Empowerment of the children


After a very lovely and impressive morning and an adventurous ride over small and steep roads we arrive at Kanyinya Child-Friendly School (CFS) in Nyarugenge district. Despite the rain (it is rain season in Rwanda now), we are very warmly welcomed by a few hundred children, teachers and school staff members, who are singing and clapping their hands. We are surprised to even see a high member of the Rwandan Ministry of Education to welcome us. This is definitely a token of appreciation and interest in our small delegation.

Picture by Peter Rison: The name of the school
Picture by Peter Rison: The name of the school

For me it feels unusual and a bit awkward to be perceived as one of ‘The visitors’ as we are called. Every time again we are reminded that everyone involved in the schools, projects, government and UNICEF appreciate our coming to Rwanda to see them and show an interest in the improvements that have been made in all educational and child development programmes. And that there have been improvements, is evident.

CF schools are at the heart of these improvements. It is all about having a good infrastructure, simple but effective sanitation facilities, clubs to educate and discuss gender equality and HIV/AIDS but also clubs on Rwandan culture and sports, having enough teachers and a good pupil/teacher and pupil/textbook ratio as well as other teaching aids. Due to the rain the programme is slightly changed and we are invited to witness some shows of Rwandan music, dance and theater inside. There is a hilarious piece on tourists visiting the mountain gorillas (an endangered species that lives in Rwanda). Boys are actually mocking the (western) tourists that take pictures and pay a lot of money to see some animals in the wild.

But the picture that will remain in my head for at least a long time, is four adolescent girls dancing with a great amount of confidence. The song that accompanies them tells a story about gender parity. The girls symbolize the song in their dance with astounding accuracy! And they dance with such pride and joy that it is heart-warming!

Picture by Karlijn van der Meer: Girls dancing about gender parity
Picture by Karlijn van der Meer: Girls dancing about gender parity

When the welcoming ceremony is over, we are invited to do a tour of the school premises and stick our heads into a few classes and see the sanitation facilities. We are divided into small groups and each group is allowed to follow a lesson. Our class, that is on primary 4 (P4) level  welcomes us and then the teacher continues. The kids are learning about animals. It shows us that although the teacher is doing her best, there is still room for improvement. The level of English is not what we are used to in the Netherlands.

That is why another focus point within the CFS model is improving the quality of education. A few years ago the whole country switched the national language from French to English which you might imagine caused some trouble. For the teachers this means teaching in another language than what they were learning in school themselves. Furthermore the size of the classes and the meager knowledge of the teachers on teaching methods, prove to remain a challenge to improve the quality. Lately there has been a mentoring programme in place to help the teachers with their English and the teaching methods. Thus it fills me with confidence that in our class, the mentor is taking a lot of notes which he will address with the teacher later on.

I enjoy every minute sitting in that classroom, with the children sometimes peaking behind them to see what we are doing. Most of them seem a bit shy, but a smile from us will in most cases bring out the most beautiful broad smile that lights up their whole face!

After the lesson we have a meeting with all teachers where we can ask questions and vice versa. The visit is concluded with many thanks from us and the other way around. As we leave, the children are following us and trying to shake hands or high five with us. It is hard for us to leave and turn away from those pretty smiling faces and the repetitious saying ‘bye’.

What a fantastic, educational and moving visit!