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.
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.
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.
On November the 7th 2014, a team of three volunteers will return with me for a few weeks to Muko School in Bugarama. Once again we will be working with local people, doing painting, plastering, and laying cement floors.
One major aim this year is to install windows and doors to the oldest block of classrooms. At the moment these only have small holes in the walls for ventilation, and this (along with their tin roofs) makes these rooms not a very nice environment for children to study.
Rainwater catchment tanks that were purchased last year are still to be installed - it's such a shame to see all the water going to waste! These tanks will provide water for washing hands after using the long-drop toilets (more toilets and better hygiene are also priorities!).
Teaching English vocabulary and grammar is much in demand and therefore high on our agenda this year. At least one (maybe two) of the team will be conducting classes for both teachers and students on a daily basis.
Each volunteer has raised enough money to pay all their own expenses, but we do still need help in the way of donations to pay local labourers who work alongside us and also to purchase necessary building materials.
Donated monies are all accounted for very carefully on this very worthwhile project. If you have already donated in the past I thank you, but more is always welcomed and appreciated.
Please do help if you can!
It doesn’t seem that long since we returned from Rwanda, but it is seven months since our last visit so it is time to start thinking about our return this year, probably at the end of October.
I have recently received news that for those children that are in secondary classes, and whose parents can afford the £10 per term, they are receiving a daily lunch which has got to be a huge boost for the School and students alike.
On this next visit, it is once again intended to take a small group of volunteers and along with the help of the usual very enthusiastic local labour force, we will continue with plastering and laying of cement floors in the old classrooms, we will also be painting in some of the newer ones that have good walls. There are still two very old rooms that need windows and doors to make them more inhabitable. Toilets are still of great importance, but it does seem to be very difficult to get this part of the project “off the ground”.
There are still not enough water storage tanks; it is very disappointing to see the rain water that goes to waste daily, even during our short visit.
Teaching English vocabulary is high on the agenda this year and it hoped that at least one of our volunteers will be trained in this skill.
All of the above costs money and although we try and encourage volunteers to pay (or earn) their own expenses we still need donations to help pay for the local labour and materials to carry on with this work
All the monies that are donated are accounted for on this very worthwhile cause. If you have already donated to this project in the past I thank you, but more is always welcomed and much appreciated.
It is wonderful to be able to report that through the support of HATW's Chris Halsey Tribute Fund we have now been able to provide Sylvestre in Rwanda with a leg prosthesis. This young man works as a shoe repairer, and it has long been his dream to wear a pair of shoes of his own!
Reports from the School are that the children are delighted with the new windows and doors in the "old" classrooms as they are a lot lighter and cooler making reading books and writing a lot easier for them. Plans are being made to complete the remaining classrooms this year, including laying some concrete floors.
The nursery is running smoothly now, with around 27 infants receiving porridge and lunch (mainly beans and rice). The aim is to get this project self supporting.
The long drop toilets (or rather the lack of them) are becoming an ever increasing problem. There are only eight operational for the 1400 children, obviously totally inadequate to say the least. There are others that are unusable due to the soak away pit being full and no means of emptying them. Lack of funds makes it very hard to improve this situation. This is also the case with fresh water tanks; although some were purchased last year they have not been connected to the guttering to catch rain water that goes to waste.
On our next visit later this year we very much hope to take along a TEFL teacher or two, to help with spoken English language. This proved to be a great success previously and we are constantly being asked when they (teachers) will return. A library is also being set up to give the children some reading books; they have none at the moment.
It has been four years now since this project started and we have seen vast inprovement at the school. Sometimes it's slow and there are disapointments along the way, but we do get appreciated by the children and the local people who work with us when we visit.
All the volunteers continue to pay ther own expences, but funds are still needed for materials and to employ the local labourer who are so willing to help.
If you have in the past made any donation to this project we thank you! Your continued support is always needed and much appreciated...
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