Wednesday, May 15, 2019

And this concludes Stephen and Mary @ Rwanda

Children of Rwanda
All good things must come to an end and our VSO adventures really were worth every minute of the preparation, the training and all the hard work. We have made friends for life both amongst colleagues abroad and volunteers in the UK and all over the world. 
VSO Rwanda Group January 2011
For anyone out there who is thinking of doing a VSO placement, I can only encourage you and hope that you have a time as rewarding as the two of us. Why not have a look at their website. Just click on the tab above.

I am a fan of the film "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel", particularly for the words of wisdom imparted by the characters who are facing a totally different life from the ones they have left. Many of the quotes are equally fitting for VSO. Here are a few of them:-

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
“It’s also true that the person who wishes nothing, does nothing, has nothing.”

"He has a dream and he's determined to make it come true."

“Nothing happens unless first we dream.”

"All we know about the future is that it will be different. But perhaps what we fear is that it will be the same. So we must celebrate the changes."

“The only real failure is the failure to try.  And the only real success is to cope with disappointment

-“I have offered a vision of the future.” 

And my two favourites, particularly relating to VSO.........

"What do you see that I don't?"
The light, colours, the smiles, it teaches me something." 

It's like a wave; resist and you go under, ride it out and you arrive at the others side.

My final posts relate to our trip to East Africa one year after we returned from Rwanda. You can see them by clicking on the tabs or going to the pages from here.....

You will also find links to the Guyana Blog and NCERLEADERS as well as a few others who shared the experience with us.

There's a section on "Rwanda through our eyes" with photographs of daily lives from the roadside. It helps to visualise what Rwanda is like.

And so I leave you with the following........

"The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." ~ St. Augustine
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." ~ Mark Twain
"A journey of a thousand miles starts in front of your feet." ~ Lao-tzu
"Two roads diverged in a woods, and I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference." ~ Robert Frost
And finally my favourite .........
"Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel's immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad of new sights, smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way."
Ralph Crawshaw

Cheers from Rwanda
Murakoze, Rwanda

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Friends for life

Get together with Returned Volunteers

One thing about doing VSO is it certainly expands your circle of friends and provides you with even greater opportunities for travel. Here is just a glimpse of who we have seen since we returned.....

Cheryl, Ann, Meg and Sanny in Dublin
Joan at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Guyana Volunteers in Betwys y Coed
Rwanda Volunteers in Sol e Luna
David and Sarah in St Fagans Museum, Cardiff
Cam in her Nzige Garden
She came to see us in London and Kent

David and Sarah in Crystal Palace

Back in the Saddle

Peter (HT) and Maurice (DHT)
This is a strange experience for me because it has taken me many months to put pen to paper since we returned from Rwanda. It's been a hectic time with lots of people to see and visit as well as moving house. All of that has got in the way. But firmly established in Kent and at last organised, I finally feel the urge to finish what I started. Well, fingers to keyboard. Fast broadband helps although it never deterred me in Rwanda with our trusty dongle.

I'm going to start where I left off with some details about our remaining few days before we had to return home in such a hurry. After all this time, Rwanda has not left our hearts and will forever remain there. In fact, we have just booked our flights to return soon (under our own steam this time) and hope to be there for a short while, saying a proper farewell which we didn't get the chance to do last October. We're then off to visit a few neighbouring countries which evaded us at the end. Flights are booked and the final post for this blog will be our adventures when we return.

Rose and her daughter
Cam, Olivier and Mary
So, less of the chitchat and on to the real stuff starting with what happened on our last day in Rwanda. We had to pack up very quickly. It's amazing how you accumulate things in less than a year. The house had to be empty except for the furniture we had when we arrived and the things we were going to leave for the next volunteer (if there was to be one). Our friend Camilla took a lot of things using two motos to get it back to her place. Some went to Rose (she helped around the house) and neighbours and the rest we gave away.

When we had booked our flights on the Saturday, we were visited by the District Education Officer Olivier Umutangana who we had worked with all the time we were there. He made us feel really good in the way he showed appreciation for the work we had done.

Saying goodbye is never easy but

Akiko our Japanese Neighbour
Stephen and DEO Olivier
Outside the House
Our Guard and the Landlord's Mother
On the final day we went to HVP Gatagara School to say farewell to friends and then we were taken to the airport by Peter (Headteacher of Gatagara) and the rest is history.

Emmanuel and Eric in the front row
Peter ready to take us
But not quite so because there was a surprise in store. Peter told us that Olivier had something for us but he had no idea when we would get it. Just before we left for the airport, he got the call and he drove us to a roadside spot in the centre of Rwamagana where we met Olivier and he presented us with certificates and traditional Rwanda baskets. A great surprise but nothing is ever simple in Rwamagana!

Presenting Certificates by the Roadside

  So Farewell to VSO Rwanda !!!

Voluntary Service Overseas
in Kinyarwanda outside
VSO Office

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Even More Workshops

Mary preparing for the next day
The last main post was when we rushed home and left our Guyana volunteer friend, Helen, in the capable hands of Camilla, our closest neighbour in Rwamagana. But that's history. We knew that we could get the call at any time and this time our placement would have to end so we decided to try to have the maximum impact in the shortest time. This meant getting out on the road and visiting as many schools as possible delivering Mary's workshop on Methodology and Resource Making and my one on Lesson Planning. In addition, we wanted to do a workshop for Deputy Headteachers to try to give them an identity. We got round as many schools as we could, doing 2 or 3 workshops a day.

It involved lots of preparation. We wanted the workshops to be delivered in the schools and suitable for any environment. No electricity involved. We prepared dozens of examples of materials that could be used with the help of our friend Camilla. All were made out of everyday materials with the star of the show being bottle tops! We made posters out of rice sacks which would be displayed in the classrooms were we would be working. In each school we hoped for about 20 teachers. Sometimes more and sometimes less. Often it involved the school children just getting on with their work without teachers and staff taking turns in supervising them. This concept could not happen in most English schools. In Rwanda, on the whole, the children cooperated when they were left to their own devices.

We would be up just after the "call to prayer" around 5am and then on a moto to wherever we were going. We tried to do one long distance in a day and one short one. Everything had to fit in our backpacks and had to be used over and over again. We would be in the school by 7-30am for an 8-00am start and then off to the next school at 12-30pm and home by around 6pm and then the preparation for the next day. Despite the intensity of it all, we really enjoyed it and certainly slept well at night. The feedbacks were good and we hope that some of it rubbed off on the teachers.

In the final days of our placement, Mary made a booklet with pictures and descriptions  of all of the resources and we were told that it would distributed to all schools in the District. I've already described the workshops when we first started them in June. If you want to go to that post, just click on the link below.

More about the workshops

Here are a few examples of the materials we were using:-

Living room turned into workshop

Bottle tops galore

Clocks from Laughing Cow Cartons and washing powder tops

 All made from rice sacks - very durable and practical!!!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mr George

Just over 36 hours ago, we heard that Mary’s Father, Jerzy (George) Rozek had passed away quietly with his son John with him after many months, if not years of health problems.

But I don’t want to dwell on those or the hard times he faced as he got older because it’s better to remember a man as he was for most of his life rather than dwelling on the things that brought that first-class life to an end.

George, Mary and Stephen in Krakow, Poland 2006
George, or “Mr George” as I always called him (he was my boss when I worked in his West End Restaurant almost 40 years ago), was the model father-in-law anyone could ever have. He never failed to show respect and enthusiasm for anything we did, he encouraged and admired our work and blessed our marriage by never criticising or showing disapproval of the choices we made in our life. We knew he was proud of us and he always showed it.

But we too were proud of him. As a Polish soldier in the British army in the war in the forties, he helped save our nation from almost certain drudgery and discrimination by his bravery and commitment to what was just. He rarely spoke of it as he started his new life in a new country and brought up his family to fit in and respect that culture. He had a commitment to family life and, although his long working hours often mitigated against it, he treasured the moments he could bring us all together to “be a family”. What greater pleasure could he have than to have all of us around him!

In his work life, he was a professional par excellence. Everything had to be just as it should be in the restaurants he used to run, Everything for the customer but, at the same time, nobody could feel alone in his presence with the charming and welcoming spirit he would show with everyone he met. Lost for words he was not! He was a quality conversationalist, all in his second language. That flowed over into the street on his regular walks when I’m sure he was seen as a character in the local community who always had a word for everyone.

His professional preciseness and ability to care and put people at their ease are traits that I have always held in high regard and admired and ones I have always tried to emulate throughout my working life.

We know your time had come, Mr George, but you will live on in our lives with fondness, love and, most of all, respect!

George as a young man
May you have more than your “Sto Lat” and have perpetual peace knowing that you will be always with us.

Sto lat, sto lat, niech zyje zyje nam.
Sto lat, sto lat, niech zyje zyje nam.
Jeszcze raz, jeszcze raz, niech zyje, zyje nam.
Niech zyje nam!

Back Again!

Coming back to Rwanda was hard but necessary. We decided to have the maximum impact by refocusing our work on delivering as many workshops as we could to as many schools as possible in the short time we had left.

We wanted to try to deliver a “Planning Lessons” workshop and a “Methodology” workshop to all of the schools where we work – about 18 in all and each a half day. We had completed quite a few before we went home. In addition we had a postponed two-day workshop for deputy headteachers to deliver.

Deputy Heads of Rwamagana District hard at work
We felt that the Deputies’ workshop was the pinnacle of our work. We know they created an identity for themselves with our help, embraced the new ideas and challenges and started to understand their true role of enhancing the learning and teaching in their schools with enthusiasm and eagerness.
Well, we managed to do eight of the half day workshops and the one for deputies before we finally had to make the decision to come home after the death of Mary’s father.
We are very proud of what we have done and feel that we have achieved almost all we set out to accomplish. So, we are going home happy and fulfilled with more than a tinge of sadness despite the circumstances.
It’s all so strange really because, despite the challenges, we are pleased with what we have done but we cannot deny it has been hard for a whole variety of reasons at home and here, before and during the placement. We have always felt welcomed by the local community here in Rwamagana but, since we came back just three weeks ago, it has moved up a gear. The friendliness, the chats in the streets, the warmth of the children’s greetings and, particularly, the good wishes of the headteachers and the teachers we work with have made us feel that this is our “Rwanda Home”. But that is not to be, circumstances dictate and we have another life and one pulls against the other and it would have been so hard, having gone to and from Africa three times in less than three months to continue for just a few weeks until the end of term in November.

So, the people of Rwanda and especially Rwamagana, you will always remain in our hearts and we wish you well.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Final Leg

View from our window at Chez Lando
So, after we rushed home for family reasons, we find ourselves back in Rwanda. We now realise how important it is that we complete our placements and do as much as we can in the short time we have left.
There are also places we need to go to and see but who knows whether we will get the chance. Because we were going to be working so hard, we decided to treat ourselves at the weekends. One such treat was a stay in Chez Lando Hotel. It's close to the VSO office in Kigali and they were doing a special deal on their rooms. It's a modern place and we had a great weekend. The room we stayed in was an upgrade and was bigger than the whole of our house in Rwamagana.
Presidential Palace Museum
Whilst we were there we were there, we went to the Presidential Palace near the airport. This is a significant place because it was the home of the President of Rwanda at the start of the Genocide 18 years ago - President Juvenal Habiyarimana. His private plane was shot down on 6th April 1994 and it fell in the Palace and can still be seen in the same position were it fell to this day. The President of Burundi was also on board.
The Museum has an interesting section on the culture and history of Rwanda and particularly about the importance of hairstyles throughout the ages. It has not been renovated or preserved and still has the same furniture which, because of lack of restoration, is literally falling apart. At the top of the building are two chapels - one for the official religion where Catholic Masses where said and the other for the traditional religion. The presidents obviously had a foot in both camps but "never the twain shall meet". The Pope said Mass in the chapel on his official visit to Rwanda. Who knows what was going on next door?
If you want to read more about the Genocide, follow some of these links. It is up to you to decide what is true and not true.


On our return, we were still tempted by the possible move to the new District Office but it never happened. It was almost finished but who knows when we will actually move in.
New District Office almost completed
But, let's face it, the back of a container truck as an office is more of a novelty, a challenge, a talking point and the REAL VSO.