Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to visit a church and nursery school near Kibungo, about an hour from Nyakarambi by bus and moto taxi. I had appealed to friends in Harrogate to help a local science teacher, Valens with his co-operative project and St Paul's Church came up with a donation thanks to the efforts of my friends Aileen and Erica. The donation had been transferred to my bank account by Richard and I was able to take the cash to Kibungo in order to make a presentation to the co-operative on behalf of St Paul's. Valens had told me about his project but what I had learned from him did not really prepare me for the morning's activities. Valens met me in Kibungo and took me off with him on two moto taxis to the very far side of town, to a small village, where the church and school are located. The church is the usual brick built walls with iron roof and bumpy stone floor, standing near the dusty road through the village. A few parents were waiting for our arrival and the sound of children singing was coming from the church. Valens explained that the Pastor of the church, Alphonse allowed them to run the nursery school in the church during the week and allowed the co-operative to use the kitchen and the church itself for their activities.
Alphonse said a prayer and then I made a brief speech greeting them on behalf of St Paul's and presented the donation to Valens and Alphonse. There were big smiles and applause from the parents and then the morning's activities began.
First of all one of the young parents showed us how he was teaching adults to read and write, using a blackboard which had been made on the wall of the church. The young mothers one by one proudly showed how they could read and write the letters of the alphabet, vowels and then consonants, using the blackboard.
|Adult Literacy class for villagers from the church|
Teaching reading in schools in Rwanda is a whole area needing development as the techniques they use are very dated and long-winded. Briefly they teach the letters one by one, beginning with the vowels (about one letter a week in P1). Children have to say words like "abana" (children) but are only shown the letters they have learned already that is "a.a.a". No letters can be shown until they have been taught and practised thoroughly. This means that most children cannot learn to read or write their own name until months or even years after they start school!! USAID and VSO are collaborating on a five year project starting soon to address methodology in literacy and numeracy and one of the biggest hurdles will be in getting the reading and writing programme reformed. There is no culture of reading for pleasure in Rwanda - schools and colleges are where reading is done, purely for knowledge or information. Even newspapers and magazines in Kinyarwanda can only be found in the big cities, certainly not in little Nyakarambi! You rarely see anyone Rwandan reading a book and there is no print material in classrooms other than the rarely used text books. One of the project aims is to develop a new reading scheme with graded readers written by locals, helped by writers' workshops, in the hope of making reading a pleasurable activity not just a task to be done. It is no surprise to learn that the illiteracy rate is very high in Rwanda and children have no model of story reading to follow. So the adult literacy class at this little church is an excellent initiative, helping those people aspire to a better life.
Next the school children showed off their singing and newly learned English speaking skills, directed by the volunteer teachers, including the Pastor's wife, Betty. There were well over the 30 children Valens had told me, but they were all turned out in their best clothes and well-behaved. Their ages were about 18 months to 6 years plus a few babies crawling about or on their mother's back.
We all went into the garden in front of the church to play a game in the already warm sunshine.
In no time at all the cloths were untied and the amazing patterns revealed. The cloths were laid out in the sun on the grass to dry, while other women showed how the dried cloths would be ironed with a hot coals flat iron.
Valens explained that each cloth cost about 4,000RWF to make and could be sold, with great demand, on the little market near the church for 5,000RWF (about £5). The process was quick, with many hands making light work and they are very happy with that level of profit as the cloths sell very quickly.
|Spreading the newly dyed cloths in the sun to dry.|
Next it was on to paint making - back to the smoky kitchen where more water was being boiled. To my surprise Valens explained that one of the ingredients, whose scientific name I have forgotten comes from cassava flour, which everyone grows and eats almost every day. It's a root vegetable, which they dry in the sunshine and then can eat boiled or grind into flour. It is a very dry vegetable, which we find quite difficult to enjoy, even with a lot of sauce on it, but Africans seem to like it.
The flour was used to make a big bowl of what is basically white sauce (or flour paste, like we used to make before glue sticks came along). Another big drum held whiting (kaolin) which had been mixed with cold water and one of the men poured the paste into this and then two of them mixed it up thoroughly using their hands. Next a few capfuls of blue pigment were added and the white sauce was transformed into paint. All that was then needed was a few capfuls of PVA glue to make it water resistant and later some ammonia would be added, presumably to resist fungus and bacteria. In no time at all the large drum was ready to be decanted into containers to go to market.
|Adding the pigment and stirring by hand|
|Adding PVA to make the paint water-resistant|
Just across from the church a block of shops has been painted with their product and it looks just as good as the commercial versions.
Valens, who is only 22 years old and has three years experience as a science teacher had taught the villagers to carry out these processes and they are now able to do it independently - it is really amazing that he has created an effective co-operative in less than two years and has given these people a way to pay for their basic needs and especially to fund the nursery for their children. Pastor Alphonse is clearly very active in the co-operative and in the nursery school (he and Betty have three girls and two boys of their own) and gives Valens his full support and encouragement. As well as cloth dyeing and paint making, Valens has taught them to make soap and is planning to develop cement making from locally dug materials.
After the demonstrations we went back into the church, where the children sang some more song, more speeches were made and prayers were said for their benefactors. The parents were so pleased they gave me some presents to take away - a small souvenir drum with the words "We love John" carved on the side, a traditional wooden milk container and a banana leaf picture showing a ceremonial basket being presented in front of some traditional huts with the words "Mwabaye intwari" - "you were heroes" - which must be addressed to the people of St Paul's Church, Harrogate. The people at Kazo were so delighted to have that gift all the way from England to help them develop their craft activities and support their nursery school and the smiles and thanks were warm and sincere.
|Gifts from the Church Cooperative|