Since my holiday at Easter time, life has been quite varied here in Rwanda – along with the weather, the electricity supply and the internet connection.
For three days I was part of the team, training 12 new LSA’s (Learning Support Assistants) and 48 teachers in very basic analysis of Special Needs in primary school children, planning their Education Plans and exploring strategies to use to support them. Part of the training involves discussing attitudes towards disability, which are still quite negative and entrenched in the rural communities here.
Then, I went to Umutara for two weeks, the longest period that I have been there for some time. Unfortunately, my visit coincided with the worst period of electricity cuts they had had since my arrival 15 months before – the longest period without electricity being 40 hrs. It was a widespread cut, so there was no point in getting in the car to travel to the next town to charge electrical items, so everyone was out of computer battery and their phones were flat. It was the rainy season, so whether the lightning struck something important, I don’t know – but it was certainly inconvenient at best, and rather frustrating! The only good thing, was that I had just purchased 3 small portable solar lights that I had seen being used in one of the hotels I stay in – so the children had a light in their dormitories in the evening and extra lighting in the Refectory. They were VERY popular!
One of the jobs on my ‘To Do’ list while I was there was to help them prepare for the first round of the ‘Education Innovation Fare’ to be held in Nyagatare on 29th May.
Dominique and the Team celebrating their success at the Eastern Region Education Innovation Fare. That is Frank holding the certificate.
This is a joint initiative by VSO and the British Council, to find and encourage innovation in the education system. So we made 3 advertising rice sacks to hang above their display and put together a slide show of the things that happen at Umutara. I would not be around for the actual day, as some of my family were due to visit me at that time – and was really excited yesterday to hear that they came second in the whole Eastern Region and will be going to the Final event in Kigali later in the year. Umutara are on the Rwanda map!!
Also, during this visit to Umutara, Yvonne came to do the second part of her ‘Writers Workshop’ and the end result was an introductory school book for new children and parents. When a child comes to the school at first, they usually cannot communicate, so they don’t know what is happening and what will happen next.
‘Welcome to Umutara Deaf School’. Our home made book for new children and their families.
Who are these people, why are Mummy and Daddy leaving, will I ever see them again- will be questions they cannot utter and there will be answers they cannot understand. So we made a 12 page book with pictures hoping to help the children at least be familiar with the faces of the people at the school, the environment and understand that they will meet their parents again.
Then Claude came to do some IT training for 2 days. He came all the way from Kigali – 4 hr trip – and his visit coincided with the electricity cuts – so he only managed 2 hrs training with the teachers! It was very frustrating for everyone, but he has made good contact with Omar, who is very keen on IT training, so I hope that they will be able to keep in touch and improve the facilities here for both the children and the teachers – most of whom have never touched at computer.
As well as this, my sister had donated some money toward the library facilities at the school, so we bought paint, cushions, material, wood for bookshelves and lots of books, and one of the small rooms is now the Library.
P1 children enjoying looking at the books in the new, nearly finished Library. Yes – that’s Danniel at the front – busy looking at the book, but wanting to communicate with me! I had to show a few of the children how to turn the pages over – they had never held a book before.
Back in Kigali, my main aim was to organise a Workshop /Conference for all of the Centres involved with teaching Deaf children, as they have never all got together and many of them don’t know each other’s centre exists. This was actually more difficult/stressful than I thought it was going to be – mostly because of the poor support from the VSO office here – which has been going through a period of transition, and I won’t say any more! I had hoped for around 40 people to attend, but in the end there were 22. Some of the Centres did not get the invite at all, which rather messed up the initial concept! However, the people who did attend were really great, participated enthusiastically, and we were really pleased that someone from REB (Rwandan Education Board) attended for the whole day, and was surprised to hear that deaf children have difficulties taking exams written for hearing children and asked the participants to inform him in detail of the problems they have. As I have mentioned before, deaf education here is not funded by the government, so I don’t think he had ever considered the difficulties of being deaf in the school environment.
During the preparation period for this Workshop, I squeezed in a 2 day visit to Nyabihu, as I had not been there since before the Easter break. I went with Louis to look at the construction of a new school near Musanze, which has been designed creatively, and we discussed with the company who are managing the build, the possibility of using their expertise when we build the new Centre in Nyabihu. – exciting!
I also wanted to see how Louis had coped with the influx of 40 new children at the beginning of May, the direct result of them getting some permanent funding for the running costs of the Centre from Chance for Childhood. This is also very exciting – if accompanied by many headaches!! To go from 69 children to 109 almost overnight takes a lot of organising. New beds to be ordered and made, new bedding to be bought, new uniforms to be made, new school desks to be ordered and made, new sleeping accommodation to be found, another cook, another guard, bigger pans for cooking, new teachers to be employed, more plates, ………..
Louis explained to me the main problem they had at the end of the first day.
The new children looking smart in the school uniforms made for them at the Centre, with some of their teachers.
Forty children arrived with their parents within a few hours. The parents had to fill in forms – name, age etc etc then they left. And they had 40 children – who cannot read, have no way of communicating and actually don’t know their own names!! Most of them had never been farther than the next village. Louis wanted to give the children a sign name each – but who was who? Can you imagine that?
Luckily, most of them had a ‘mutuelle’ health insurance card, with their picture on – so they were able to match the children with their pictures. They then assigned one of the older children to each new one, and let the older child choose a sign name for the new one. That child then became their ‘Carer’, helping the child to find the toilet, where to put their things, which was their bed, where to sit for meals, and helping them to learn their sign name. When I first met them, they had only been in school a week, but some were already using their sign name and all looked happy and settled.
Then some of my family came for a week’s whistle stop tour of Rwanda – one of my sons, his wife and two grandchildren – (aged 6 and 7) whom I had not seen for 11 months!
A Goliath Heron in a tree top at Akagera park – they reach 60 inches! Im not sure how the tree took the weight!
So I took some time off and we visited Akagera Park, spent some time in Kigali, stopped at the Nyabihu Centre for lunch and then spent two days by Lake Kivu in the North West. The sky was clear on the drive to Kivu and we were able to see in the distance a smoking volcano which is just inside the Congo. Quite something for two young children from England to see. While at Nyabihu, the deaf children were amazed to see white children – as they had only ever seen white adults before, but they managed to communicate with each other using a few signs, and writing in English. They kept touching their hair, which one of my grandchildren didn’t like – but how different their hair is, long, smooth and fair!
So now I have about 6 weeks left in Rwanda. So there wont be many more Blogs from here from me. I am ready to come home, – it’s good, – you know when the time has come. I will be sad to leave of course, I now have so many friends, and my commitment to building a new Centre in Nyabihu is undiminished – but I can do that from England, and given the internet connection here – I think it will be a lot easier from there.
Children at Nyabihu with my granddaughter. A bit of signing, a bit of writing in English. Communication was possible.