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.
My 25 year old daughter accompanied me for the first time to the New Life Centre school in India in February. When we entered the kindergarten classes on the first day, she was bemused that some of the 3 and 4 year olds started to cry as soon as we appeared. ‘What’s wrong Mum’ she asked? ‘They haven’t seen many white people’ I replied, ‘and anyway they are all so young some of them haven’t got used to school yet at all’. The teachers confirmed that a couple of the children still cried each morning when their parents left. My daughter was perturbed until I remarked, ‘Just like you were’!
The little girl in the photo at the front with a hat on was one of those finding it hard to settle at school. She had a captivating face, large eyes that surveyed us suspiciously. This was at the end of a school day, and whilst we waited for some of the parents we sang ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’.
All of the other children joined in as you can see and delighted in the song, but our little one remained serious and unsmiling. The more we tried to engage with her, the more she refused to be involved, and yet she couldn’t help herself from watching with interest as her schoolmates joined in.
I know that next time I visit, our wary little one will be amongst those eager to shake our hands in the morning as we arrive for school. I gain far more from my visits to this remarkable institution than I ever give. My life has been enriched by my contact with these children, who behave just like all other young ones, but because of this school they are well on their way to reaching their potential.
Wouldn’t you like to be enriched by helping this school?
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.