Dear Friend and Supporter
I always suffer from a bit of what my Mum used to call “dentist’s pain” when coming out to Rwanda. On this occasion the anticipatory anxiety was a little worse than usual: ten hours on a plane did not appeal, and what if I tested positive in Kigali and found myself dispatched to a hotel and placed in solitary confinement for a fortnight?
I need not have worried. There have been some minor frustrations, of course. The new, strictly enforced speed limit extends the journey time from Kigali to Kamembe from five hours to seven and a half, but at least you have a better chance of getting there in one piece. Then at Munezero House there has been no running water for three days, and the lights and power to my room have had the infuriating habit of tripping out every half hour or so.
Anyway, all these things pale into insignificance when you venture out into the field and are reminded of the hardships that grinding poverty imposes. No. For the most part we have had a rewarding and positive visit.
Janyis and I spent the first week in Kigali, combining some extremely useful meetings with shopping for equipment and plants for the Alivera Village.
Amongst others we met the Director General of the Rwanda Education Board, the Quality Education Officer at UNICEF and the British High Commissioner. And what is encouraging is that in these influential quarters there is a growing interest in the in-service teacher training programme which we are piloting in our two districts in the Western Province.
What is it that excites this interest? It is that, working in one of the poorest regions of Rwanda, we are seeking to develop a model which will deliver substantial improvements in the second and third pillars of the Rwanda education programme, those being pupil retention and performance.
The key elements of this programme are as follows: a simple management system that can be easily replicated; an insistence on careful data collection, analysis and evaluation; the setting of clear targets at every level, and, most important, a training programme that addresses the key teaching weaknesses.
Our target in our 16 pilot schools under the Learning Initiative this academic year is to achieve at least a 5% reduction in drop-out rate, and a minimum 5% improvement in the pass rate at primary 6. If we can achieve that, interest in what we are doing will undoubtedly broaden and deepen.
Once down in Kamembe our first visit is to Baho Neza Mwana which is now called the Rusizi Social Care Centre. As you know residential care of any kind for street children is no longer allowed in Rwanda, so we are doing our best to support these children in their homes. To back this up, we invite all the former street children within reach of Kamembe to spend Saturdays with us. This is a recreational day during which the children have the chance play sport, enjoy dance and music and tuck into a good meal. For a lot of the boys, the highlight of the day is the drumming, and we have created the Rusizi Street Children Drummers (every bit as good as the Manic Street Preachers and possibly just as manic) and we are hoping that they will perform at the opening of the Alivera Village next year.
During our visit we were fortunate to be able to attend the Rwanda Action Enterprise Day. This was a coming together of many of the groups we have supported, offering the opportunity to share their successes and challenges and to explore ways of building their businesses. We were joined by officers from the Rwandan Business, Development and Employment Board who like the fact that we are not a fly by night organisation, here today and gone tomorrow, but rather our support is sustained and very carefully monitored and evaluated.
The farm team has been focussing its efforts in helping the associations we support to rebuild post-Covid. In the field what strikes me is the cheerfulness and determination of these farmers. Even with our support, life is not easy. Many rent land some distance from their homes, and like all farmers they are at the mercy of the elements and unexpected disease.
Pictured are a group of farmers from Bugarama with their crop of tomatoes, Currently, this yields them around £5000 a year but with the irrigation system we are helping them to install they will be able to increase their crop considerably and rent more land.
We have made a start on our Building Communities programme and I was glad to join the team for a day of data collection in our first pilot cell, Kinyaga.
The first thing that strikes me is the terrible poverty. You are somehow lulled into a false sense of security with the amazing development taking place in Kigali and, to a lesser extent in the outlying towns. However, in the rural communities there is still abject, grinding poverty.
This is Patricia. She lives in a small hut with mud walls and a leaky tin roof. She has four children under the age of eight and her man has disappeared. There is scarcely a stick of furniture in the house and the outside loo is a hole in the ground under a primitive tin shack. No running water, of course. Her little boy looks at you with his sad eyes, and you know he is hungry and it is enough to break your heart.
Fortunately, the Executive Secretary of the Cell is the sort of local official you dream of, totally committed to improving the lots of the people under his care. Together, we are hatching some encouraging plans: where there are young people keen to work, we will provide vocational training and the opportunity to form enterprise groups; where there are older folk, especially single Mums, caught in the vice of poverty, we plan to bring them together to form farming co-operatives.
We are also planning some community projects which might include support for Early Childhood Development, school kitchen gardens and better access to drinking water.
It will take time, but we are confident that we will gradually see the community lifted materially and in spirit. Then we must look to scale this work.
The Alivera Village is nearing completion. The last feature to be added is the rondavel and we plan for this to provide a really attractive centrepiece for the village, a place where people can meet and relax.
We are beginning to recruit the enterprise groups. Fidele and his shoemakers are working in a temporary workshop and already they are producing some attractive sandals that are selling well. They have been practising making shoes out of paper, but now they have the leather and some new machines so they have made a start on the real things.
Here is the first prototype pair of leather shoes!
For some time we have been supporting a knitting group led by a lady who is totally blind, and we are very excited to find that she is keen to take up a workshop in the village. She is called Godberita and is an amazing person. Every day she walks one hour to and from work – don’t ask me how she does it – and she is always positive and cheerful. In the picture she is seen in her current workshop working with three of her girls. You will see that they are very keen on their colourful bobbly hats: we will make sure that they are on sale when you come to visit the village.
Once again, a wonderfully generous sponsor has offered to match any donations made to Rwanda Action between now and Christmas up to a maximum total of £10 000. If you have a little something to spare there is no better time to give, and you can be sure that your Christmas gift will help to bring hope and opportunity to some of the most disadvantaged people living in this little corner of the world.
If you would like to make a gift via BACs transfer, please let me know and I will send you the bank details. Alternatively, you can contribute on Justgiving via this link: https://www.justgiving.com/davidchaplin63
We are very, very grateful for your generous support of our work in these difficult times.
With warmest good wishes
David and the RA team