Saturday, 28 May 2011

This week's Education Conference

The last three days of this week were spent in Kigali at the Annual  Education conference for all volunteers and staff of VSO who are involved in the education Programme.

VSO has three main priorities in Rwanda, namely, Education, Disability and National Volunteering. The Education Programme is the largest. 

The best session of the conference was the one in which the students, teachers and headteachers and DEOs (District Education officers) were involved. They were asked to discuss and  draw pictures of what the education system is like now and what they want it to be like in the future - ie by 2020. I was working with a group of Primary School students and their perspectives were very interesting - on the whole they were happy with the schools as they are now and it was difficult for them to visualise a school of the future until we went and showed them what a computer can do - they had never seen one before. At the end of the session the students stood up in front of the whole conference and said what they wanted to see in the future. These comments ranged from 'clean schools, with concrete floors and roofs that don't leak' to 'running water, electricity and good quality teaching, more textbooks and computers in the classrooms.

In the afternoon we had a  panel of experts, including a member of the National Inspectorate and representatives of UNICEF - who are doing a brilliant job here in Rwanda (I am pleased to say this because I have supported UNICEF financially on a monthly basis for about 20 years now!!

I'm back in Gitarama and looking forward to Saturday night with some friends who are coming to our house to cook a meal - there are great advantages to being the only house in town with a proper cooker!!
Massive advertising hoardings

I'm including this photo to show you the size of the advertising hoardings here. Impressive? Yes, but not as impressive as the guys who shinny up to the top with no rope or safety harness to change the pictures every couple of months - rock climbers eat your heart out!!!!

Lots of love to everyone - hope the summer is going well. 

PS I'm told the Rainy Season will come to an end soon - I'll let you know when it does!!


Sunday, 22 May 2011

A typical Saturday??

I pass this poster every day on my way to work

Ok,  so this is a typical Saturday when I’m not going away for the weekend.

Saturday morning, no work so I have a lie-in until maybe 7am at the latest – can’t seem to sleep any later than that , although I may go for a sleep later in the day eg early  afternoon. I get up, put the kettle on for a cuppa tea (very much like home really!) Whilst the kettle’s boiling I open the curtains and switch off the seciurity light and the front and back porch.
Take cuppa into bedroom and decide what to wear – Saturday morning, it’s usually my African wrap and a loose top. Go for a hot shower and fill up a bucket of hot water so that I can do my ‘smalls’ washing. I wash my own ‘smalls’ and my towel because I like them washed in warm rather than cold water. Also I think it’s not nice to ask someone else to hand wash your smalls! Your views on this are welcome!!

Get dressed in loose clothing, do my washing on the back porch , say  ‘Maramutse, Amakuru?’  to Jean Paul who is already working in the garden. Tidy up the kitchen from the night before, have some toast with peanut butter or Marmite. Put the kettle on for fresh Rwandan coffee. Sit on the back porch and maybe do some knitting or reading Ken’s Weekly Guardian  ( keep it coming!! Or let me know when you cancel it so that I can take out my own subscription – thank you x)

Mid morning I take myself and/ or April off to town to get some shopping . I usually call in at the dressmakers to see how she is getting on with my latest outfit. This week I called in to ask her to make the skirt longer - I got told off by a Rwandan lady for my skirt being too short (mid calf length) Hop on a moto to get my shopping home safely.

A loaded lorry stuck in the mud

A brick oven in the school grounds
 This Saturday I joined an African choir and it was great fun - didn't understand a word I was singing but we're going to have the best alto line up in Rwanda (all 4 of us!)We are now an International choir since I joined - ha ha!!

I've been exhausted this week and so spent most of the weekend resting. Judy and I spent three days in a northern sector visiting the last 5 schools up there. We start the training in two weeks. Three days almost continually on the back of a motorbike is physically tiring and communicating with teachers and headteachers when our languages are different is mentally challenging. Added to that we stay in the Priest's house whilst we are there so we have to make polite conversations all evening - actually it's quite good fun because they are such characters and it is quite  amusing watching Judith struggling to explain her 'off the cuff' comments which are intended to be lighthearted but turn out to be taken very seriously and need to be explained in great detail.
Washing hands after visiting the toilet

Many of the schools do not have electricity or water and so headteachers have to be very creative in thinking of ways to help children keep clean. The headteacher of this school had managed to install solar panels and sells the electricity to the local community so that they can charge their mobile phones. He also has a'Hairdressing salon' on site and 1/4 of the money raised goes to pay the hairdresser and 3/4 goes into school fund. The children usually have shaved heads for hygiene reasons, so it's an excellent idea!                                            
Play equipment for the Nursery children

I seem to have strayed from the topic of Saturdays, but never mind! I am coming to the end of my weekend and it's Sunday night so going to read a good book before bed time. I'm reading my fave book of all time - Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen - I  always read it to give me comfort and a laugh!!

Lots of love to everyone. Please don't forget to comment - I always check if anyone has written anything. Thank you for any prayers you may have offered for our safety on the motorbikes - please continue. Tricia xxxx

Friday, 13 May 2011

Shall I write about the weather or about my work???

The Centre of Operations

Ok, so I’ve been asked to write about what I do when I go out to schools on these trips. The answer is that it depends....

The latest trip is the first of several that we have planned to one of our remote sectors. As you know, I work at the District Office in Muhanga which is in the Southern Province. This is our ‘centre of operations’ and from here all the plans are made!! Sometimes the plans come to fruition and sometimes they don’t! But this week they did. I will try to give a brief outline of my work programme:
When I arrived I analysed the Examination results for the P6 children in all the schools in Muhanga District. From this analysis I was able to determine which of the 12 sectors needed support.  One of these sectors is the one we visited this week. We have planned a programme of visits and training which will last most of this term. There are 9 schools in the sector and this week we visited 4 of them, we will visit the other 5 next week. Our aim for these first visits is to gather information and to observe teaching so that we can work out what improvements need to be made, and what training we can offer. The next part of the programme is to deliver 6 days of training for every teacher in the sector. The teachers wanted us to do this on a subject by subject basis.  After the training days we will give the schools 4 weeks to try out some of the new strategies, then we will visit each school again to evaluate the impact of the training.
 So that’s the ‘work bit’, now the logistics!! The sector is a 2 hour moto ride from Gitarama and so we decided we would stay overnight whenever we could so that we would cut down on these arduous journeys. A friendly and helpful headteacher has found us accommodation with the Catholic priests in the area. So this week we carried out our first 4 visits, we had safe journeys and decent weather.
One of the schools we visited is particularly remote and the families are very poor. You will see from the photo that they haven’t got proper desks, the classrooms are very old and the floors are just hard packed earth. The children cannot get to school in the rain because the area is very mountainous and if they get wet they can’t get dry and will be more susceptible to illness. The nearest medical centre is a day’s walk away. They may only have one set of clothes (usually their school uniform) and if this gets wet they have nothing to change into. So there are many barriers to learning, but the teachers try very hard in difficult circumstances.

And so we continue, inspired by these dedicated teacher who get paid absolute peanuts – in fact if they got paid in nuts they would be better off!

Love Tricia

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Roads in Rwanda

The roads in Rwanda are AMAZING.

There are several Principal Roads throughout the country that are tarmaced and are a credit to the engineering skills of the Chinese and the hard work of the Rwandan people.These roads connect the major towns to the capital city, Kigali. They also connect the country to neighbouring countries of Uganda,DRC, Tanzania and Burundi.

When you see the beautiful mountainous terrain in this country you can appreciate the difficulties of travel.

 Out of the towns, travel is more difficult. I had the great pleasure of being able to do a tour of Muhanga District in a 4x4 with my Director of Education. Our district stretches to the north of the country and there are some remote, out lying areas. 

There is a massive road building programme going on throughout the country. Most of the work is done by people power. Earth is moved away from the hillside to the other side of the road in order to widen the carriageway. In the rainy season the roads become incredibly muddy and the earth is loose and treacherous. 

Drains are dug along the whole length of the road to provide run off for the heavy rains. After this the drains are fortified with rocks held together with cement. The drains become a thing of beauty with their multi coloured lining. 

When the roads are finished the communication links for everyone, including education and health workers will be much improved and access to remote areas will be much easier.

 Until then, we persevere in all weathers!!

Judy and I will be making such a journey on Monday and Tuesday to visit four schools so think of us and pray that the rains hold off for another night.

Thank you, sending my love to you all. xxxxx

Thursday, 5 May 2011

A typical Day in Rwanda??

Outfit for working in the office

I’ve been asked to write about a typical day in Rwanda, which is very difficult because often what you think is going to be a typical day turns out to be anything but!!

Here am I in my office work clothes. But when I go out to schools I look very different - dressed in trousers and smart top but covered from head to foot in waterproof gear and safety helmet.

Typically,  I get up with the sun at about 5.45am. I drag myself off my Rwanda Foam bed and escape via the mosquito net.( I like sleeping under my mosquito net , it’s like a cocoon or tent and makes me feel safe.) I go to the kitchen and put the kettle on for a cuppa – just like home really. Into the bathroom for cold stand up wash – if I’m feeling in need of luxury I add some of the water from the kettle into the bowl. We do have a hot shower but I only use it in the evenings and only once or twice a week. Perversely I prefer the refreshing cold wash. I know – it’s the puritan in me!

Breakfast and out of the house by 6.30, walk down to work along with lots of others, some of whom are becoming very familiar to me. Ladies off to cultivate their land, growing food for their families, children off to school always wanting to practice their English with me, young men in white wellingtons off to wherever they are off to, well dressed men and women off to the office. I pass the young girl looking after the turkeys (what’s the collective noun for a group of turkeys?) I pass the goats chewing anything they can reach, the noisy cow in the neighbours garden and the gaggle of moto drivers looking at me hopefully,  thinking I may, just this once,  ride on the back of their bike down to work. But no, I like my walk to work too much.

I arrive at the office for 7 and say my ‘Good Mornings’ to all and sundry. From then on I never know what is going to happen. I may plan things and be determined to carry them out, but more often than not something unexpected happens and the plans change.

So, on Judy’s first day at work I’d planned to take her to visit one  school. The trip involved a motor bike ride, the headteacher was expecting us, the drivers were booked. But the rain rained and the boss said ‘You must not go on motos today!’ So, instead we got to drive around the whole district in a 4x4, visiting lots of schools. We had a wonderful day, albeit a very long day – a drive of about 8 hours, with no food or water! We spent about one hour in a remote school, entertaining children with ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and....’ etc whilst the boss went off to supervise the girls' vaccinations against Rubella. 

So, having set out on a typical day it turned out to be yet another amazing experience in Rwanda.

But on a Fridays we are continuing a fine tradition, started by my predecessor. The clue is in the photo!!