Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Dry Season has returned

Well, the dry season is here with a vengeance and Judy and I are off on the road again! The tarmac roads in Rwanda are amazing and are kept in much better condition than the roads at home, but as soon as you leave the tarmac and hit the dirt tracks it's a different story. The one in the photo has been upgraded since last year and it's now wide and with a fairly smooth surface. But as you can see when a vehicle passes by the dirt flies and you get covered in a fine red dust. In the next photo you can see Judy on the bike in front - sorry about the wing mirror in the middle of the picture. When you leave these roads the travelling gets really tricky because the earth is so dry and the small rocks and stones move about under the wheels of the bike. At home we would call it a goat track.

This term we are up in another of the Northern sectors, carrying out training on Methodology and Lesson Observation skills. We stay at the Priests house for two or three nights every week because the journey is too long to do daily. Even when you get to the sector some of the schools are a really long way out. We can't wait to go and visit one particular school which is a long moto journey and then a walk up and down a mountain for almost one hour. I haven't found anyone who has visited it yet!Judy and I think of it as a mythical school where a headteacher invents the names of pupils and submits examination papers etc. Anyway, I'll let you know if we make it up there and back.

 Rongi Sector is one of the most remote parts of the district. There is no electricity at all, even in the Sector offices - only a few solar panels with enough energy to charge everyones mobile phones (lifesavers, here and very essential)The Education officer and the headteachers have to travel down to the next sector or to Muhanga to charge their laptops. It isn't possible to use  a desktop.

From our viewpoint on the back of the bikes we see this amazing project. As you will know Rwanda has many many steep hills and in the heavy rains the soil gets washed away so there are many projects to create terraces to retain the soil. But I have never seen a project as big as this one. All done by hand and everyone working together in the heat of the sun. Apparently the dry season will last until April when the rains will start again. I don't remember it being as dry as this last year, but I had only just arrived, so maybe I didn't notice.

Anyway, a cheery goodbye from the guys and thinking of you all in the cold dark winter, but spring is coming soon.

Lots love, Tricia

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Keeping in Touch- PO Box 207, Gitarama, Rwanda

A word about the postal system…. Not quite pigeon post but sometimes it is very slow, then other times amazingly fast! The photo shows me at the Post Office collecting my mail on January 13th. The Christmas card that I am holding was posted by my friends on December 1st and they collected it from the box with me, so they arrived before the Christmas card! Ha ha.

I am trying to catch up with my blog posts, so I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch but hopefully the weekly messages will begin again soon.

Meanwhile, thank you to all those wonderful friends who sent greetings, messages, cards, presents, calendars and Year Planners. I can tell you that each and every one was most appreciated. The calendars have all been distributed to colleagues and were snapped up – thank you Jan!! The Year Planners are being distributed as I visit schools. There is one in our District Office and when the Director of Education told the Vice Mayor how useful it is she wanted one too!  I went up to the top floor armed with blu-tak and we stuck it up on the wall together.  I explained how to use it and she was delighted. I was particularly pleased because she is quite a formidable lady, being very tall and elegant, and I was happy to make this contribution – so thanks to Sara, Wendy and Ann.

 The work continues and some friends ask ‘But when you do these ‘trainings’ what do you actually do?’  The answer is that the trainings vary dependant on the needs of the school. But just recently I carried out a training session for a school community where some parents couldn’t see the point of children going to school when they could be out collecting firewood or doing something else useful. The school and the community were divided. Also, for the last three years the headteacher  has had to concentrate on new buildings and he needed  to re-focus on Teaching and Learning.
So we held a ‘Vision day’ with all the stakeholders, ie all the people connected to the school.  I used to do this once a year when I was headteacher of my school in Oldham.
The aim of the day is: To establish the purpose and future direction of the school.

·         Consulting all the stakeholders
·         Gathering information about their community
·         Finding out what we want from our community and especially our school – What is our vision?
·         How are we going to make our vision happen

Firstly we played a game called ‘Crossing the River’ which helps the participants to understand that we have to work together as team to get safely across the river. This was followed by a drawing activity where each representative had to draw what was important to them in their community – so parents drew their fields and homes, teachers drew the school and the sector officers drew buildings, water tanks, electricity (there isn’t any!) etc. we collected the drawings together to show the varied interests.
The main part of the session was focused around a series of photos showing what was possible to achieve in a community with the school at the centre of learning. I have collected these photos over the past year whenever I have been to schools and seen good practice / new initiatives etc.  So they are all real situations that happen in schools in our district.
The photos provided a stimulus for the vision – they showed what is possible for the future. Having decided what we wanted the  school to be like in three years’ time we began to work out how we were going to get there – how were we going to ‘cross the river?’ We had a great time allocating tasks – including the serious suggestion that the headteacher should cook a mid-day meal for the teachers every day!! That one didn’t get through. But the serious issue behind that is that teachers are hungry – they often go a whole day without eating – and remember their working day is 7am-5pm with a long walk to school and home again. The children also need feeding during the day – these are serious problems which I can’t begin to solve without local knowledge. But a plan for the next three years is now in place, and the community is working with the school to make it happen.

Much of the practical work that needs doing, e.g. digging holes for new pit latrines or making a playground for playing football, making bricks for the toilet block, will be done by the community during ‘Umuganda’ which happens on the last Saturday of every month. On this day, throughout Rwanda, all other work stops – there are no buses running, no shops open, no banks open because everyone does community work in their local area.  It is a brilliant scheme and in the past many primary schools have been built during these times. Holes in the roads are filled, the rainwater drains are cleared of weeds and debris to keep the water flowing and avoid the laying of mosquito eggs and many other tasks. 

Anyway , that's enough for now. Lots love Tricia xx

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Happy New Year 2012

Happy New Year 2012!!!

My resolutions are:
  • To finish my placement to my satisfaction by limiting my focus to 3 main areas and 2 subsidiary areas
  • To travel more within Rwanda to visit all the people I haven't yet visited because I have had my head in my work.
  • To visit Zanzibar and Ethiopia
  • To make the most of the rest of my time here
  • To come home where I belong!

This weekend I celebrate the completion of 12 months in Rwanda and how exciting they have been. I look back on the photos of those first few days and can hardly believe my naivety!! Ha ha!

However, I am glad of that quality because it helped me to take the step of coming here and I’m so glad I did. I have made many new friends, both Rwandan and not Rwandan! And, the friendships that I left behind at home have become deeper and more important as the months have gone by. In addition,  I have had so many lovely visitors – if anyone else wants to come – take the opportunity whilst you can – I won’t be here forever!

I cannot begin to itemise all the wonderful experiences I have had nor even highlight special times, so we will have to wait until the book comes out!!

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The ending of an old year and the beginning of a new year always focuses the mind and it’s the same for me. 

My approach this year will take on a different aspect because now I have done as much as I can to build relationships with schools and headteachers and I need to work with the people and systems that it has taken me so long to understand. Also I have realised that I must focus down onto smaller ‘targets’ (hate that word!).

Then I have to maintain the work life balance and so I’ve made resolutions about travelling and enjoying the experience of living in Africa whilst I can. 

Amazing fabrics
Wonderful skills and a personal dressmaker

The variety and multiplicity of beans