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Thursday14November2019
What a future for Rwanda
Monday, 31 January 2011 Written by Cherie Plamping

Kakva budućnost za RuanduJayne Carlielle and I (Cherie Plamping) were recruited by Advanced Consulting for Education (ACE), which is based in Missisauga, Ontario, Canada to teach in Kivumu at the Father Vjeko Vocational School. ACE provided our transportation, insurance and the course materials, and Jayne and I volunteered our time. The Franciscan Friary at Kivumu, of which the school is a part, provided our accommodation and food, as well as a tremendous amount of support and after hours recreation. After teaching for three weeks, we had a nine hour layover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on the way home to Canada. While there, we decided to do something constructive to pass the time and started to reminisce about the incredible journey we had just taken. Here are some of the thoughts we had.

The teaching challenges occupied our thoughts for the most part, as teaching was what we were there to do. At the end of each day, Jayne and I would sit outside one of our rooms and reflect on what had happened. We bounced ideas off each other and discussed what had worked and what hadn’t and how we could adjust our lessons to fit the needs of these particular students. Jayne worked with Vocational school trainees who had a bare minimum of English, as well as with Vocational teachers who had one or two levels higher. I, on the other hand, worked with Primary and Secondary school teachers, a priest, and a Secretary and three teachers from the Vocational school, all of whom had varying levels from Upper Beginner to Intermediate.

Kakva budućnost za RuanduKakva budućnost za Ruandu

With such a variety of levels and occupations, it was hard to determine the students’ needs; however, we persevered and I think our students came away with a better sense of the English language and how to use it in their classrooms and jobs. As all subjects in school must now be taught in English, our students had as much practice as was possible to achieve in a 105-hour course. Jayne focussed more on English as a Second/Alternate Language (ESL) and I concentrated more on Teaching Methods (HOW they could teach English in their classrooms).

Kakva budućnost za RuanduAside from the curriculum and multiple level challenges, we also ran into some basic classroom challenges. We in the West are used to whiteboards and whiteboard markers. In a country like Rwanda, these are too expensive to maintain. Teachers have to contend with homemade blackboards that aren’t smooth. The chalk breaks easily and is also extremely dusty and everything, including the teacher gets covered. Teachers, however, wear white lab coats as a sign of their status, and this is a very practical thing to do. Classrooms have four windows and each window opens to let in a cross breeze.

Unfortunately, when the sun isn’t shining or it is raining, the rooms are very dark as there is no electricity for lights. On our last day we had a funny experience when it rained ‘cats and dogs’. I was trying to get the students to fill out course evaluations and they could hardly make out what was written on their papers because it was so dark. In addition, the rain was pouring down on the tin roofs and the noise was deafening! Next door, Jayne wisely gave up and her students started to dance, sing and one student drummed. Our end of course party had begun!

Other than these considerations, Jayne and I had to gain the students’ confidence. They like to please and will tell the teacher the answer s/he thinks you want to hear. They don’t like asking questions as it is considered rude and they certainly don’t like voicing their opinions. We had to really work on critical thinking and expressing themselves and I think we achieved a modicum of success. The students also tended to speak extremely quietly and we constantly had to stand right next to them to hear what they had to say. Jayne’s students didn’t like group work, but mine did, and I found that the students would open up so much more when put in pairs or groups of three or four.

Kakva budućnost za Ruandu

A huge challenge for the teachers in the villages is the poverty that exists. Students eat maybe 2-4 times per week and so constantly come to school hungry. Because of this, you can imagine how difficult it is for a student to think or process information. At the Father Vjeko Vocational Centre, lunch is provided every day, which makes a huge difference to the students’ productivity. My teachers talked a lot about how difficult it was to engage their students. The children’s only thought was of their empty bellies. We worked on a lot of activities to raise the energy level in their classrooms in order to motivate the students. On the last Thursday of the course, we took half an hour to visit the Kivumu Primary School where five of my students taught. Most of them had rearranged their classrooms to provide room for the students to play games, which was something we had worked on in our classes. The main focus of my course was to ensure all teaching methods would be practical and work in the teachers’ classrooms.

Kakva budućnost za RuanduLast year (September, October and November), the rainy season was late and then it extended into what would normally be the dry season. The crops didn’t grow well and because of the rain, they are now being ruined. As a result, there will be little food for the next few months. The parish priest at the Friary, Father Kisito mentioned to us that he expects a number of people to die in the next few months due to starvation. It is hard for a Canadian to imagine!!! Whatever support the Friary gets, they use for the people. They are supported by other Catholic communities, especially in Germany and here in Canada, a container of resources was sent. However, this will hardly be enough with the crop failures. In addition, the Friary supports many students who go to the Vocational school. At a minimum of $330 school fees per year, a lot of money is needed to help these people get an education that will enable them to support themselves and a family.

We saw many people coming to the Friary every day trying to get support. We also had vendors coming to sell us things on an almost daily basis in order that they might collect enough for their children’s school fees. In Canada, children normally start grade one at five to six years of age. It doesn’t always work that way in the villages of Rwanda. Children go to school when their parents have the school fees. This could mean that a child doesn’t start attending school until s/he is ten. In addition, a child might have a lapse of a year or two when s/he doesn’t go to school because the parents couldn’t come up with the fees for that particular year. Consequently, there might be many age groups in each class.

Kakva budućnost za RuanduOn a more positive note, we had very motivated students. There were no discipline problems, the students were desperate to learn, and were very cooperative. We were able to use some of the books from the Library in order to have our students read (these books came in the Canadian container). Most students don’t have access to books, so Jayne and I had our students read at least 1-2 books and then they discussed them with their classmates. We had to be careful of the books we chose as some were culturally inappropriate. A kitchen is a pot on a wood fire. The water tap doesn’t run; one must walk 1-2 km to a water pump and collect it in a jerry can and then carry it back on his/her head. We found that a lot of children’s books worked well. The Rwandan culture is an oral one, not a visual one. Students are amazing in that they can memorize so easily. They also loved playing games. At every break, they were out playing soccer in the courtyard. They also really enjoyed the games we played in class.

Simon Says and the song, Head and Shoulders went over well. Jayne and I were very impressed with how the students cleaned the classrooms as well as the boards with no urging from us. When things started to get a bit dusty or dirty from the chalk or cutting construction paper, students would ask to stay after class and they’d get out the broom and ‘go to it’. They would also get some water and wash the blackboards and clean the dusters. Remember, these people were on their ‘school break’, and yet were so dedicated that they came daily to classes in order that they might learn to be better teachers.

What an incredible experience! As teachers, we often complain about our lack of resources, having to make photocopies, lack of prep time, etc. We don’t realize how ‘the other half’ lives!!! My fondest wish is that when I start to complain about my ‘job’, I will remember the wonderful Rwandan teachers I taught, and what they have to contend with on a daily basis.

 
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