Sunday, 16 February 2014

New and exciting possibilities...

This week has been very encouraging, reflecting on the progress made and the future possibilities for the school.

For some time we have heard a rumour that there is going to be a hotel built on the lakeshore very close to the village on the next peninsula. As we have passed by, on the boat, we have noticed some exploratory building work. This week we found out some definite information. There are plans to build TWO hotels in that area! As you will see from the photos on this blog this area is beautiful and has great tourist potential. Rwanda is trying to increase its income from tourism and to develop better facilities. This, combined with the building of the road from Nyamasheke to Karongi (Kibuye) by the Chinese will greatly improve transport links.

On the way back to the village this week we took a detour to visit Esperance Children’s Village on the further shore. The route we took by boat would eventually lead to Mugonera, which is where we usually go to the market. But this time we pulled into a small bay on the opposite side of the water where there were several canoes for children (I later found out that they were provided by students from Stockport Grammar School.  After leaving Samuel to look after the boat Jean Baptiste and I began an extremely challenging (for me) steep climb up the hillside along the edge of small remnants of rain forest. At the top I had a stitch and was trying to catch my breath when some friendly locals showed amazement at seeing us emerge from the vegetation. Lake Kivu itself is already at an altitude of 1,460 m above sea level and I think I must have climbed another 1000m in 20 minutes! The average elevation of Rwanda is 2,750m and this includes lower levels of savannah type land in the east. No wonder I was out of breath!

The view from part way up!
Anyway, we made it but we also realised that this would not be a way for visitors to approach the Children’s Village unless they were very fit. (like me??!) The road is equally challenging at the moment because of the thick mud - see previous blog entry. The road will improve in two years time though. Mmmm...

We were warmly welcomed by Victor the Director of the project (  and we were given fresh cool water and tea.  We sat on the verandah looking out at the beautiful landscape around us and discussing our various projects plans and ideas.   It was here that we discovered that a hotel is being planned for the lakeshore just opposite from Gasundwe village. Victor will be in charge of the project and will re-locate to the eco- hotel when it is built, hopefully by January 2015.

The following day Victor and the volunteer teacher from Belgium came to visit Gasundwe and were very impressed with what we are doing there and what has already been achieved by the combined efforts of the local NGO (GIFO), the original founders of the project from Rochdale (R2R) and the major efforts of the Canadian NGO Ottawa to Rwanda (O2R) (

learning about colours, observing and matching

Making decisions

The results of the visit are potentially very exciting:

Victor has agreed to provide some teaching materials for our school.
He has also said that he may be able to provide a storage cupboard.
A teacher of sewing skills from the Children’s village can come to stay in Gasundwe for several weeks to train some of the ladies to use the new sewing machines provided by O2R. His project will support her with accommodation etc. This will mean we can increase the number of ladies to be trained.

We also shared our ideas about the possibilities for some joint work once the hotel is full of tourists. All these things need to be discussed by the local community through their GIFO committee. It could mean many changes for the village and all the community need to agree on the way forward. 

Now, I need to write a report for all the stakeholders in the project so that discussions can take place and plans for the future can be made. I see my role as collecting information, sharing my knowledge and skills and facilitating ideas but the actual work and decision making is done by others. Thankfully. 

Lots of love and gratitude to all who read this blog. Tricia x

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Stormy crossings lead to calm waters

After a lovely weekend at Home St Jean meeting new people, watching the Six Nations rugby and generally chilling out I set off back to the village by boat rather later in the day than was expected. Consequently the weather got worse and the lake became turbulent. It wasn’t raining but the wind was blowing and the boat was ‘dancing’ (to quote Jean Baptiste). In other words the boat was lurching up and down and waves were pounding into the hull. We had a ‘baler outerer’ in the form of Samuel and a small plastic container. We also had life jackets and I must admit that I considered what I would do if we capsized. I think I could manage myself but how could I leave my friends who couldn’t swim? Baptiste is an excellent swimmer so he could try to save one person. I am an okay swimmer and would make an attempt. My concern would be that their panic might take us both down. Someone once gave me advice that in that situation the rescuer should give the struggler a knock on the head so that their body would go limp and make the rescue easier. But with what would I hit them having been thrown out of the boat? – Ideas on a postcard please!!

After pondering on this for some time I decided to calm myself down and pray, so began singing quietly ‘Be still and know that I am God....’ It helped. During this stormy session on the lake we passed the fishermen out in their ‘tri- boat’ paddling against the storm. Three wooden boats are fastened together with long wooden poles and there are three paddlers in each boat. Watching them struggle against the high waves made me realize once again how physically demanding life in Rwanda can be.

Anyway, Baptiste is an experienced boatsman and having held the tiller steady for two hours he steered us into the calm waters of the bay. We noticed a very overloaded boat had also taken refuge in our bay. The people were possibly from DRC on their way home from the market.

Hello! from Viro Primary School, Gihombo

Harvesting the beans in the school grounds

This week I visited the local Primary school again and had a lovely time with some of our children who have moved up to Primary 1. I was delighted to discover they still remembered the songs and the role play activities in English!  I gave them the letters from schoolchildren in Rochdale which had been translated into Kinyarwanda by my friend in Kigali. I asked the teachers to help the children to write replies in Kinyarwanda and planned to collect them next week. A real and unexpected bonus came in the form of Samuel who is a School Based Mentor and, of all the schools in the area that he could be based at, he is based at the two schools where our children from Gasundwe go after being at our school. I just love how these things happen sometimes – things working together for good. The presence of Samuel in the school has meant a vast improvement in the use of English by the teachers and subsequently the students.
In the background of the photo you will see the school children harvesting the beans that are grown in the school grounds- no bit of land is left uncultivated here in Rwanda and many hands make light work.

Samuel came to the village to take part in some training that I was doing with the teachers and he stayed overnight. He and Gabriel exchanged telephone numbers and I think they will be a big encouragement for each other. I also went to the school nearest to the Sector Office where some VSO volunteers were doing training and it was wonderful to see them at work in this neglected area of the District. My dear friend and colleague, Tracy, who is doing the same job in Nyamasheke District that I was doing in Muhanga District was there and she also came to stay overnight in the guesthouse. All these links are raising the profile of Gasundwe in the sector and in the District.

The photos above show the members of the household who look after us all. This  is a busy house with folks working hard on growing, gathering and preparing food for much of the day. 

This week we had a harvest of groundnuts (see photo), mangoes and beans. We also decided to improve the porridge recipe by adding soya to the mixture of sorghum and maize. This decision was taken because some of the children are suffering from protein deficiency.

We had a great day of training on Thursday when I got out some of the locally made teaching materials and showed how to use them. We had two teachers, a Teaching assistant and the School Based Mentor. I was going to do the training for more of the Nursery teachers in the sector but the journeying and organisation is so frustratingly difficult that I decided to do it just for our little school. I'm glad i did because the children enjoyed it and they didn't miss a day of school.

Bottle tops for counting and making patterns

Put the correct number of beans in the bottle - the bean harvest is in the backgroun.

Learning colours and matching

The children are not used to sitting on the grass mat in school. They usually sit on benches facing the front but we wanted to try something new and the children are able to manipulate materials easier in this situation.

These individual boards are the Rwandan equivalent of the little white boards that children in the UK use with a marker pen.The Teaching assistant is showing a little boy how to hold the board and the chalk at the same time.  

So... we had great fun!

The next day it was back on the boat to Kibuye and then to Kigali for me. I had to come back to Kigali again bringing the teachers laptop to have additional programs and drivers installed. 

Off we go again...

Look what was in the reeds waving us off.
I will return to Gasundwe on Wednesday for my last visit before going home on 20th February.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Am I getting too old for these shenanikins?

Last Sunday we made the lovely journey by boat from Kibuye to the village. The lake was calm and beautiful. The sun was so strong that I had to use my umbrella as a shade, it was not very effective but caused some friendly laughter!
Friendly fellow passengers

Past the fishing boats. Goodbye Kibuye!

Past the Methane conversion plant

Out comes the parasol!

Still calm waters today

And here we are again at the landing stage.
We arrived once more at the guesthouse and soon settled in. Jean Baptiste made the best chips ever!

Gabriel and I spent the week in school, trying out new teaching methods and getting to know the new children. They are a fun bunch on the whole, with one or two exceptions – oh- not because of bad behaviour but because of sickness and lethargy. 

Home made puzzles

Counting with bottle tops

Bring me 5 stones
We have had a busy week in school and in addition I have been planning the training sessions for other Nursery teachers in the sector. I must admit I find it very frustrating trying to organise anything here and it is particularly difficult in the rainy season because when it rains no-one can move and you just have to stay wherever you are. If you have an appointment, it is just too bad!

On Friday we walked to one of the Primary Schools where some of our children from last year now attend. We chatted to some of them and agreed to return on Monday. This school is called Viro Primary School and it is about one hour and quarter walk from Gasundwe village. I found the walk in the hot sun, up hill and down dale to be exhausting.

There is another Primary School closer to the village across the valley but it can only be reached by crossings a river. The community have discussed the possibility of building a footbridge but the land is very silty. It would be difficult.
You can just see the school almost in the middle of the photo at the top of the hill. As you can see the valley is wide.
At the school we discussed the training and we hope it can be arranged for next week.

Then, it was onto the motos to road to begin the long journey by road to Kibuye (where I knew a cold beer would be waiting for me) We had only been going a few minutes when the rain started. We pulled over and took shelter in a nearby house. The lady of the house, which was under construction by her, made us welcome and found a bench for us to sit on whilst we waited out the storm. Forty five minutes later we were back on the road – possibly the worst road in the country!

After going through the market town of Muhororo the road became impassable for a while so we got off and walked whilst the guys skilfully manoeuvred the mud bath. I am constantly amazed by these drivers out in the rural areas. 

During the two hour journey to Kibuye we saw several vehicles stuck in the mud, including one of the big ‘Onatracom’ buses. The passengers had climbed off the bus safely and some of them were helping to dig out the thick mud from around the wheels. I don’t know whether they got out before nightfall.

We arrived thankfully in Kibuye and Gabriel went home to visit his wife for the weekend whilst I carried on to that haven called ‘Home St Jean’ – look it up on Trip Advisor, it’s beautiful. As usual, I was given a warm welcome and a cold beer!

Love to you all and thanks for your interest and support. Triciax