Children playing. Nyamasheke, Rwanda.
VSO/Mussa

Levelling the playing field in early learning - Let's Learn Through Play

Anisa Hay is a 32 year old volunteer who was born in Morocco, raised in the USA, and was based in the UK before taking on her overseas placement with VSO. As a volunteer on VSO’s ‘Let's Learn Through Play’ project in Rwanda, she applies her vast experience in education having worked across four continents. Most recently, she worked in the UK’s second largest Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) school. 

Anisa Hay
Anisa Hay about to head into the field outside VSO's Head Office in Kigali, Rwanda.

In this blog post, we learn more about the project and Anisa’s role as an Early Childhood Care and Education Advisor.

The project

‘Let’s Learn Through Play known locally as Twigire Mumikino Rwanda (TMR), is VSO’s four-year education project funded by the LEGO Foundation, running from 2021 to 2025. By working with schools, parents, communities, and decision makers, the project supports Early Childhood Education teachers and promotes play-based learning as the foundation of early childhood education for 3-6 year-olds in Rwanda.

My role

“I recently moved from the capital, Kigali, to the southern province of Huye (Butare). It’s a very lush tropical location surrounded with fruit and vegetation. Most mornings require no alarm clock, due to the troop of monkeys running across my roof. Huye is also the academic hub of Rwanda with a global presence; people come here from across Southern Africa to study at University of Rwanda.

Young children play with the volunteers

Let’s Learn Through Play (Twigire Mumikino Rwanda)

Play is the most important way for children to gain essential knowledge and skills.

"Play is the most important way for children to develop generic competencies, cognitively, socioemotionally and physically. In my role, I find myself based in the Southern providence of Rwanda, where I support schools across three districts.

"I work on the design and development of a play-based Continual Professional Development (CPD) toolkit, which aligns with the early childhood education learning outcomes illustrated in Rwanda’s Competence Based Curriculum. 

"The CPD toolkit is comprised of many modules whose pedagogy is underpinned by play-based learning. It is digitalised, in an interactive manner, installed on tablets, then delivered to early education teachers across Rwanda. 

"The schools we work with vary in resources and accessibility. Some are in urban areas, whilst others are quite rural and require much more time to reach. These are the visits I enjoy the most. The people I have met along the way vary as well, but each encounter, with every new face, leaves me with complete admiration of these educators and their continual resilience and enthusiasm for education. 

"In addition to working directly with schoolteachers and school leadership, much of our job is to help build capacity of the early childhood education system in Rwanda. This requires the programme to help amplify the value of early childhood education by demonstrating its foundational function, not only with regards to education, but to development in general.

"Much of our school readiness and ability to become lifelong learners is predicated on our education experience. If children don't access quality early years education, it can lead to opportunity gaps, which can subsequently impact their future life prospects.  

Observing teachers.
Anisa Hay
Observing as teachers prototype a play-based teaching model.

My volunteer journey

"I have worked in a range of educational settings before my placement in Rwanda. My interest in education began as an undergraduate, at Cornell College, where I studied Political Science. While taking a course on Education Policy, I came across the book ‘Savage Inequalities’, by Johnathan Kozol. This book took me from my existential surrender and replaced it with purpose. 

"I realised that it was difficult to make effective policies without understanding grassroots teaching. Although I am not a formally trained as a teacher, I have worked in and around education for over a decade. In addition to education practice, academically, I focused on Education and International Development. I gained an MA in 2016 from University College London in Comparative Education (Policy).  

"I have worked with refugees from Somalia and Mexico through AmeriCorps – the United State’s domestic version of the Peace Corps - and volunteered as an Educational Researcher for Street Child in Sri Lanka.

"This experience opened my eyes to the reality of international development. It’s never a straight line - the fact that there have been bumps along the way means that you have to develop resilience strategies and to always be adaptable. 

Anyone who can do it should volunteer. It’s such a rewarding experience and helps you to develop perspective.

Anisa Hay
Education Volunteer - Let's Learn through Play, Rwanda
Engaging in doctor/patient roleplay with a student. Nymasheke. Rwanda.
Anisa Hay
Engaging in doctor/patient role paly with a pupil.

Why I volunteer 

"I am African, and this has been a very large part of my identity from a young age. As a former orphan from Morocco, I was adopted by a loving and brilliant family in the 1980’s.

"I have always been self-aware of my circumstance, and how my life would have been very different if I had not had the opportunities that crosses my path. I guess that is what I am trying to do, use my knowledge on the continent I am from. To cross the paths of others. To share, but more importantly to listen, and co-create educational solutions that work in a conscientious cultural manner. 

"I believe that VSO’s approach to development, by which it places both national and international volunteers into the communities that they serve, is perhaps its greatest strength. By embedding volunteers into community and culture, this allows for the development of tailored programs that meet the contextual needs of the community.

Engaging in outdoor construction play with students.
Anisa Hay
Engaging in outdoor construction play with pupils. Nyamasheke, Rwanda.

"This is done through the creation of relationships. Professional relationships not only between volunteers, but to the communities they serve, creates a cohesive social network of knowledge sharing, understanding, and care. Subsequently, producing passionate ownership over program involvement and championing of humanitarian rights.

"Anyone who can volunteer should volunteer. Volunteerism has the reciprocal nature of being both rewarding and enriching. My journey in life has now allowed me to volunteer on four different continents.

"However, the current programme which I am involved in with VSO has been the most meaningful and the most personal. My current position as an Education Advisor with VSO Rwanda has allowed me the capacity to return to the continent from which I came, of which I am a former orphan of. This program has uniquely bonded my passion as and educationalist with certain aspects of my identity."

You can follow the progress of the ‘Let’s Learn through Play’ programme on Twitter at VSO Twigire Mumikino Rwanda (@VSO_TMR).

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