Saturday, 10 October 2009

To the rice paddies of Budende

October 8th

Today I wake up feeling considerably better and decide to carry on with my time in Kiyumba secteur and not cut and run back to Gitarama. But I’m going to change my schedule and do the school at K this afternoon which I had originally planned for yesterday. It’s right next door to the Presbytery, and if I’m feeling below par it means I don’t have to call motos and involve other people if I want to opt out.

In the morning I’m going to Budende school which is easily the furthest out in Kiyumba secteur. We leave the church and local schools and climb up the main road to the brow of a hill where there is a mini roundabout (it must be one of the most improbably sited roundabouts in the world – on earth roads where you barely see more than a dozen cars a day). We run along the ridge almost all the way to the “poste de santé” I visited yesterday, and then dive down and down for ever towards the Nyaborongo. Eventually you see the river in the distance; far away and far below, but you continue falling and falling, weaving in and out of countless little gulleys until you reach river level. Everywhere there are the same small rectangular houses; the same permutations of banana plantations, sugar cane, cow grass, beans and tomato plots. But right down by the river there’s a big rice growing co-operative, and suddenly it feels as if we’re in the heart of Asia, perhaps next to one of the bigger rivers of China.

And still we’re not there. We run through a couple of ramshackle villages, past the turning to Mugeyo school, and along a sandy track and eventually I see the school on a low hill. Compared to most Rwandan schools (or at least compared to those in Muhanga), Budende is at a low level. It has a wide green and earthy central courtyard, where the is plenty of room for its pupils to play. There is a patch of banana trees and they have planted pineapples on a sloping patch of ground behind the toilets. At one end of the site there’s the cellule office and another little “poste de santé” which join seamlessly onto he school site. I like the feel that the school is part of the community; there are young mothers with babies queuing up at the health centre and men waiting to get forms filled in and stamped at the cell office.

The school itself is a mixture of brick and mud brick buildings, neither better nor worse than the majority in the District. I already know that the head, Éline, won’t be there – there’s a secteur meeting this morning to sort out the “placements” for next year – the allocation of teachers to each school. But the “responsable” is expecting me and we quickly organize some visits to lessons.

Now Budende is in the bottom performing handful of schools according to last year’s concours exam, and just as at school B yesterday I’m expecting to find poor teaching and to have to stamp my feet. Instead, I find that Budende has taken our VSO raining completely to heart. Every room I go into is decorated with rice sack stimulus material – Budende has the best displays of any school I’ve been to in the whole District. Every lesson begins with a song, and some of the songs are the ones which Cathie and I taught them last year. It feels funny to have “Old Macdonald” at the start of a maths lesson, or “Jesus loves me” to kick off social studies, but I can tell that the performance isn’t just being put on for me because the pupils know the words and sing enthusiastically each time. They’ve listened to what we’ve suggested about getting pupils physically active to break up all the sitting and writing, and they’re doing it intelligently.

I see three good lessons, and I’ve got no complaints about their commitment and teaching ability. Pupils are well behaved and want to learn, but the youngsters are terminally fazed by the first muzungu to come to their school in living memory and it is difficult to get them back into lessons after the morning break. They all want to hang around outside the windows and peer in and check whether I have two heads or three eyes.

I ask the staff about their poor exam results last year. “Ah”, they say, “we had a really poor year 6 last year, and there was ‘trouble with some of the parents’”. I’m never quite able to probe further into this ‘trouble’, but I suspect it was a case of pupils being kept away from school to plant or harvest rice too frequently to enable them to finish their education.

Certainly, from what I see this morning there’s absolutely nothing to suggest that this school is so demoralized or incompetent that some form of special measures are necessary. Far from it – in things like decorations in classrooms, Budende can teach the rest of the District a thing or two!

With the head away I can’t do an admin inspection, so I finish promptly at around twelve and summon Louis and we chug slowly up the mountainside and back to the Presbytery. I manage to arrive just in time for lunch – what luck!

In the afternoon I visit Marthe’s school at K, and have a really enjoyable afternoon. This is one of the schools where Cathie and I did some training last year; then the rooms were dark, run down and depressing. Since then somebody has sent the school some money and they have used it to do a repainting and fix all the broken windows. It has transformed the place. The walls are painted blue to dado height and then white; the ceilings are white as well. They are old, 1930s rooms, high and sturdy, and now they are as good as new. There’s even a ceiling of roseaux which deaden the sound of rain and absorb the worst of the sun’s heat at mid day. They are delightful rooms to teach in and (dare I say it), probably better than the modern ones with the blue metal roofs.

One unusual thing about this school is that at the rear of the site

Is a deep, narrow man-made gulley with a big wooden cross above it. Marthe explains that the cross marks an excavated mass grave. In 1994 many people were murdered and thrown into a gulley in the soil and rocks at the back of the school. The bodies have long since been removed and reburied, but the site is still considered desecrated ground, and it’s a grim reminder for the school’s pupils of their country’s recent past.

Marthe is looking forward to starting a Tronc Commun section at K, and has even got parents involved in bringing huge boulders to the site to start building up and leveling up a depression in the ground so that one of the existing parallel lines of buildings can be extended.

At the end of the afternoon I’m tired, but feeling very happy that despite illness and teachers’ days and a District wide testing day tomorrow, I’ve still managed five school visits this week and every one of them to a school I’ve not inspected before. There’s time to get the K report written up before our evening meal; its raining again during the evening and try as we might we can none of us make the journey from the rooms where we’re sleeping to the dining room without getting our feet muddy from the puddles.

I eat well, and Marcellin celebrates by getting us all beers. Father Edmond has gone off at nightfall to Ntarabana presbytery in Rongi because one of the motos there hs broken down, and we happen to have a spare part for them. Riding a moto on these rough, earth roads at night and in heavy rain takes a special kind of skill, not to mention daring, and I salute Edmond because we are all assuming he’s going to sleep at Rongi and come back at dawn, but he arrives back in the late evening, drenched, covered in mud, but completely matter-of-fact about the journey he’s just made. These guys may be priests but wishy washy types won’t do in these rural parishes. You have to be a Jack of all trades, and prepared to venture out at all hours and in all weathers. We’re pleased Edmond is back because it means that Marcellin and I can get off to Gitarama promptly tomorrow.

A good ay – two visits and no mishaps.

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