I hope this newsletter finds you all safe and well.
Whilst a local outbreak of Covid-19 is keeping much of our project delivery on hold, we are fortunate that electricity and internet connections have been sufficiently good for the team in the UK to liaise regularly with Felicien, our Country Manager in Rwanda. Like many Rwandans, Felicien is a very patient person and I am trying to learn from him during this challenging time.
Lockdown restrictions were gradually relaxed across most of Rwanda throughout May and June, but our office in Kamembe, a busy border town which sees a lot of movement between Rwanda and Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, remains closed. This movement is thought to have contributed to a spike in cases of Covid-19, so we are still strictly locked down.
A decision was made early on to keep all Rwandan schools, colleges, universities and residential centres closed until September, when the school year will change in line with other East African countries to run from September to July.
This has stopped us organising teacher training, as well as farm training and developing small enterprises, but Rwanda Action has a fantastic team of carers in our two residential centres who were willing to stay with the children in our care, despite enduring long periods away from their own families.
Young people living with disability
The seven young people living permanently at The Alivera Centre have missed the 40 children who returned to their families, leaving the centre very quiet indeed. We bought a radio for them and the carers to stay in touch with the news and enjoy music and other entertainment.
The feedback from the sign language training for parents held at The Alivera Centre earlier this year was excellent, and we plan to deliver three more residential training courses over the next year. We have heard that this has helped families to communicate with their deaf children during lockdown.
Construction work was underway to replace the patchwork of leaky roofs at The Alivera Centre with a single expanse roof, when restrictions were imposed. Unfortunately, the entire roof had just been removed, leaving the offices and classrooms open to the elements for about a month during the rainy season. As soon as the authorities allowed the builders into the site, they worked quickly to extend the height of the walls and erect the new roof and make amends to the interiors. There is still some finishing off to do but having a weather tight building is a great relief.
At Baho Neza Mwana, 25 street children are still in residence and enjoying activities like traditional drumming and sport, as well as learning new skills. Each boy has been cultivating a small plot in the farm area to grow vegetables and they are also helping with gardening.
Our Education Team has been teaching the carers skills to help the boys prepare for life at school when they go home. Many of them have missed big chunks of schooling so need help with the foundations and it is important to build their confidence.
They also enjoyed a special meal and a Fanta to celebrate the Day of the African Child. I expect there was lots of dancing too!
In our mission to relieve poverty by building capacity, one of our key areas of activity is in education. Although Rwanda has an impressively high rate of children registered in nine-year schooling, there is a disappointingly high drop-out rate. There are many reasons for this – large classes, limited resources and a sudden switch to English as the medium for teaching – but we have identified a critical cause being the absence of well-trained teachers.
It is for this reason that we piloted a school-based mentor programme, starting in 2014 in a remote sector called Bweyeye. We have gradually expanded this programme and over the years have built strong relationships with headteachers and the local authorities in our two districts. We have selected and trained Lead teachers in each of the 33 sectors and with our support they have trained school-based mentors in all the schools in their respective sectors. So, we are now working in 250 schools!
At the beginning of 2019, the School Based Mentors completed baseline reports and followed these with end of year reports in December. These provided us with data on attendance, drop- out rate, teacher planning and assessment and results in the national P6 examinations. We felt it was essential to establish an effective structure for monitoring and evaluating the success of our training programme.
There are still challenges in the poor condition of many classrooms and large class sizes, but we are also trying to make a difference here by building classrooms when funding allows. Our local builders managed to overcome all the obstacles of lockdown to complete two new classrooms in Nyakagoma. This is going to make a huge difference to the children when they return to light and airy classrooms in September. We have also had desks and chairs made by a local carpenter so the children will enjoy a better learning environment.
We were fortunate to find an independent assessor, based at UCL, to analyse the results of the teacher mentor reports and also assess exam results and drop-out rates against schools in all seven districts of the Western Province. His report is encouraging and we are now developing a three-year programme designed to drill down to some specific teaching techniques which will lead to more effective learning.
Crucially this programme is being led by a terrific local team who wholly understand the local context and the challenges. We have set some bold targets for reducing drop-out and improving results but are reasonably confident that these will be achieved. If they are, we shall be looking to expand this programme into the entire Western Province.
That we have been able to build such a strong Rwandan team and develop such a promising programme is in no small measure thanks to the many wonderful volunteer teachers from UK. These teachers have delivered professional training, resources and support with great dedication and enthusiasm and we are hugely grateful.
It is exciting to think that slowly but surely we are making a substantial difference to the quality of teaching and learning in Rwanda.
The Alivera Village
The Coronavirus pandemic has delayed plans to develop The Alivera Village, a residential centre for young people living with disabilities to gain employment skills and work experience. We were lucky that the disruption came at a convenient stage in the development and during lockdown we have been able to complete the land surveys. We should be ready to invite local builders to tender for the construction work soon. To minimise the risk of further disruption, the start date will depend on the Coronavirus situation in Rwanda.
Alphonse is one of the deaf boys who left The Alivera Centre (TAC) at the end of last year. We enabled him to go to a mainstream school and then to a vocational college by providing a sign language interpreter. He has been in touch with Felix, the manager at TAC to share his pride and happiness at securing construction work in Bugarama. Hopefully, he will continue to grow in confidence as he gains his independence.
Our team in Rwanda is keen to get back into the field to continue delivering projects – hopefully it won’t be too much longer. However, it will be some time before we are allowed to travel from the UK, so I will need to exercise some of Felicien’s patience!
Thank you for all your support, without which none of this amazing progress would be possible.
Janyis Watson, Operations Director 8th July 2020