Dorothy Nelson in Rwanda

But, on to new things. At the end of August I will be leaving for Rwanda on a one-year placement to do roughly the same job I was doing in Eritrea. I will be working in general primary education and have been advised to take a good Maths book(!). Although much of Rwanda is post-colonial French speaking, I am told that there is more English spoken in the east of the country, where I will be working. So I shall be tri-lingual, using Kinyarwanda as well. I will be working for Kirehe district, living in Nyakarambi, which is a small town about 3 1/2 hours by bus from Kigali (the capital). Travel to visit schools is by motorbike taxi - interesting. Rwanda is described as the land of a thousand hills so I am glad I am not using a bike.

There are about 40 volunteers in Rwanda and I will be working closely with a few of them. It is a tiny country so getting about to visit people shouldn't be too difficult. Lots of people look at me and say 'Is it safe?'. Well I wouldn't be going there if it weren't. The genocide in 1994 is of course still a huge presence in everyone's mind but I am assured that the country really has moved on and it really is safe. It really does need help.

From the VSO information supplied by the Rwanda office: "Rather surprisingly for one of the poorest countries in Africa, the cost of living in Rwanda is high. This is mainly because it is still recovering from the war, when most factories and industries were destroyed, and many farms and businesses are only just returning to full productivitiy. Massive amounts of foreign assistance, in the form of donated or subsidised goods, have in many places replaced or undercut local products and services, which has pushed all prices up, while wages, especially in government jobs, remain well below the cost of living."

Perhaps offering skills rather than things is a good thing. I hope so. It is not quite the breathtaking adventure of last time, since I have already done it once, but I'm still pretty excited! I will have a local postal address but the following is the Programme office. I will be in Kigali for in-country training before leaving for Nyakarambi. Post takes about 2 weeks to reach Kigali and a further week to get out into the provinces.

VSO Programme Office
P.O. Box 4599

I will of course still be available on email at I understand the connection is a lot better than it was in Eritrea so I may even be able to Skype and send pictures. I will also have a mobile phone and will send out my Rwandan number as soon as I get it. So I hope you will all keep in touch. In Eritrea I was touched by the volume of birthday wishes I received, by post, facebook and email. Really, very much appreciated.

I will be starting a new chapter on my VSO blog, as soon as I have finished reading all the books and papers I have to get through.
With love,

From Rwanda:

Click here to see Dorothy's photos on Facebook

Monday 14th September
Dear Family and all,
I have made it to my placement in Nyakarambi and am installed in my little house in the centre of the village. It has a big front room, two bedrooms and a food store and 'bathroom'. The bathroom has a shower base with a drain that water runs away in. That's it. The food store is just a little square room but the place to actually do cooking is in a separate building outside the back door. At the moment it has two kerosene stoves but I am hoping to get a charcoal or wood burner since this is what my domestique would prefer. She is wonderful, quite young (it is not polite to ask ages) and very hardworking. She reorganised the house for me on Friday and left me a lovely meal. I shall have to explain that I don't normally eat enough for 4!! We shared her dishes with some made by Sonya's domestique between 4 of us and had enough over for Christine and me to have lunch on Saturday.

I have no running water as the tap in the garden is broken so I get all my water in jerry cans from next door. My solar electricity is quite good. I have lights in every room and have been able to charge up my
phone and speaker batteries. By saving up a whole day's power I even charged the computer. I can do all these things at the District Office as they have generators. The only drawback is that the unit peeps in the mornings, sometimes starting at 4.30 am. Today it started about 6.30. It goes on for about 10 minutes, then stops for a little while before starting again. Very odd. I shall get someone to look at it.

Sending stuff to me is a bit more difficult than in Eritrea as I am so far from Kigali but little treats of chocolate, spices, drinks etc would be welcome. Most important though is news and friendly messages. I love to hear from you as often as possible. We have already done some visiting since being here. I have met Andy, a Canadian volunteer with World Teach who teaches in Rusumo High School. He lives almost next door to me. Sonya is another VSO living up the hill from here about 20 minutes walk away, almost next to the office where we are both based. She has been wonderful showing us around and introducing us to lots of people in the village, so I have met Museferi who runs a reasonable bar, D who is the best moto taxi driver around and lots of people in the District Office whom I have not yet really sorted out. Christine is a French Canadian volunteer who arrived with me. She is based at Nyamugari, about 10km from here. We will probably be doing quite a lot of work together.

Moto taxis are a very usual form of transport here. The drivers have to buy a very expensive licence, carry a second helmet and wear distinctive yellow and green jackets with their registration and phone numbers. I thought they were going to be terrifying but actually I feel pretty safe as they don't go very fast - perhaps they are more considerate of the 'old muzungu'. Muzungu just means white person and sometimes is used that way but it can also mean white person with money or just be an insult.

I have visited Rusumo Falls at the border with Tanzania - it is about 15km away. The river Akagera is wide, quite fast and very brown, with lots of tree debris floating. I think it must be quite wild higher up. The falls are very dramatic with spray leaping 20 feet into the air. If I have managed to load up the pictures, you will see what I mean. We also went to Nyarubuye, a hair-raising 40 minute ride away on dirt roads. The scenery was breath-taking. It is the site of one of the more horrible atrocities of the genocide and is maintained as a memorial. There is a huge brick church and other rooms around forming the church compound. The memorial gardens are well tended and full of flowers. We were shown around by a caretaker who sadly spoke no English or French. Sonya had been before and could explain some of it and D did his best to help with the translation. I don't think I will ever be able to understand what happened in this country. It is different now, moving forward on pretty rapid development, which is
being handled moderately well I think.

I like this place much better than Kigali and think I can be quite happy here. I have good neighbours and am getting the hang of my funny little house. On Saturday afternoon I was sitting on the front step with a book when next door's children appeared and sat in a row beside me. We were just about to get over initial shyness and chat when down came the rain, in bucket loads. It was the first storm I had seen complete with rolling thunder and fitful sunlight between the clouds. It lasted about an hour. I had to turn my music off as I couldn't hear it at all above the sound of water on my galvanised roof.

This week I am working on preparations for the REAP Project which aims to improve the standard of teachers' English. Every teacher will do a test and then be placed in classes according to level. It sounds very simple and almost certainly won't be! This follows from the Government announcement last year that education will henceforth be in English instead of French. Just like that. At the same time they have announced that Basic Education 'national minimum entitlement' is extended from 6 years to 9. This initiative has been going on for a few years but is now to be speeded up. I am also drawing up a list of schools to visit and questions to ask when I get there. So my bike helmet will get lots of use. I have a VSO issue helmet that I brought from UK. Everyone seems to find it quite funny but the ones the moto drivers have are often too big and roll around on top of your head in a quite alarming way. So I shall provide amusement everywhere I go. There are about 50 primary schools in the District so I will have to cut it down to what I can actually manage in terms of providing help that will be of lasting use.
Love to you all

29 September 2009

To start, a little anecdote: Anna was being shown around a school. When she entered a class with a teacher, the children as always stood and chanted "Good morning, teacher." The teacher said, "You must greet our guest." Bewildered faces. They didn't know this one. Eventually one tiny girl, all alone, said, "Good morning, white people." Well, what else was she to do??

I still delight with amazement at the night sky. The stars are brilliant, the moonlight apparently almost blinding some nights. Everything in Nyakarambi stops showing light at 10 pm so I often just stand and gaze. The Milky Way is beautiful!!

REAP is Rwanda English in Action Project. A year ago the government decided, partly for political reasons, and partly because the modern international language is English, that all education henceforth would be in English, not French as it had been. Rwanda wants to be part of the East African community which is Anglophone. It also wants to join the Commonwealth. And the French are not exactly flavour of the month
after their shameful behaviour in 1994. So, 9 months down the line, a bucketload of money has been found to train teachers in English. On Friday all teachers in the country took a very simple English language
test which is being marked here as I speak. They will all then be graded according to the level of English teaching they need. Then, so goes the theory, English teachers will be found to bring them all up
to standard.

At the moment I am working with one school - a Groupe Scolaire which certainly needs some help. I am staying there, with other visits out, for at least a month. It is really a Primary School with Senior 1, 2,
3 on a separate site but new rooms are being built to bring them on to the same one in January. There are some lovely committed teachers there - all pretty young, maximum experience is probably 10 years.
They like and respect the children, though they don't praise them anywhere near enough, and really want to teach, but have woefully little in the way of teaching skills. The school is barely functioning in the usual sense. Teachers sign in when they arrive, technically at 7 but actually anything up to 8. Children gather in
rows in front of the flag, do a few exercises, depending on who is with them, sing the National Anthem, without the teachers joining in, then scatter to lessons. All schools now have to work double shift, with a different set of children morning and afternoon (this is also new, as is the commitment to 9 years basic education for all). Teachers teach until their lesson is 'finished', then leave the room, so you can imagine that the timetable is pretty fictional. I have more than once counted at least 5 rooms full of children with no teacher. My input is to watch lessons, suggest simple developments, and plan formal training when I have a clearer idea of what will work and what is most urgent. On Thursday I am going to Kibungo (about
40km, 45 minutes on the bus) to join in a training session another volunteer has organised and nick all her good ideas!! Sharing is, more seriously, obviously the way to go. I have started 'English Conversation Group' which is really informal language teaching as the level is so very low. They are very keen to learn and it is a good way of getting to know trhe teachers. I have my 3 Musketeers who were assigned to look after me, have good English and are doing a wonderful job. They are friendly and kind and make it possible for me to work in the school.

I actually have 47 schools that could all share my time but that is a non-starter for me. I am busy negotiating a more intense input into far fewer schools. Teaching that I have seen is talk and chalk, children repeat and copy, complete an exercise corrected in the lesson (class size usually around 50) and then corrections written on the board, often by children called out to do so. Books are often one between 4 or 5, even when there are enough available for 1 each - teachers seem frightened of books being spoiled or lost. Other materials such as posters on the walls, computers, research books, video etc are largely only dreamed of. The walls are regularly soaked in the rainy season and inspirational materials are often purloined before they have a chance to get wet anyway - I am working on that one. Many volunteers use rice sacks and permanent markers, which I intend to try and I am also interested in trying what I saw in
Eritrea, which is paintings directly on the concrete rendered walls.

Drought in Kenya has not touched us as far as I know. Rwanda is pretty green and lush, even as now at the end of the dry season. The small rains have begun, somewaht half-heartedly so I guess the report
could change.

Reading material - I have just started re-reading War and Peace and find I don't remember it at all. We have a library of novels in the VSO office and volunteers lend freely amongst ourselves. I also read a book by Farley Mowat about the far north of Canada and the native people of the area. Some lovely stories in a book called 'The Snow Walker' Rather sad but full of stuff I didn't know and presented as if I did. Anything improving gratefully received!

Love to you all,

6 October 2009

Feliciane came in to tell me I was invited to Gatarama for the World Teachers' Day celebration at 2 pm. 12 o'clock and we are leavng for Gatarama which is the secondary half of my school. We decide to walk. Half a mile in some of the teachers are saying let's take the bus - I think they thought the (old) muzungu was not going to cope. We had a bit of a laugh as I called Bernard a wuss for not wanting to walk and had to explain the word. You try - with very limited vocabulary! We walked, which was lovely - I chatted all the way with Bernard and Emmanuel as they explained the elections and compared notes on education in respective countries. The views all the way are stunning, looking across the valleys to hills going on into the distance. It is odd to walk along and say, 'Look, there is Tanzania.' Arrived about 1.40. Perfect I thought in my European way. Oh no. Far too early, so we walk the half mile down to Rusozi to buy a drink and sit around looking at not much in particular. Back to the school for about 2.30. No headteacher so we sit around, then the staff decide to have a volleyball match - Kigina vs Gatarama. This was very good fun - rules are pretty elastic but Jonas kept the score and Kigina won which was very gratifying. Naturally the audience was about 200 by the time they finished as the village heard that the teachers were out playing and there was a white woman to stare at and shake hands with while laughing at her crummy attempts at speaking Kinyarwanda. The laughter is always good-natured and you get used to it. Actually I think most people really like it when you try to speak their language.

The celebration eventually started at 4 with good food, predictable speeches and a 'Progress in Education' prize of 30,000 Rwf for Jonas - a very popular choice. Sitting there allowing the Kinyarwanda to flow over my head, I suddenly noticed that Protogene was speaking French and looking at me. Instant speech required. I did my best and kept it short and flattering! They applauded and Protogene pointed out that the applause I received was loud and long so the speech must have been good!! Long moto ride home - I am told it is good for the core muscles if you try not to hold on too tight.

I made an improvement to my house at the weekend by buying some fabric which I have stuck to the wall in a sort of panel.. I also went to a craft shop and bought a nice elephant picture made of bamboo on paper in a sort of woven grass frame, so it is beginning to look as if I live there. I am hoping to go to a cooperative which sells traditional dung pictures which sounds disgusting but they are quite beautiful and not in the least smelly or unhygienic. The designs are geometric and very boldly coloured in reddish brown, white and black. All the dyes are naturally produced from the landscape which probably explains why they
look so good together. They are used on houses, around door and window frames. The ones sold at the cooperative are on simple wooden panels and look brilliant. We can go to see them at work if we are
early enough or later just to buy. The shop is on my way to work so I am reminded every day.

I still have Christine a Canadian volunteer living with me as her house was fit only for bats of which there were many, stinky and noisy. Sharing works pretty well.

Much love to you all

31 October 2009

Dorothy's notes in a .pdf file with photos: A primary school at Karambi

To read more of Dorothy's notes on a volunteer's life in Rwanda in 2009-10, click on:



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