A team of retired teachers has recently returned from Rwanda, after spending two weeks working in schools in and around the capital, Kigali. Four from Ely diocese and two from Sheffield, we are all members of a small charitable organisation called SVN (Senior Volunteer Network) which enables retired Christian teachers to offer support and advice to schools around the world. It was through my experience with SVN in Zambia that Bishop Stephen asked me to explore the possibility of doing similar work with our link diocese in Rwanda.
The first school in this year’s programme was in a rural area called Nyarufunzo, where the school is built on a hillside, so steep that those of us unused to walking uphill thought we may have to climb up on our hands and knees! Classes ranged from nursery to third year secondary. So many pupils need primary education that shift systems are commonplace half come in the morning starting at 7am, the other half come at midday. Even then, it is not unusual for classes to exceed 60 pupils. We went to a range of other schools, disappearing in different directions after breakfast each morning and coming back late afternoon to share our experiences and to pray together for the staff and children we had met.
Three primary schools within our diocese have made links with schools in or near Kigali. St. Mary’s Primary Academy in St. Neots is linked with Solid Foundation Primary school, which is on the same site as the Cathedral in Kigali. I took gifts from St Neots to the children in the partner school and spent a lovely morning with them as they wrote prayers which I have brought back with me.
St. Andrew’s Primary in Soham is linked with Nyamata Bright School some 20 km form Kigali, and the children there were eager to have news of their English friends. Dry Drayton Primary School is the latest to link with a school near Kigali. They sent scrapbooks about their school and local area with me to give to their partner school in rural Gahanga. The children there were amazed when they discovered that their class of 99 children is twice the size of the WHOLE school in Dry Drayton! They wrote letters to their new friends and all hope the link will flourish.
It is hard to imagine the challenges that both teachers and children have to encounter simply to get to school and home again each day. Working without resources that we take for granted makes their tasks especially difficult. One course book, a dusty blackboard, a duster shared between classes for cleaning the boards, desks made for two pupils shared by four in hot, overcrowded classrooms, small children in classrooms with no equipment apart from a chair to sit on this is education in Rwanda, paid for by parents who often have to choose which child goes to school this term, or who have to borrow from a local savings scheme to buy the obligatory uniform. But education is a priority for every family, and they all do their utmost to see their children receive the best they can afford.
It is a privilege for us to go and help out, taking resources to support the teachers and fun activities for the children to experience, showing our friends that we care about them and that we remember them in our prayers every day.
With thanks from Ann for writing this reflection.