Friday, 2 October 2009

Kibyimba – broken bridge and biology practical

September 24th

Into the office early to sort out which schools to visit. There are four schools left to do in Kabacuzi secteur, and I want to try to do them in two days. I don’t know where they are, and neither does Valérian, so we have to ring Cyrille, the secteur rep, and get him to explain to us. (Kabacuzi straddles the main ridge of the Ndiza mountains and there are two routes into the secteur. If you accidentally go in the wrong way you face a hairy traverse on footpaths across the minor saddles, and will possibly have to abandon your moto and go in on foot. You need to do your homework for this little area). Jandari is a tiny satellite school of Rutongo, so I’ll do the pair together and that’s one day definitely sorted, and I’ve fixed them for Monday next. But Kibyimba’s on its own up the end of a valley beyond Butare and Kabacuzi, and Kavumu is way up the other valley, up the “Great North Road”, and almost in Kiyumba. So it makes sense to leave Kavumu till I go to Kiyumba early in October and focus on Kibyimba today. Kibyimba is a small primary with a tronc commun secondary attached; it’s very isolated even though it’s nowhere near the furthest out from Gitarama. It is an established secondary with boarding and has two years’ worth of students already. So I have it in my head that I’ll spend all day there and do both primary and secondary sections and count it as two school visits. Yeah, right….

The weather is ideal again and I’m feeling so much better than yesterday so I ring the school and get permission to come. The head, Marie-Chantal, says she has a secteur meeting but that I can come and the “adjoint” will look after me. I ring Joseph and off we go. There’s mist in the Nyaborongo valley and visibility is clearing. First thing this morning I had a welcome “visitor” – Muhabura volcano was just visible from the lounge window. So the rains are definitely here!

I’ve already described the road to Kabacuzi; Kibyimba is just a couple of miles beyond Kabacuzi itself. About a mile of so from the school there is a log bridge which has been destroyed in floods. Not only have the bridge timbers been washed away (see pictures of these log bridges in the Kibingo postings below), but part of the masonry supports are upturned down in the river bed. It isn’t a huge drop, about fifteen feet or so, but enough to do you damage if you fall in. The bridge has been temporarily replaced with tree trunks. These are still round, uneven, and haven’t been shaped to make them easy to cross. They look lethal for a moto, with big gaps at intervals which would easily swallow the moto’s wheels. For the first time in ages I get off the bike and walk across and Joseph inches – literally inches – the bike across. The moto is heavy and it’s quite an achievement on his part. I’m posting a photo of him starting across the bridge.

Kibymba school is beautiful. The entire place was completely rebuilt three years ago. Every classroom is in brick, with emulsioned walls, glazed windows on two sides etc. There’s a lovely garden with canna lilies, hibiscus and other flowers as well as the usual little two-tone shrubs. Along the main teaching block these little shrubs spell out “bon directeur; bons élèves; bonne école”. There are officially 16 classrooms, but two of these are in use as dormitories and a third as a dining room for the boarders. (It’s anticipated that eventually the boarding will cease and these rooms will revert to ordinary classrooms for the third year of the secondary school). There are at least three afritanks and plenty of water.

At the approach to the school there’s a small hamlet (the commercial centre of Kibyimba), of which more later, and a steep and stony and very eroded earth road up a few hundred yards to the school.

Kibyimba’s results are about average for the District secondaries, but one lesson I see is taught by a brand new teacher with only about six month’s experience. This man has just come up with the best Biology results in the district for year 1, much to the chagrin of at least two well established Gitarama schools which specialise in science. He’s quiet and rather nervous, but he teaches a really good lesson on the structure of flowering plants, involving sending some students into the school grounds to bring back different flowers which we dissect into their parts. This is only the second science practical I have seen in my time here.

Kibyimba is big on group work; it happens in all three lessons I observe, and it’s obvious from the way the students get into their groups that this is a normal part of the school’s teaching technique.

What I really need to do is observe in the primary section, but that’s impossible today: what the school didn’t tell me this morning is that every year in the primary is doing tests all morning ready for end of year exams, and so there is no teaching going on. That’s a real nuisance, because it means all I can do after a long journey is watch the secondary part. Never mind; it means I’ll get back to Gitarama early and avoid any rain. I didn’t get the chance to see Buramba’s primary section a few weeks ago, and I’ll try to allocate a day and combine both primary schools.

Marie-Chantal appears; her meeting has been postponed but she’s had to go all the way to Kabacuzi village to discover that. She’s a languages graduate and her English is excellent. We do the admin inspection and talk about some of the school’s problems. One is the drift away from school of boys in years 5 and 6. M-C tells me she thinks they are attracted to work in the many little mines which dot the mountains around here. There’s a lot of small scale digging for coltan and similar. It’s almost like a cottage industry but you almost never see the actual mine, or people laden with ore. It all seems to be done rather surreptitiously here. And I wonder how they market the stuff and what sort of price they get paid for it?

Like many other secondary schools, Kibyimba has a strategic plan which is going to be excellent but which isn’t yet finished and published. I’ve got the Nyarusange plan, which would make an ideal model for M-C, on my flash disk, but we can’t transfer it. Kibyimba has solar panels for electricity. While they store enough energy to give some minimal lighting for the boarders during the evenings, and could run a couple of laptop computers, they aren’t powerful enough to support the desktop machine which is the only one the school possesses.
Now this worries me. The cost of extending mains electricity to very isolated schools such as Kibyimba would be prohibitive, and isn’t going to happen any time soon. It’s necessary to have schools where the people are, rather than insist on children walking long distances in all weathers to more central places. So solar is the only option (Rwanda isn’t a country where winds are both strong and reliable, like England). But I’m beginning to realise that you would need a lot of solar panels to power a reasonable number of computers, and even more so if the school also needs power for lighting in the evenings. Solar is very expensive at the moment, and we badly need a whole lot of cheap but reliable and robust solar cells out here. As I came out on the bike I was looking at the streams we crossed and trying to assess whether there could be a micro hydro to serve Buramba, Kabacuzi and Kibyimba, but at the moment there isn’t a single stream with what looks like a strong enough flow. In the wet season, though, you could certainly produce tons of electricity. There would be rushing torrents every hundred yards or so.

It’s time to go and I look for Joseph. As usual, he’s in a bar just outside the school gates. It is lunchtime and many of the boys are also in the bar. M-C has come with me to see me off. In the bar are lots of fanta bottles with little paper caps rather than metal tops. When I look closer I see these are full or urwagwa – banana beer like I had at Delphine’s. I hope the boys aren’t drinking the stuff at lunchtimes; with a metal roof pulsing heat down like an electric fire, Kibyimba’s classrooms will need willpower to stay awake during afternoon lessons at the best of times. If you’ve had a bottle of this strong hooch I reckon you’d be asleep in minutes….

So back we come with the sky clouding up around us and yet another storm coming in from the west, across the Nyaborongo river. This time we manage to outrun it easily; in fact there’s a complete contrast in the weather on the two sides of the mountains. Gitarama is hot and stuffy. There’s no point in staying in the office so I go back home to start writing my report.

I call at the post office and there are lots of parcels for Charlotte; it’s her birthday at the weekend. And I have a couple of newspapers. Helen wants some French textbooks to improve her grammar, so I play postman on my way home and drop off assorted goods. Then Helen comes round and we chat for a while.

By the time I’ve done tea I’m feeling whacked again, and to my dismay I never get the Kibyimba report finished before I reach that stage where everything’s swimming before my eyes and it’s time to go to bed.

Best things about today – to go out into the wilds and discover a school that’s been completely rebuilt and to a high standard. The mountains on the way have been freshened up by the rains and are already bright green rather than burnt brown and yellow. To sit through at least one really good and enjoyable lesson by a probationer who is clearly going to make a good teacher.

Worst thing – I’ll need to allocate one precious remaining day to go back to Buramba and Kabacuzi primaries. But the route is familiar and the scenery grand, so why not?

No comments: