Monday, February 21, 2011

Getting away from Rwamagana

We’ve had quite a lot of visitors but to date we haven’t been anywhere else apart from Kigali to get provisions. So we were invited this weekend to visit Joan in Byumba. She is setting up a Resource Centre in the Teacher Training College there. It’s the highest town in Rwanda near the volcanoes in the North. The shorter version across country would involve maybe an hour and a half on a moto up and down hill, risking life and limb. Not a chance on earth! So we set off early and went into Kigali and changed to go north on the bus. Much better buses go up that way, thank goodness and we delighted in the amazing views. Every bit of land seems to be cultivated no matter how remote. The panorama was breathtaking even if a little misty. It took four hours to get there from door to door. Joan was waiting for us. We were a little jealous of the supermarket were we met up with its local Gouda cheese, yogurt and chocolate but we resisted apart from the yogurt. More of the women there were wearing traditional dress than were we lived and the feel was quite different.
View from the house
Joan treated us to a lovely home cooked lunch but the thunder and the storm stopped us from going out until it was time to go to the B&B where all three of us were staying the night and having dinner. A lovely place by the name of Hospitality Hotel with a charming host called Elijah who had just got married and his younger wife was now expecting a baby. Dinner was enough for ten and there were only three of us. Lots of stories were exchanged and we had a great time. After a comfortable but cold night with blankets, it was still raining with continuous thunder. We feared we would get very wet so got a rare car taxi to the bus park and then the bus to Kigali. By the time we arrived in the capital it was dry and hot. We spent a couple of hours shopping for things we can’t get in Rwamagana e.g. chopped ham and pork, tuna, tinned tomatoes etc. and this time treated ourselves to some German bread, local cheese and two slices of ham. What a treat for the evening. We don’t have a fridge but our house is quite cool so it will be alright for a day or two. We are trying to resist the treats that can be bought in the Kigali supermarkets until we are absolutely desperate.

Just as we were about to eat, our landlord who lives in the big house next door rang up and invited us on the spot to visit him. We went round a few minutes later to find about twenty people having a great time with their very generous host. Meal and plenty of drink was provided. It was a celebration because the landlord had presented a cow to someone in his family. There were many speeches in Kinyarwanda and much jollity. We were made really welcome. At around 9pm everyone stood and prayed and departed. There’s a first time for everything. So we had the special treats for breakfast and lunch today. Tonight I’m going to experiment with my first spaghetti bolognaise and roti (chapatti) made with the best cuts from a tin of corned beef!

To see the pictures of Byumba, click on the picture below……

One last thing, we invested in a plate rack for the washing up. What luxury! Mary has just tried to convince the domestique that it is for drying and not for storing plates etc. I’m not sure she managed but time will tell!

Work eventually taking off!

Looking at resources Room
This week has been an eventful and interesting week which has kept us busy with a few frustrations and also satisfaction of a job well done. In principal, we should only spend a short  time each week in the office and the rest should be in the field visiting schools, advising and training etc. It’s taken a while but we finally managed to get started doing this during this week.

Primary 6
We have to have foreigner’s ID card – Green Card – so the week started with getting all the bits and pieces and copying passports to arrange that. Mary went off to Kibungo, about two hours away by bus, near the Tanzanian border to meet up with two other VSOs who were doing the same job as her. She shadowed them for the day and came back in the evening. The next day, she went to a school to observe a couple of lessons but found all the teachers but two were not there because of elections. The children were there though. So she arranged to come back the next day when she managed to do the observations. She observed two lessons both of which were of a good standard and one was very good – impressive considering the class size of 45 and the lack of resources and conditions.

Heads' Exam
I started off the week having been asked to prepare an exam for prospective HTs who would be appointed to the 9 Year basic education schools which had been extended from primary schools – P1 – P6 + S1 – S3 (years 1 to 9). This would necessitate a lot of moving around of HTs in the District. The exam was one hour long with two questions on Leadership and Management and Monitoring and Evaluation. The next day was the exam. There were 101 applicants and all were examined. Security was very good and, although the exam was in their 2nd or 3rd language English, the standard for many was quite high. A group of us marked the papers and selected the 45 candidates who would go on to the next round, That evening we tried our first local restaurant which was a great success except for the violent thunder storm when we were going home. We almost waited until it finished but made a wise decision because it was still raging at 2am!

The next day was the interviews. All arrived on time and there were two interview panels of four and about 10 – 15 minutes each for the candidates to answer questions. Decisions were made the same day and the teachers who were successful informed. They will have a handover period of a couple of days this week and will probably start next week. Things happen fast in Rwanda.

The next day we went to a primary school where the previous volunteer had worked. It’s a UNICEF child friendly school. It necessitated a bus ride to another village and then a 3 km moto ride. I’m not too sure about them yet and “Genda Buhorro” (Drive slowly) is at top of my vocab list. Mary seems to like them but I think it’s something to do with needing to feel “in control” for me. I’m sure it will get better but driving at speed next to the ditch with a 300 ft drop does not fill me with excitement. Cowardly or just holding on to life!!!! I will let you decide. VSO helmets helped though – at least the brain area is protected.

However, back to the school. An interesting and well run place with lots of vibrancy and innovative methods and the children definitely under the thumb. However, yet again, there were very few teachers there because they were doing something relating to elections.

The pictures speak for themselves. Just click on the picture below for a view of the school.

On Friday we got wind that the schools were closed for elections and we asked if the office would be open. “Yes” we were told by two different officers. So this morning off we went at the usual time, waited and waited and then texted and were told to go home. We weren’t the only VSOs in this situation. VSO flexibility rules OK! So, hence the writing of the blog during the day on a Monday!
Marking Exams

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Latest News

If you want to know what we've been up to on a
just click on the tab above.

Just a little bit about work

Preparing the Timetable
The first two weeks we have been reading, reading reading !!!! meeting people, meeting people, meeting people!!!! It's normally like that at the beginning of a placement until you find your feet. We work in a very small but busy office and the staff have much to do. Things are looking up because now we have a list of schools and we have learned about some of the protocols and have started visiting schools and speaking with Headteachers.

In Rwanda, primary schools do double shifts to reduce class sizes, so there are two cohorts of children - one in the morning and one in the afternoon. There are some new schools with nine years basic education - Groupe Scolaire and the secondary departments work through the day withouit double shifting. We visited a primary school with a headteacher with amazing enthusiasm and such happy children with the biggest smiles you have ever seen. Our spirits have been seriously lifted by starting to do what we came here to do. We have both made appointments to do specific work in certain schools so slowly it is starting to take off.

Next week, Mary will be going to Kibungo to meet with two more experienced volunteers to shadow there work for a day and I will have some work to do with potential Group Scolaire Headteachers.

VSO Programme Office

Map of Rwanda with locations of all the volunteers.
We are on the right, three from the top.
Just to prove we are here!!!!
Every VSO country has a Programme Office with VSO staff mainly from the country. Rwanda's programme Office is a little way outside the capital city centre in Remera. It's a fairly large building with quite a lot of staff. The Programme in Rwanda is bigger than that of our previous placement in Guyana. The staff organise the placements andf look after the welfare of the volunteers. We had to go there last week to collect our work visas so that we could get a Green Card which is the ID for foreiners and so that we could fregister in our local community.
Mary browses for books in the Resources Room

Rwamagana Town Centre

 After the trip to the lake yesterday, two of the volunteers stayed in our house overnight. It's a tight squeeze and the toilet facilities are not good but what the heck, we are VSOs. I've been into town three times so far today - only a few minutes walk from home. Firstly to see thenm both of them off and secondly to do a bit of shopping. So this is what it looks like - the town centre of Rwamagana where we live. It has an indoor market which mainly sells fruit and vegetables and clothes, household things etc and around the edge are dozens of shops selling everything from bicycles, househol;d goods, food etc etc. You generally have to go right into the shop to see what it sells but lots of things are available here and we are thankful that we are in a town which has lots of facilities and plenty of food.

To see some pictures of the town, click on the link below........

Rwamagana Town

Outside our main gate

Day out to Lake Muhazi

Lake Muhazi
A couple of weeks ago, we were in Kigali and we met up with two volunteers who had arrived in September - Louise and Cathy. They suggested going to the lake which is only about half an hour away from us - Lake Muhazi. As a few other voluntees fouind out about the trip, the group grew and in the end there were about ten of us. Two minibuses later we were at the resort - a beautiful large lake which goes from West to East which was slightly North East of Rwamagana. It's a huge lake and we could only see a small part of it. We had a meal and some great chat, catching up on what everyone had been doing. The weather was kind to us for the first few hours and then we had a great storm.

Getting home was a bit of a problem. Being late afternoon, there were few minibuses which were not few but we eventually made it on a bus whch had seen better days but which got us home and took us right to the market - pouring rain and refreshed, we had had a great day in very beautiful surroundings.

Relaxing by the Lake

Friday, February 4, 2011

Pictures of the first few weeks

We've put together a few pictures of the first few weeks......

Just click on the picture to see them.
First 3 weeks in Rwanda

Second day off this week

View from outside the house
It’s Friday 4th February and believe it or not it is our second day off work this week. A three day week sounds about right to me and we are both delighted to be resting because we are very tired. The initial stages of getting used to a new culture and ways of doing things can be quite exhausting! But after a good night’s sleep we are raring to go for our day off. We’ll use today to catch up with our communication, so if you wrote and haven’t heard from us, maybe it will happen soon. Tuesday was Heroes Day (sounds fairly obvious what is being commemorated there) and today is local elections so everything seems to close down. We hope there will be no trouble. We know that the Mayors are up for election so we may have a new administration in the district and all that that means.

So far the work days have been long from 7am until 5pm which means getting up at 5-30am. We are using the time to read all the paperwork from the previous volunteer of Mary’s post, VSO documentation, Ministry documents and anything we can find to put the jigsaw together of what is going on here. We work about 15 minutes away with a very pleasant and rural walk from our home. Unfortunately, the Education Department is very tight for space and we have to share a desk at the moment but all that will change because the bulk of our time will be on the road, visiting schools, supporting, training and generally doing whatever we can to be of assistance. We are learning so much from the experience and certainly in many respects we have got a lot to learn about the importance of life’s priorities. It is an amazing experience for us so far and, just as I said in the last post, the people have been so welcoming and we have been overwhelmed by our acceptance in the community.

We are building up the social life, despite being the only VSOs in the town so it is good that we have each other. There are a few Peace Corps but we haven’t really made contact yet. On Tuesday, our nearest VSO, Camilla, who works in the Teacher Training College for Primary Teachers, came to see us. She braved a moto for the first time so the next day we decided to do the same. However, her moto ride was 50 minutes each way over rough ground and ours just 5 minutes on a flat road – the joys of being young. But we will have to build up to those dizzy heights or we won’t be able to do the job. This weekend, three short term volunteers will come to Rwamagana, Neil, Sarah and David, all in Education. On Sunday we have an invite to a party from one of the District Officers. The next weekend we will meet up with another volunteer from Gitarama on the other side of Kigali. So, at the moment, there’s lots to do. Just watch this space.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Introduction to Work

Officially we started work last Monday but we were thrown into it the previous Wednesday. We were brought to Rwamagana by the Headteacher of a local school and one of his teachers. They were amazingly helpful and really helped us to solve a few of the problems we encountered. So, needless to say, this was the first school we visited – three days on the run!! On the first day we were shown around by one of the teachers who spoke perfect English – a real bonus. The school is HVP Gatarara – Ecoles pour les Aveugles – the only school for the blind in the country which takes children from the full age range in including some adults from all over Rwanda and even some from Burundi. Children are taught in small classes of around 12 and all have their own Braille machines. Although a little noisy with the machines, real learning is taking place and the results for the school are excellent – a triumph for the staff.
On Thursday, we were invited to a meeting of the Primary School Headteachers at which we were introduced and we said a little about ourselves. I took the bull by the horns and did half of my bit in French – my first real experience of public speaking in another language. They seemed to understand so that couldn’t have been that bad. The meeting was held mainly in Kinyarwandan so not much else was understood by us but a few bits were translated so we got the gist.
On Friday, we went to the office and then back to the school for a big televised meeting of officers from all over the different districts of the country, representatives from the Ministry of Education (Mineduc) and the Kigali Institute of Education (KIE) where secondary school teachers are trained to degree level to obtain Rwandan QTS. The purpose of the gathering of around 50 people was to demonstrate that the visually impaired were entailed to and could have a good education AND achieve good results. The assembled delegates could not help to be impressed after their visit to the classrooms, resource centre, dormitories and other facilities and hopefully they will start to roll out other schools offering the same kind of education. The highlight for me was seeing older boys playing Goal Ball with a very wide goal, three a side and a ball which made a tinkling sound when it moved. The accuracy was amazing. I felt ashamed of my former football skills!
Last Wednesday we visited the school next door which is an all age Groupe Scolaire School with children from 3 – 15 in maternelle, primaire and secondaire departments. The welcome was really great and the children were very interested to see us – so polite and responsive at all levels if not a little wide eyed at seeing the two white strangers from the UK. There were around 50 in a class and every class had a teacher.

So that’s the first week completed. Our jobs will become more varied from now on (we hope) as we visit schools and we should have a reasonable amount of autonomy in what we do. At the moment the office is very busy with the registration of around 100 new teachers in the district who are queuing to get their papers sorted out.

Children from Rwamagana Groupe Scolaire