Rebecca Clark, a deputy head teacher from inner-city London, swapped the concrete jungle for greener pastures in the leafy district of Rusizi, Rwanda. She spent two years volunteering on a project supporting the development of education leadership across thirty schools. Here she shares her experience:
I worked in thirty schools, visiting around three schools per day to help senior staff improve their planning, teacher development and lesson evaluation.
Ultimately, a better education system creates more opportunities for Rwanda’s young people.
Life as a volunteer
I was based in Kamembe, which is the furthest town from Rwanda’s capital, Kigali – a six hour bus ride away.
When I got up, the first thing I did was to check the weather. I lived near a rainforest and with Rwanda's two rainy seasons, it rains most months apart from June, July and August.
If it had been raining all night, there was a strong possibility I wouldn't be able to reach some of the schools the next day.
My 'moto taxi' would pick me up around 7.30am. The schools are varying distances away - some as far as two hours. Some days I’d spend up to five hours in transit as a passenger on the back of a motorbike.
I loved the travelling - off road through fields, tea plantations and the occasional forest.
Arriving at a school, I would always be noticed by the pupils. They would wave at me and greet me from their classrooms. I would try not to disrupt their learning, but sometimes it’s impossible not to.
Many schools had new classrooms, made out of brick with a concrete floor. The class sizes were big, yet the children were still cramped onto the benches attached to their desks.
Mostly the walls are scantily clad with a few posters made from rice sacks.
Lack of resources
Many schools had no electricity. A lack of resources and ‘teacher-centred’ teaching was also common. The pace is much slower and things rarely go to plan. I had to be flexible and not let it frustrate me. I kept reminding myself - change does not happen overnight.
Week nights were generally spent at home. I'd usually cook dinner on a two-hob electric cooker or if there was no power, i'd use my charcoal stove instead.
I spent lots of time with my neighbours and my neighbour's children, who came around often.
Working with head teachers
Head teachers warmly welcomed me.
I would coach and mentor head teachers and together we'd talk about action plans for the year ahead.
One memorable day I observed a science lesson with a head teacher - the pupils were learning about mammals that day. VSO actively encourages teachers to use teaching aids in their lessons to stimulate learning, but I didn’t expect a live goat to be paraded around the classroom – that was a new one for me!
Typically, I would return from my morning school visits at around 2pm, which was when I'd stop for lunch. In Rwanda, you can’t just grab a snack between school visits, as it’s considered rude to eat on the street in public.
After lunch, I'd visit another school - sometimes this would mean another two hours on the motorbike, but I don't mind because the scenery is very beautiful.
Living and working among the local people is pretty amazing. It made me feel very proud.
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