge to cross and come back doing a slalom round the roadside eucalyptus trees. Meanwhile a couple of policemen are standing by watching the district boss and the old muzungu indulging in silly capers right outside their front door….

You will understand that the day feels long before we even get started on the serious work of the occasion.

The meeting is between VSO – Charlotte et al from the Kigali Main Office - and myself, Kerry and Soraya as local volunteers, and the Muhanga partners. We have Claude (the mayor is away on holiday and the vice mayor is unavailable, probably at the Gacaca court today), and around forty teachers, headteachers, members of the school parent committees, and a selection of pupils from yr 4 to yr 9, from a variety of schools both urban and rural across the District. Just to make things more exciting, the partnership is not only with Muhanga District, but also with Kavumu College of Education, and the Anglican Diocese of Shyogwe. Because Shyogwe Diocese extends into two other Districts, it turns out that we have teachers and pupils from schools which aren’t in Muhanga at all, and therefore which neither Soraya and I have ever visited. (But Michael and Tinks have been to). And Geert gives up some time from his working holiday at Shyogwe to come in during the day and represent the Shyogwe VSOs. It’s quite a party. Some of the pupils are from up-country at Rongi, and they have been sleeping in the study rooms at CEPAS. So for these children, especially the primary school ones, the whole thing is a big adventure.

The exercises we go through are enough to send you as a blog reader to sleep (“what are the most important changes that have occurred in your schools due to the presence of VSOs” etc), and I won’t go into them in detail. For us serving VSOs it’s a funny experience; you feel as if you’re being put on the line. It’s rather like a public appraisal meeting. Fortunately everyone is very polite and pleasant and says the right things (or, at least, says the right things for our morale), and the day goes very well.

Last thing in the afternoon we are working in groups and we end up doing some role play. Claude, bless him, joins in with one of the groups and is really excellent. The group is being led by Marie-Chantal, Emmanuelle’s sister, whose wedding I went to last year. She looks absolutely gorgeous and is totally confident and in command. She is demonstrating how to use rubbish (in the form of discarded water bottles) as a teaching aid. She gets a selection of teachers, lecturers from the Training College, and Claude himself not only brandishing the bottles and using them for counting as you would with a year 1 class, but she actually gets them all singing, including Claude. I’m cursing because I didn’t think to take my camera with me. Fortunately Charlotte took a lot of snaps and I’ll get one from her!

By the time we finish its well after six o’clock and the market has closed. Tom texts to say he can’t get a bus home till very late (the curse of the start of term strikes again), and all I have in the fridge is a few rubbery carrots, some ancient cabbage, cheese, and pasta. So I set to and stretch it into a passable meal for me and the guard, and set some aside for Tom if he feels like eating when he returns.

By ten o’clock I’ve barely made a dent in all the accumulation of newspapers since I went away, but I’m too tired to do anything else, so it’s a relatively early night.

On a lighter note, the problem of Kinyarwanda’s interchange of the letters “R” and “L” happens again this afternoon. A massive articulated lorry is trundling through the town with a road grader on it. Just as the law requires, there’s a big warning sign on the front to warn traffic that the grader hangs over each side and partly blocks the carriage way. And in huge red letters it says “WIDE ROAD”.

Best thing about today – the feeling from today’s conference that schools and teachers really do think we are making a difference and helping things improve in Rwandan education. That’s a really nice feeling to end the day with.

Worst thing – still no water except for a brief spell this morning. Just enough to flush the loo and to show me that the bathroom washbasin is all but blocked up.

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