Helping Rwandan Children out of Poverty

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Some of the kids from Muko School
Some of the kids from Muko School

Since this project began back in 2010, one of the main objectives of the charity is to have English teachers visit Muko School. We did manage to get two in 2011, and one this year in February. If all goes to plan, this coming November will be our most successful to date, as we are intending to take a team of five volunteers, four of whom are trained teachers including one with TEFL qualifications. These four will be working under the guidance of the school head teacher, and dean of studies; they will spend four weeks teaching the resident teachers of the school during their holiday period.

The fifth member of the group will once again (with the help of local labourers) continue with the maintenance program that is now firmly in place, the continuation of the perimeter wall having priority, Also the installation of the fresh water tanks that have previously been purchased with money donated to the charity. And there is still a lot of work to be done on the long-drop toilets. General painting, mending broken windows and doors will continue too.

All this and the general maintenance of this school in what still is a very under privileged area, still needs to be financed. Although the volunteers pay their own expenses, there is still the cost of the very enthusiastic local labour, and materials to be paid for.

If you have already donated to this project, I thank you! But more finance is always needed to allow us to continue to support this school... Please help us if you can!

Muko Classrooms needing work
Muko Classrooms needing work

In February 2015, I went to Bugarama in Southern Rwanda to teach English in St Paul Muko School. This was the first time I had taken part in such a project and I was accompanied by Dennis, who had been visiting Bugarama for several years. We flew from Heathrow to Kigali and after a long bus journey through some spectacular countryside we were greeted by Wellars and Georgine, the headmistress of the school.

On my first day in Bugarama, we were taken on a short tour of the school and we were introduced to some of the teachers. I then observed a couple of lessons and I noticed how well-behaved the students were and how motivated they seemed to be to learn English. It really struck me how difficult it must be for the pupils to concentrate in the heat and the class sizes were big. There were about 40 pupils in each class, although in each class there were 50 students on the register – it was usual for a few students to be absent each day. I got stuck straight in after that and ran the English club for that day. It was well-attended with around 60 students turning up! The students asked me lots of questions as they were eager to learn about me and where I came from.

Rwanda Ceri class 0215

I started teaching on Thursday and it was great to be in the classroom and the students were really excited to have a native speaker as an English teacher. The first lesson for each class was taken up with some introductory activities and ice-breakers. We also worked on the present simple tense. I tried to make the lessons as interactive as possible – this was quite a challenge given the large class sizes.

Saturday morning was given over to teaching the teachers. The session was really well attended with 20 teachers and it was a really productive morning. We worked on a few different areas such as extreme adjectives, narrative tenses, sport vocabulary, active and passive adjectives. I tried to make the lesson as communicative as possible and based speaking activities around the areas I have mentioned above which also allowed me to work on pronunciation. Possibly, the most challenging aspect of this session was that the teacher’s abilities varied greatly from having a post-beginner to an upper-intermediate level of English. We finished the lesson with a communicative “Who dunnit game”, which everyone enjoyed. On Sunday, we were kindly invited to attend a church service and introduced ourselves to the congregation. It was a great opportunity as it really helped us to feel part of the community.

Over the next couple of weeks I settled into a routine. My first lesson of the day usually started at 8.05am. I taught several different Senior 2 classes and we worked on grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary and did lots of speaking activities. Although the students found it a little difficult to understand me to begin with, the use of pictures, graded language and gestures helped them to understand and by the time I left they had got used to my accent and I was able to talk at close to normal speed – this really helped them to improve their listening skills. I also started teaching some of the senior 3 classes later in the week and we focussed on their writing in these lessons. Overall, the children were a joy to teach and were excited at having a teacher from the UK. While I taught, Dennis took care of the painting with Moses and Carpophone.

Rwanda Ceri painting 0215

During the breaks, I spent some time with the primary school pupils who loved singing songs like “The wheels on the bus go round and round!” At the end of the school day, I spent some time teaching the teachers and I continued to run the English club which was always well attended.

All too quickly it was time to say good bye. After giving all of my students certificates, we were treated to a farewell ceremony.

Rwanda Ceri 0215

Teaching English in Muko School was an unforgettable experience and I’m hoping to visit again in November. Everyone was so kind and appreciative. Both teachers and students have a real desire to improve their level of English and I feel that it is important that the English teaching project continues. I think it’s a perfect opportunity not only for qualified teachers, but also for anyone who would like to spend some time talking to the teachers to improve their level of conversational English.

Ceri Thomas, TEFL teacher volunteer
Ceri Thomas, TEFL teacher volunteer

Dear friends,

I personally write to you to thank you for Muko and HATW partnership. I am one of Muko teachers and I have been observing your different aids to Muko since 2010.

“Little by little an egg will walk” Muko was unknown school in terms of performances but due to your support: teaching and learning materials you give our school, different trainings you give teachers from our sector, aids for nursery, renewing the classes, painting rooms, the wall you recently started…

In Rwanda before 1994, English was not taught at primary level and only a few secondary schools taught it. This was due to the fact that Rwanda became a French speaking country after the Belgian colonization.

After 1994, many Rwandans came from exile with English language background in the way the government of Rwanda realized that there was need to teach English in schools at all levels. The government further decided to consider English as one of the national languages and a medium of communication in line with globalization because English is widely spoken in the world.

However teaching and speaking English encounter some problems like lack of text books, teaching and learning materials and well trained teachers.

Ceri’s visit to Muko was needed to enhance our capacity to teach and speak more efficiently English language. We were first nervous to speak to Ceri but two days later every teacher was excited to be trained by him. He is a skilled teacher with methods that were encouraging us to participate actively. He developed our speaking, listening, writing and reading skills. I appreciate how he uses the learner-centered method. I would like to ask you to send him again in November to help us.

I would also like to invite HATW to look how you can connect our school to one of UK schools whereby our students can exchange ideas through letters and emails later.

Thank you!

Muko Rwanda kids 1114

This was my first trip with Hands Around The World. There should have been 4 of us going but due to medical circumstances beyond Steve and Tina’s control it was only Dennis our leader and myself who were able to make the journey from Jersey.

Even though I had seen photographs of the stunning countryside, of all the hills and greenery and the poverty of the local people, along with the progress of the school from the previous volunteers over the four years, I had not experienced the real-life aspect of living and working in this part of Africa for myself.

We stayed at St Francoise guesthouse and we were able to meet up with Sister Betty who showed us around the disability and medical centre, which forms part of the complex. The rehabilitation work that these dedicated Nuns and workers, many of whom are disabled themselves and have employment here, is awe inspiring. I met up with Sylvester and Bibian who have both received artificial limbs through my late husband’s fund – The Chris Halsey Tribute Fund-set up by David Steiner to provide Nursing, medical aid and equipment. This was an emotional moment for me to meet them both and to think that donations received in his memory had made a difference to their lives and how they coped with their disability.

Dennis and I also met Masarina, the seamstress who is 27 years old. She also requires a replacement artificial limb as it is such poor condition. I will apply to the CHTF in due course.

Our daily trip to the school meant a 45-minute journey to Bugarama in an old car also occupied by a family of cockroaches in the boot. The police who stopped us on twelve separate occasions often interrupted the journey. Dennis, who did all the driving, as I was not brave enough to have a go, had only ever been stopped a couple of times in four years and thought this to be very unusual. The daily trip was an insight into life on the road to and from Bugarama and how hard it is for the local population, of all ages, to transport their goods on foot, bicycle and any means to get a meagre day’s wage.

At Muko School, our initial meetings with the school committee laid down the ground rules for employing the workers, food provision and their priorities for the school, which was to secure the school premises with a perimeter wall, which was undertaken by a local builder and his team once tenders had been agreed. Dennis soon got to work with the team of up to 16 workers and the progress made with the cleaning, painting, and general repairs was impressive.

Muko Rwanda wall 1114

My main tasks were to provide and prepare the workers with daily lunch of bread, boiled eggs, and fresh fruit and vegetable from the market, accompanied by Esther who could help me with the language. This enabled me to interact with the local community. This took the best part of the morning with buying food in a foreign land not quite the same as the Supermarket at home. The ladies in the market insisted I speak 5 different words everyday and I was set the challenge of remembering them and getting the pronunciation correct. In return they had to speak the English equivalent. There was a lot of laughter and fun despite their desperate situation.

I was very popular as I carried my camera and everyone wanted their photo taken. I would be walking along and find a small hand slipped inside mine and turn around to find a large crowd of children following me. Then of course a further ten minutes of conversation and photo taking.

The daily photographs taken enabled us to see how quickly the perimeter wall progressed and the local workers were always keen to show their skills when a camera was pointed at them. Dennis and I were able to have the photos developed in Kemembe and give them a copy, much to their excitement and delight.

As a choir member in Jersey I love listening to other choirs. I was delighted when the choirs practiced and the Catholic Church held their services as the music was fantastic, pitch perfect and the harmonies amazing.

I was also able to meet up with a few of the teachers, one of which was a Nursery teacher who assisted me in establishing the priorities for the Nursery class. Together we scrubbed down chairs and tables and I was able to converse with her in English to assist with her pronunciation and vocabulary.

We purchased new mattresses and covers for the Nursery, sourced locally, and Dennis brightened up the classroom with designs on the walls. Some of Dennis’ workers also proved to have artistic skills and helped with posters for the wall.

Muko Rwanda classroom wall 1114

When on site I would be visited by the local children coming from the village, wanting to meet this ‘muzungu’ and of course have their photo taken. The main conversation with the boys was always football and names of the players. Fortunately I was able to name a few so felt I could communicate this common language. One young boy told me is his name was Stephen Gerrard, which caused huge hilarity among the children.

I was also able to teach English lessons with students and teachers from the school. I would have undertaken more of this but they were teaching in the morning and not always around in the afternoon.

On one occasions when teaching on a one to one, it rained so hard and the classroom roof was made of tin making conversation impossible. So it was a matter of giving the student theory to do and discussing it when the rain stopped. This is normal for the teachers and they are quite used to having strategies to teach the children when this happens. One of the students came to the school to speak to the secretary. He was keen to speak and learn English and I was able provide him with some lessons and conversational English. He was an orphan being brought up by his Grandparents, as both his parents died 3 years previously. His siblings were all living separately with other family members. This brought it home to me how children have to survive with so much going on around them. They grow up very fast.

I also visited the Medical centre in Bugarama, and was able to take a few medical supplies for them. I was actually quite surprised how well equipped part of the centre was. The maternity and paediatric ward interested me the most, as a former Midwife. I was privileged to meet a mum who had just delivered twins the day before. The twins looked a healthy weight, however the mother and baby in the next bed look malnourished and weak. Most of the work in the center is around health promotion and education in nutrition, family planning and sex education for the teenagers of both sexes. Young mothers are encouraged to attend pre and postnatal classes. The staff also do outreach work in the hills otherwise a great many would not receive the appropriate health care and vaccinations required. Malaria, HIV and gastroenteritis being a threat to many lives of all ages.

Wellars, Dennis’ right-hand-man, and his wife Chance and Esther accompanied us at the weekend and we visited a tea plantation. We also visited the hot springs and couldn’t believe how the local people could swim in water, which was bubbling with the heat. I managed to take a picture of a man diving into the steaming water, he did survive to be shown his technique.

Wellars kindly introduced us to their Church on the Sunday. This was quite an experience and we were made to feel that we were part of their community. We were made very welcome wherever we went. I will always appreciate their kindness and generosity of spirit even though they have so little to offer materialistically, they are generous of heart beyond belief.

On our last day, just before returning home, we visited the Genocide Museum in Kigali. This was a thought-provoking reminder of what the people Rwanda had faced only a short time ago. I will always be left with images of the photographs in the museum and the contrast to the photographs I had taken over the 3 weeks in Rwanda.

Thanks go to HATW for giving me the opportunity to have this experience and to Dennis for leading the trip so successfully.

A small team of just two volunteers has just returned from Muko School; this trip proved to be the most productive and satisfying to date. For this, thanks has to go to all the local enthusiastic workers able to offer their help this time!

The new school's committee has, as a priority, identified the need to build a security wall around the perimeter of the grounds to prevent entry by children and others out of hours, therefore preventing damage to classrooms and grounds. Hopefully this will reduce the cost of maintenance in the future. This work is being partly funded by the children’s parents and partly by local government. Hands Around The World was able to finance 110 metres of this wall on this occasion, but there is still a long way to go, to completion.

The long drop toilets are still in a very poor state and numbers are woefully inadequate for the 2800 children attending this school. Fresh water for hand washing is also in short supply - most of the daily rainfall still goes to waste - and although there are some water tanks in place, there are insufficient funds for all the necessary pipes and gutters.

Teaching English has always been high priority, and in February 2015 it is planned to see the return of a TEFL teacher from the UK. It is hoped that this visit may encourage others to follow in the near future.

All this, and the general maintenance of this school (which is in a very under privileged area) still needs to be financed; and although our overseas volunteers pay their own expenses, the cost of local labour and materials must be met.

If you have already donated to this project, I thank you. If you can, please continue to help us to make a real difference in supporting the lovely children and their school.

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Project Leader

David Steiner

Chief Executive
Monmouth, Monmouthshire United Kingdom

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Map of Helping Rwandan Children out of Poverty