It’s now seven months since I left Rwanda, and I have just returned from a three week ‘holiday’ back to see how things have moved on since my time there, and of course, to see all the people I have learned to love in the last two years.
February seemed a good time to go – still grey, cold and wet in England, and the start of the new academic year in sunny Rwanda. I arrived courtesy of Turkish Airline, which was great by the way, at 1am, and took a taxi to my old house in Kigali where I was warmly welcomed by Emmanuel, the night guard. Sleep followed in my friend Yvonne’s old room. The next morning, I woke to the sound of bird song and I remembered one of the reasons why I loved Rwanda so much, but I also remembered one of the reasons why living here was difficult, as there was no water in the taps!!
Dominique had been in Kigali for a meeting so stayed to drive me to Umutara and Louis made the journey from Musanze to Kigali just to welcome me back. I was very touched. We had a fanta together and chatted for an hour or so, then Dominique and I headed for Umutara.
I kept wondering about my feelings, how did I feel about being back, travelling the roads that I had driven down so often in my little car? In many ways, it felt as though I had never been away. The beauty of the countryside filled me with warmth; the welcome of the children, even ones I didn’t know, made my heart leap with emotion; the joy of sharing in other people’s lives is such a privilege. On some days though, I remembered how hard it was being here, the loneliness, the dust, the discomfort, the poor internet connection that meant you couldn’t contact people at home, or send an email. I knew that I had made the right decision for myself in coming back last July.
My three weeks ‘holiday’, which was the original plan, had somehow turned into more of a continuation of the work that I had left! I found that the first three days were spent in helping Dominique re write a report for VSO, and one whole day was spent trying to attach pictures to the report and send it to Kigali! Oh, for faster internet!!
The new Vocational Centre, funded by ‘A Better World’. Not quite finished, – you can see the woodwork construction area on the right, where the room is not yet on. This building will house a shop, hairdressers, sewing room, and computer suite. (Computers provided by friends from the UK) This building is by a major ‘road’ to the local Council offices, so seen by a lot of local people.
Bottom bunk catch up! Children who haven’t seen each other for three months enjoying some time together in the girls dorm.
And there were changes everywhere; better road surfaces, new buildings, more traffic in Kigali. Rwanda had not stood still in the 6 months I had been away. And at Umutara, there were new buildings too. A Better World, a Canadian charity, www.abwcanada.ca have funded the building of a vocational centre, which is under construction at the moment. It will house a shop, a furniture workshop, a sewing room, a computer room (with the laptop computers I have brought out all donated from people in England) and a hairdressing ‘salon’. You have to admire Dominique, – he has vision and doesn’t stand still. His main problem though is still finding funds for the running costs of the school:- teachers’ salaries and covering food costs being to two highest costs. This term there are 85 children, 8 new P1 pupils. Seven are deaf, and there is one little girl, Sonia, who isn’t deaf, but has Downs Syndrome and doesn’t talk. Maybe sign language can help her.
I spent a few hours with Constance, the P1 teacher and her class. I was so thrilled to see her using the play materials brought out by my friends over a year ago, to help the children develop their pre-school skills and settle into a school routine. These children are aged between 5 and 12, and have never been to school. They all come from very poor backgrounds and the families cannot contribute to their fees. Constance has written their names on the desks, and we spent some time teaching them their sign names. Can you imagine being 12 and not knowing your name or have any sign that differentiates you from someone else?
The teacher helping Rebecca to get her fingers into the ‘R’ shape, so that she can learn her new sign name.
Cracked it! She knows her sign name.
Day two. Learning to sign ‘Good Morning’.
It was lovely to spend time with Dominique and his family. His youngest child is now 18 months old and walking. She screamed at me every time I got near – well, I do look VERY white! It was lovely to see her signing! She is hearing, but living in a school for the Deaf, she has picked it up – Oh to be able to run a pre-school group for Deaf children here! Another of Dominique’s dreams.
Then came a visit to Nyabihu. The bus journey brought back many memories, and again I was stunned by the beauty of this country.
It was such a joy to meet up with Louis, the staff and children at the Centre. A lot has changed at Nyabihu, thanks to the involvement of Chance for Childhood. There are now 130 children at the school and more teachers and support staff. This term they welcomed 30 new pupils into P1. The main thing that hasn’t changed though is the accommodation – BUT, at last things are moving in the right direction towards the building of the new Centre.
The paper work for land registration has been approved – and we have found an English architect, with experience of building in Uganda. I happened to be in Rwanda at the same time as him, and we met up to look at the initial plans. SO exciting! Now, the Rwandan contractors have to be chosen.
Louis standing in the middle of the piece of land for the new Centre, which is now twice the size of the original plot.
Stephen, the architect, with Innocent from C4C and Pacifique, a local Construction Engineer, discussing the plans for the new school. Exciting!
Playing games with some of the 130 children that now use this playground. The only play area on the present site.
Louis also entered a competition for funding for ICT projects to help children out of poverty – and won £14,000! He was able to enter the competition because he showed the work he has been doing with deaf pupils with the few second hand computers that my lovely friends in England had sent out for the school. He is now able to buy 8 more new laptop computers, employ an ICT teacher, build computer desks, repair the older computers and have money left for further ICT projects. He too, is a man with vision and energy!
Louis, with the cheque for £14,000 he has won from the Tigo competition.
The new computer teacher, paid for by the Tigo competition fund.
The new computer suite, with 16 computers. half of them provided by my friends in the UK and the others, much newer, bought from the competition winnings. Louis, and his son Eric, are in the background.
My visit also coincided with that of one of the Trustees of www.signhealth.org.uk, and we were able to meet with various groups in Rwanda interested in supporting deaf and deaf blind people. It was again very exciting to see people meeting together and talking about developing a ‘Whole Country Strategy’ for the support of these very vulnerable groups. This is something that couldn’t have happened two years ago, but now, because of the work of VSO, and other groups, the disjointed, individualistic work that was happening in the country, is beginning to mould into an understanding that a whole country policy is possible. I can see now that I have been very privileged to have been in Rwanda at an important stage in this developmental process. One fear of development work, is that when you go away, things revert to how they were before – I don’t think that will happen here. The Rwandans have caught the vision, though we have yet to convince the Government that investment in the specialist education of these groups is needed! I remain optimistic that this will come – eventually!
Another lovely co-incidence was that I was in Rwanda at the same time that my German friend Marian arranged her ‘Christmas Meal’ for all of the Nyabihu children! The whole school made the 3 mile journey to a local restaurant, and were treated to a wonderful traditional Rwandan spread. We took the little ones in cars, – several journeys, – and the older ones walked. It was a great occasion!
The school chidlren arriving at the Restaurant for their Christmas meal, paid for by Marian. They walked the three miles from school to the Restaurant.
The older chidlren serving the younger. A new meaning to the phrase, ‘food chain’.
Marian, with Louis.
My one luxury of this trip, was an overnight stay at Inzu Lodge – one of my favourite places in Rwanda on the shores of Lake Kivu. I stayed with Marian in one of the tents, and we had a short twilight trip out on the lake to one of the traditional fishing boats. Magical!
Lighting up to attract the fish on a traditional fishing boat on Lake Kivu
The three weeks passed quickly, and I have only been able to tell you about a fraction of the feelings, people and events that made up this unforgettable time. I know that I will be back again – maybe for the opening of the first building phase of the new Centre at Nyabihu!