Thoughts and photos from Africa
Along with Penn State Altoona students and faculty, Chancellor and Dean Lori J. Bechtel-Wherry is currently in Africa. The goal of the trip is to further develop our partnership with the Star School of Kigali, Rwanda to design and implement social entrepreneurship projects in a country still recovering from the 1994 genocide. Penn State Altoona students and faculty work with Star School children, teachers, and administrators to create sustainable business models that result in education, empowerment, and success.
Below are thoughts and photos from the Chancellor's trip.
Saturday, June 22, 2013
JJ showing his moves
Drumming for dancers
Pacific speaks to us
Our secondary students show pride in their certificates
JJ speaks for us
Secondary students speak
P4 singers rock the place
Gathering for the assembly
Gina teaches a song to the P4 students
By Donnan Stoicovy, Principal and Lead Learner at Park Forest Elementary School
After a quick breakfast (they seem to be preparing breakfast later and later here at the Jambo House), we hopped in the van with out driver Bob to journey to Star School. Today would be a day of finishing up those projects we can, celebrating at a Star School assembly, and saying goodbye to our good friends at Star School.
We gathered in our circle to quickly review the plan for today. JJ would travel to town with Bob and Frank to purchase rebar and fertilizer as soon as Latimer, an interpreter who was available, could go with him. Gina and I (Donnan) would complete the final assessment with our group of three to make sure it was understandable for the larger group. We would then meet with the primary teachers to plan for next year. Kristen had some interviews to complete and worked with John, the Biochemistry teacher, to identify his list for the chemistry lab equipment. Eli and Andrew trimmed around the greenhouses and assisted Kristen with her interviews. Frank was still trying to make some headway on the internet. Each company - Tigo, Alltel, MCT, etc. - has different packages that made them very similar. It was like comparing apples and oranges. We hoped to have some movement given the support that we managed to round up (Lee Ann De Reus, Cynthia Wood, Lori J. Bechtel-Wherry and I) when we went to the Rotary meeting the first Tuesday that we were here. We were beginning to wind down and finish up our tasks. Truly a good feeling!
JJ was partially successful - there was no fertilizer to be found in the three stops that they made. Each of these places was a considerable driving distance from each other plus a lot of work for an interpreter. Majorie would have to make the purchase at a later date.
Watching John make his wish list of purchases was like watching a kid in a candy store. He could not believe that he was identifying the items that would be purchased for his labs with the students. Kristen and Cynthia delighted in watching him. Kristen had interviews with Bishop Nathan, Marjorie, Lawrence, and others.
Gina and I were in high spirits after having Derrick, Nadine, and Vanessa complete the assessment that we had prepared. Marjorie would giving the assessment to the other group of 18 students next week. We will be looking closely at our data from the students, but overall we were feeling good about our work. We were ready for the assembly this afternoon with certificates for all of the involved students complete with their full names and our signatures plus Chancellor and Dean Bechtel-Wherry, Lee Ann De Reuss and Mickey Port. We were excited to do that. Gina and I talked about the song, "This Little Light of Mine", and how it reminded us of the Star School. Gina taught Vanessa and Nadine the song and then decided that she should have the students sing it at the assembly. She approached Marjorie who had the two classrooms of P4 students ready to sing. The teachers enthusiastically participated and showed great pride in having the students do it.
The greenhouse area was weeded and looking much better thanks to Andrew and Eli. Satisfaction was filling our souls.
The Primary School teachers invited us to have lunch with them - boiled sweet potatoes, beans and boiled bananas. This was the third lunch from the Star School that was shared with us. We really were feeling accepted into the school. We had hoped to spend more time with the primary teacher, after all, we are elementary teachers, but sharing lunch, doing art, and singing with the P4 students was the extent of our elementary involvement.
Cyrus and Beth (both from World Help) arrived at the school just prior to lunch time. We would meet with them later to discuss support from them and how we could continue to assist the Star School. Upon meeting Cyrus, I now know why Lee Ann and Cynthia speak so highly of him. He is very charismatic! When he asked how we liked Africa and we responded that it has stolen our hearts, he said that when the African soil gets on your shoes, it never goes away. You must continue returning! I had to laugh because two pairs of my shoes definitely have a great deal of African soil ground into them.
It was time for the assembly. We gathered in the all-purpose room that had the secondary students in the back of the room on the desks that they had carried down for the program. The primary children were on the floor and the sound of their excitement was building. The P4 students were lined up outside as they were to open the program. Although we couldn't see them, another group of students was gathered outside.
The P4 students were wonderful. We all had tears in our eyes as they sang "This Little Light of Mine" with great harmony and warm feelings. Gina and I hope that this song becomes the official Star School song.
Then the other students entered the room ready to sing, drum, and dance for us. A group of girls wearing matching outfits danced first. Next a group of boys came out to danced first as a group and then individually. Finally, the dancers came over to us and brought us out to the floor. The whole shool errupted into cheers and applause. We did our best to dance through our tears of joy and full hearts. Next a boy and a girl from the primary school as well as their Headmaster/Principal Fina spoke kind words to us thanking us for caring about Star School and the greenhouse. You could feel them hoping that we could be more involved with them next year. Next, three secondary students spoke very eloquently about all that we had done and how we were now their friends not just "Muzungus" since we have come back and will continue to do so, if not in person, through the work of someone else who come in our place. The third student, who I had just met for the first time the previous day at the greenhouse, read a poem to us. At this point, tears were streaming down many of our faces! Headmaster Frank also spoke some kind words to us. Someone from our group was asked to come forward to speak. JJ graciously got up and shared some meaningful comments with them. Finally, Gina and I got up and gave the certificates to our students. They proudly came forward one at a time, received the certificates and gave both of us hugs and handshakes. You could truly feel love at that point. The assembly came to an end and our goodbyes were turned into "see you next year." It is so hard to say goodbye!
We climbed into the van very reluctantly. We had to hurry, though, because Pacific, a dancer, had invited us to his studio to see the street children that he works with in the evenings dance. We thoroughly enjoyed the performance that was begun with Pacific talking about the students, many of whom are homeless and without support. He has made it his mission to help them become like him and rise up from the bad things that happen to people. His dancers were impressive! You could see how appreciative they were to him for taking an interest in them. At the end, Pacific invited us to go talk to the kids and we did. They were excited to meet us. JJ, Frank, Eli, and Andrew tried a few of their same dance moves. At one point JJ and one of the students were having a great exchange of dance moves.
We finished up of evening going to Emmanuel's studio for a brief visit from Lee Ann and Cynthia to talk about a potential project for the Women's Cooperative. Then we traveled over the Meze Fresh where some of us had certificates for free dinners since we had purchased artwork. Our Penn State Altoona students loved the place so much - it reminded them of Chipotle - definite signs that they were a little homesick and ready for some homemade food and other favorite meals. Talk quickly turned to what they wanted to eat first when the got home.
Goodbye is so hard to do. We still had another day in Kigali to wrap up our time with some shopping and a possible visit to a market. Lee Ann gifted the students with extra time to sleep in the next morning so everyone went to bed knowing that we had some time to ourselves and would not have to be up so early for breakfast and a van ride out to the Star School. We would have a gentle day for ourselves as we would say our goodbyes to Kigali and Rwanda!
Preparing the greenhouse for irrigation
Preparing the tank platform
Lawrence assists with preparations
Irrigation system setup
Bishop Nathan Amooti turns on the irrigation system
Celebrating the greenhouse
Bishop Amooti inspecting the dripping water
Marjorie signing paperwork for the irrigation system
By Donnan Stoicovy, Principal and Lead Learner at Park Forest Elementary School
Our previous evening was highlighted with dinner and conversation with Bishop Nathan Amooti of the Anglican Church, who is the founder of Star School. Majorie also joined us for the conversation even though she said that she would not because she wanted us to speak freely in front of Bishop Nathan. We told her that we would have no problem speaking freely in front of her and encouraged her to attend so that she might enrichen the conversation. We were glad that she accepted our invitation and stayed.
During our conversation, Bishop Nathan outlined his vision for both the Star School and for Rwanda. He emphasized the importance of the interaction between the Star School students and the people from other cultures. His goal is for the students to no longer see us a simply Muzungus (white people) but to see us as individuals. We informed him that we too were gaining personally and professionally from our cross-cultural experiences while in Rwanda. His vision supported our ideas about continuing work with the Star School by working with the teachers and sharing pedagogies. The Bishop is very committed to creating global citizens. He provided specific examples of ways that the school could continue to grow. It was a great evening of food, fun, laughter, and vision. We have much of his conversation taped for future reference.
The evening was topped off when somone suggested taking a group picture. Our good-humored Bishop said, "It is night time, you cannot see me in pictures!" referring to his and Marjorie's dark complexion. Mickey quipped back, "But you can see us!" obviously referring to our whiteness. We all shared a good laugh and delayed pictures until another day.
We traveled to Star School this morning with an even greater sense of purpose after our wonderful conversation with Bishop Nathan. You could feel the bright spirits of everyone as Bob, our van driver, drove us to Masaka. We gathered for a meeting to update each team's status and to map out the plans for the day.
The Greenhouse Team was excited to have the irrigation system installed. They spent the previous afternoon settling the deal for the irrigation system, working out the time for the installation, getting the supplies for that installation, and discussing what would be needed to prepare the greenhouse area for the work. Our Greenhouse team determined that optimizing the existing greenhouses was a better plan than constructing another greenhouse. With different tomato plants and the irrigation system, the yield would be much greater and possibly profitable.
The Education Team had their last classes with the secondary teams that they had been working with over the two week period. They probed decision-making and touched on career choices. A post-test was given to the students and our initial scan of them proved that the students had gained from our lessons on communication, leadership, and decision-making. It was nice for us to see that the students were sad to see our time together come to a close.
We also started initial conversations with teachers for future professional development work with them. They shared with us a lunch of ground and boiled maize and beans. Very nice words were spoken about our future collaboration with the teachers. Everyone shared their names, teaching positions, and how they saw themselves fitting into our partnership. The secondary teachers, who had met with us yesterday to brainstorm future work, came very prepared with outlines of their curriculums and projected needs that they would like us to address. We were impressed by the conversation and their preparedness. They left us with much to think about as we plan for next year.
The Communication Team, which now consisted of only Kristen, got great interviews with Bishop Nathan, Marjorie, and Lawrence (a student). These interviews would become part of the Enactus Team presentation, which would allow us to continue our work through future funding. Bishop Nathan responded to questions about the Star School's future and his vision. Marjorie talked about the "excellence at Star School improving to become the best" in Rwanda. Lawrence talked about the effect of the greenhouses on him as a student and how he has helped them grow in usage. He was very instrumental in the initial installation of the greenhouses and has continued to be involved.
The group also began adding to the Star School of Rwanda Facebook page. If you are a Facebook user, please consider liking the new page! Marjorie was given the manual to be able to manage the page herself. We look forward to seeing her updates and watching the school information on Facebook.
The Advertising Team explored the history of the school in order to create a brochure for recruitment. Marjorie would like to double the school population from 700 to 1,400 students as well as expand their curriculum for accreditation. They suggested putting a large star on the roof of the library building with LED lights to draw attention to the school at night while using minimal energy. Marjorie loved the idea.
The excitement of the day was most prevalent with the installation of the irrigation system and watching the first drops of water fall after the Bishop turned on the water tank. It made those of us that were here last year very proud to see our work be made worthwhile and enriched. It was truly a great moment of celebration!
We had a rather low-key evening back at the Jambo House. Marjorie joined us so that JJ and a representative from a local fencing company could discuss the costs and possible modifications to an existing fence in order to comply with impending government requirements. Coincidentally, the representative had a vested interested in this project since his son, Alex, attends the Star School. Ultimately, the fencing was very expensive and the school will need to phase it in and determine their own priorities for doing that over time. This might be added to future work from our team.
We awoke at 7:15 a.m. and gathered for our morning breakfast of hard boiled eggs, fresh pineapple, and crepes. We departed for the Star school at 8:30 a.m.
Our day began with a team meeting in the Library to review our overall "to do" list to ascertain what we had accomplished and tasks yet to be completed. Each person who was the lead for a particular task gave an update on progress to date and identified things that remained to be completed. Topics covered included: tomato planting, drip line irrigation, repairs to greenhouses, record-keeping (tracking planting, production, sales, and consumption), erosion control, general work projects that Marjorie would like us to do, logo for Beza/Facebook postings, profiles of administration at Star school and Bishop Nathan Amooti, Facebook instructions and updates for Marjorie, marketing plan (brochure/flier), talk with Liberty University about cost-sharing, production cost for TV commercial, estimate for fence and materials, organization and dissemination of dresses, stickers and organization plan for library, inventory for science labs, business loans, talk with Cyrus, meet with Ceformi, estimates for Internet plans, centralize videos/pics, discuss proposal for DOE and Ministry of Education regarding reduced Internet access, creating report/pitch for Biofuel project, greenhouse structural analysis, sponsorship for children's, itemized list of costs for support, creation of a thank you video, schedule meeting with Bishop Nathan, work with students in computer labs, t-shirt project, interview Antoinette, and implementation of social entrepreneurship classes (whew!).
After our meeting, each team sprung into action. Today I worked with the greenhouse team (Andrew, JJ, Frank, Caleb, and Eli). Our first course of action was to meet with Marjorie to discuss the status of several items and our need to travel to town to get materials to finish various projects. She indicated that the DOE had given her approval to move forward with the proposal to the Ministry of Education for reduced-cost Internet access. Marjorie will prepare a letter for us to present to the Ministry when we go to town tomorrow. We reviewed the inventory of plastic and boards so that we could decide what we need to purchase in town tomorrow to allow us to make repairs to the greenhouses. On our trip to town tomorrow, we will purchase enough fertilizer to sustain our tomato plants for one year's worth of plantings. The cost will be $45 for the year, and next year the Star school will add this cost to their operating budget. Regarding general work projects, Marjorie would like us to repair some of the beds in the students' dormitory. We will be meeting Balton Co. in town tomorrow to get a price estimate for the drip irrigation system and also to prepare a request for a micro loan for the Star school to assist with the implementation of the Biofuel project. We confirmed that we have plenty of plastic left from last year to make the necessary repairs to the greenhouses. We will meet with the tailor to ensure that he has the correct thread and needle for the repairs. Marjorie indicated that there are no boards left from last year, so JJ will determine our needs for repairs. It is important to note that the Star school is about a 35 minute drive from downtown Kigali where we are staying. Each day we need to arrange for transportation to and from the school, and we need to plan a few days ahead to travel back to town so that we can obtain the materials and resources that we need to complete our work. Often times we need to go to several stores before we find what we need at a reasonable price. Sometimes we call ahead and are promised that things are in stock, only to find that this is not the case when we get to the store. Simply stated, it is not a quick trip to Lowes.
And now it was time for our greenhouse team to get to our main task for the day: planting 100-plus tomato plants. The folks at Star school planted about 120 bedding plants from the seeds that they bought at market. These were grown under a shaded pergola near the Administration building on the top of the hill. There is a forest of banana plants surrounding this area. Since the Star school does not have a wheelbarrow, we needed to carry all of the plants by hand (stacked up in a row of six between our arms) from the pergola to the greenhouses (down three hills, and about 3/10 of a mile). After our first run, we decided to get a box so that we could move about 20 plants at a time. This required us to go the library to empty a box of supplies so that we could use the box for a "human wheelbarrow." We used a lot of duct tape to repair the box (thank you Eli), and then started moving the plants again. Thankfully, the Education team (Gina, Donnan, and Mickey) finished their decision-making lessons early and were able to help us move the bedding plants. This took us over an hour. Since it took so long, we needed to move some of the plants to a shaded area so that they would not get parched. We clipped the leaves back on each plant so that they would not limp over after planting. We worked with Rose Marie and Andrew (both of whom work at the school) to fertilize the soil (with the new spray container and fertilizer we bought at the Agricultural Fair) before planting. We ran string lines to ensure straight rows, Andrew brought a few hoes down so that we could dig our holes 12 inches apart, and finally it was time for planting! We needed to climb down an additional hill to the "barn" where about a half a dozen cows live. To the side of the barn there was a pile of manure that was covered by variegated aluminum. Our task: shovel (hoe) manure into small boxes (that we acquired from the Library) that we could carry up to the greenhouses. We filled each hole with about two handfuls of manure, then mixed it with the soil by hand (thank you Frank for the demonstration!), and transplanted each bedding plant. The Star school students joined us for the planting and it was a terrific time. While it was sweltering inside the greenhouses, our blood, sweat, and tears went into the planting and we felt exhilarated by the completion of this project. For me, this was the highlight of our day.
After we finished our work at the Star school, we traveled to Mbyo, which is about 45 minutes south of Kigali near the Burundi boarder, to the Reconciliation Village. This visit was heart-wrenching and yet uplifting. Following up on our visit to the Genocide Memorial, our visit to this village promised hope for the future not only for a brighter and better Rwanda, but for our world. When we arrived, we were invited to sit in a circle by Guma, Director of Prison Fellowship, who we met at our Rotary meeting on Tuesday night in Kigali. The circle included us, genocide perpetrators, and genocide victims. After introducing ourselves, we heard testimonies from the perpetrators and the victims, as translated by Guma. There were many sounds from the street -- an occasional car passing by, a cow mooing as it walked down the street, roosters crowing, and children laughing and crying. The sounds of the day made things seem so normal, but their stories had no resemblance of normalcy; they were gripping and tormenting. The goal of the project is to promote healing and forgiveness and to love one another in order to re-build a more humanitarian and better Rwanda. To this end, both perpetrators and victims/survivors live together in one village. Prior to the genocide, the Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa had lived together in peace for hundreds of years. During the genocide, over 1 million people were slaughtered and more than 2 million took exile in neighboring Burundi, Congo, Uganda, and Tanzania. Neighbors turned against one another and there was death and carnage across Rwanda. Two of the survivors described seeing their parents and siblings murdered before their eyes and their fleeing with their lives. After, they lived in orphanages for a time, many of them were relocated to their original villages. There are six such reconciliation villages across the country. In these villages, both victims and perpetrators learn how to forgive and to live in harmony. They work together on their farms and gardens, have shared schooling, and they seek peace and love. To listen to a perpetrator describe the killing and devastation that they had inflicted, their time in prison, and their acceptance of responsibility and expression of remorse, was heart-wrenching. Perpetrators who qualified for the reconciliation project were welcomed into the village and expected to make amends to their victims. While it was a difficult process, the victims clearly had forgiven them and learned to accept them into their community. In these villages, the perpetrators live side-by-side with the survivors of the families who they killed. The residents weave peace baskets and other woven goods to sell to support their village. Several of us purchased items and met the weavers who had made them. We were in awe of this amazing village and program. After our discussion, Kenneth, the village school director gave us a tour of his Angel nursery school and talked about the future opening of a primary school. They have one-hundred chickens at the school so that each child may get one egg per day. He is an energetic and charismatic leader who is clearly passionate about the future of the children and the school. Our experience at the Restoration Village was indeed an inspiration and gave all of us hope for a better world.
Donnan and the team will continue to send updates and pictures this week that I will post.
Murabeho, Imana ibahe umugisha!
We arose at 7:00 a.m. and had a breakfast of peas and carrots with ambitious seasoning, eggs, and fresh pineapple and mango. As always, we had strong coffee. We left at 8:00 a.m. so that we had time to stop to exchange some US dollars for Rwanda Francs and to buy a few cases of water for the day. Our destination was the Akagera National Park for a safari in the Eastern Province on the Tanzanian border. The Akagera River runs between the Rwandan and Tanzanian border. The source of the Nile River is in the Southern Province of Rwanda in Nyungwe National Park.
There were ten of us in our party: Cynthia Wood, Donnan Stoicovy, Gina Volpe, Andrew Scott, Frank Amabile, JJ Cagner, Kristen Ray, Mickey Port, Eli Wood, and myself. We left Kigali, traveling east on Route 80 out of the Kigali Hub. We drove on the ridge that was across from the Star school, so it was neat to see all of the buildings and the soccer field from across the ridge. We were excited to see our two green houses in the lower field on the east side of the school. We traveled through rolling hills in the rural farmlands outside of Kigali. We passed through small towns such as Nyagasambu and Ntunga, seeing lots of rice paddies, groves of Acacia trees, and fields of banana plants. As always, there were hundreds of pedestrians carrying water in large yellow containers on their backs, people on bikes with loads of grasses or burlap bags of grain, working their way slowly up the steep hills. About 25% of the folks walking were barefoot. The countryside was a patchwork of various crops stitched neatly on the mountainsides. As we climbed higher into the mountains, the smell of burning fields filled the air. It was a pleasure to be outside of the city and to see a somewhat less congested landscape. Walkers and bikers replaced the large trucks, cars and motorcycles. We saw fields of sugar cane, Canna Lilies, and sunflowers. The climate is great for growing all types of crops, considering that this area of Rwanda is 75 miles below the equator. We saw several large Poinsettia plants (really more like trees) in the yards of some of the homes. As we climbed the mountains and the altitude rose, the air felt cooler and was soothing. There were Sorghum fields and Sorghum grains drying on the flat earthen yards in front of homes. Sorghum is used for making porridge, beer and alcohol spirits. At Rwamagan, which was a larger town, we turned left and entered the Eastern Province. We went through the town of Kayonza that had a large statue of a Holstein cow in the center of their circle. We headed south to Nyamirama, to Kabarondo, and then to the Northeast to the Park.
We stopped at the headquarters to pay our fees and had a quick lunch of water, Kashi and protein bars, and nuts. We met our guide, got an overview of the trip, and were on our way. It took about three hours to travel from the southern part of the park to the northernmost savannah region. It was a long and bumpy road, with trees and the bush right beside us. Often times we needed to dodge the limbs as they came through the windows. There was so much dust at times that we could barely breath. The lower part of the park was where we were to find the elephants. We saw many, many piles of elephant excrement, so we knew that they were close. We noticed Lake Ihema to our right, with palm trees and marshy areas. I remember thinking to myself that if I were an elephant, I would want to be hanging out there. Right around the bend, I saw a herd of elephants (about 12-15) and yelled out, "Elephants on the right." They were making their way up toward us and came very near to us. There was a bull elephant, a mama elephant, as well as a few babies and other adolescents. They were massive, intimidating, and protective of their young.
As we made our way up the park, we saw Baboons, Impalas, White Buck, Warthogs, Topi, and more. It was so exciting to watch both sides of the road to see all of the flora and fauna. While there was great excitement, it was hot, with dusty and extremely bumpy and rutted roads, so the going was tough. We also encountered vicious blood sucking flies that came into the van and we had to constantly fight them off. Eli was our expert terminator and kept us safe. Our senses and our nerves were on high alert, and it was absolutely amazing.
Finally we made it to the Northern area of the park and the landscape was more open and savannah-like, with lots of prickly low brush. We came around a bend and saw several Giraffes, both adult and adolescent. There were some Warthogs and Zebras as well, just hanging out. We walked in the bush for awhile and followed them as they were grazing. This was a surreal experience. I have never felt so relaxed and at peace in my life.
Then we kept going North and were able to see the Tanzanian mountains. The landscape was absolutely stunning. As we approached Lake Muhindi, we saw several swamps and someone noticed bubbles. We asked the driver to stop, and as we watched with anticipation, suddenly a huge hippopotamus arose from the waters. He was enormous and aggressive. He was grey with pink tones around the neckline, and was sporting a beautiful green lei of water plants. Mr. Hippo put on quite a show, first growling and asserting his authority. Then we heard and saw a volcano of feces being ejected from his behind. He waddled forward, turned and stared at us, and then he disappeared under the waters. Personally, that was my favorite moment of the day.
As we traveled around the lake, we saw many more hippos, one of whom scowled at us with his mouth open as wide as a canyon. We saw dozens of beautiful birds, including Plovers, Magpies, Egrets, Kingfishers, Herron, Eagles, and more. We spotted one crocodile who quickly disappeared into the murky waters.
After spending a few hours in the bush, we headed south through the park to return home. We saw many of the same animals that we encountered on our northern ascent, but the highlight was when we were coming through the Elephants' habitat and I spotted a Bull and a calf right by the road. The van stopped and we watched the calf cross the road right behind our van. Then the Bull followed. He paused, giving a slight turn to the left to square off with us. He swayed left to right, establishing his dominance, and then spread his ears wide, indicating that he wanted us to back off. Our guide said that we needed to leave, because the Bull's next move would be to fold his ears toward us and charge. So, we continued south on our journey home.
We returned to Jambo House about 9:00 p.m. after a thirteen hour day. We were exhausted and red-soil covered. After much needed and refreshing showers, we had a lovely dinner of goat meat, rice, salad, and potatoes. After dinner, we planned our day for returning to the Star school tomorrow to work with the students. In the afternoon we will visit the Village of Reconciliation, which we are looking forward to very much.
We started our day at 7:00 a.m. with breakfast at the Jambo House - fresh pineapple, hard boiled eggs, and crepes. We departed at 8:30 for the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where we spent about three hours. It was a most sombre experience. The Center started in 1999 with a resolution by the Kigali City Council and construction began. The purpose of the Center is to honor the 1 million Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa who were killed in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Burial of the remains of the victims began at the Center in 2001. The Center was completed in April 2004, and was made possible by the Aegis Trust from the United Kingdom. The four objectives of the Center include: 1) Provide a dignified burial place for victims, 2) Inform and educate about genocide and its prevention, 3) Provide a documentation center to honor the lives and stories of the victims, and 4) Provide support for survivors, especially the orphans and widows. The experience was quite difficult for many of us, but it was important to us for setting the context for our work here.
I had visited the Center twice before, spending most of my time studying the indoor exhibits, so today I spent the time visiting the gardens and reflecting on the enormity of the horrific actions and outcomes of the genocide. The following is a summary of the outdoor exhibits/gardens:
As we left the Memorial and drove to our next destination, there was much silent contemplation and reflection among all of us. We look forward to the message of hope that we anticipate experiencing on Monday when we visit the Mbyo Reconciliation Village about 45 minutes outside of Kigali, where survivors and perpetrators of the genocide now live together in peace and harmony.
The rest of our day was spent at one of the Art Co-ops in Kigali, and at Ivuka Art Co-op where we watched children performing native dances and drum routines. Several of our students and Donnan jumped in to participate! It was a beautiful way to end our day as we celebrated traditional Rwandan music and dance. We reflected on the vital role the Arts have in maintaining creativity, culture and beauty in all civilizations. Truly advanced and democratic societies throughout time have always valued the Arts.
We had a full day at the Star school. We spent the first part of the morning reviewing our tasks and goals, assessing what we had accomplished thus far, and what is left to do. Each work team gave an update on their work and progress. It was fulfilling to think about all of our progress.
We continued with our life skills lessons, focusing on communication skills. We did several active learning techniques with the students and all of us had a terrific time. Gina continues to do a great job leading our team!
Eli, Andrea, JJ, Brittany, Caleb, and Frank did some cool art activities with the primary students.
We also sat under Acacia trees and read to small groups of the primary students. Andrew enjoyed interacting with the children to identify animal sounds, letters and objects and relating with the students in small groups.
Caleb and Eli met with the biology and chemistry teacher to outline what the school currently has and still needs in order to be able to meet the government requirements for the science curriculum.
Donnan, Gina, Mickey, Kristen, and I met with Marjorie to work on planning details. Donnan showed Marjorie the DVD of her fifth grade class end-of-year celebration and gave her a copy of the School Year Book. Marjorie was so excited and animated by the images, and the exchange led to a wonderful discussion of learning techniques and the importance of actively engaging students in the learning process. We also talked about future exchanges.
A very special part of our day was having lunch with the students. We had white sweet potatoes and beans. The students were excited to have us join them for lunch.
At 3:00 p.m. our team played a Star school team in a 40 minute football (soccer) match. It was so much fun! There were hundreds of folks from the school and the local village who lined the edges of the field and the hill above the football field to watch the competition. The Star school team was great and were proud to win the game! It was a beautiful setting as the sun set over the valley and swirls of red dust kicked up across the field. After that competition, our guys (Caleb, JJ, Jerrel, Andrew, and Frank) played in the Star school students in a basketball game as well!
It was another wonderful day!
We awoke at 7:00 a.m. and gathered at the breakfast table at Jambo Guest House for coffee, fresh pineapple, and crepes. We reviewed our plans for the day and departed promptly at 8:30 a.m. in our van, driven by bus driver Bob, and headed to the Masaka District of Kigali where we spent our day's work at the Star school. It was a beautiful, blue sky, warm (85 degrees) day. It took us about 35 minutes to arrive at the school, traveling over a mix of cobblestone, asphalt, and very bumpy red clay roads. The streets were busy with activity, with all manner of pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, cars and trucks, many of which were loaded to the brim with various types of cargo. Several women, children and men were also carrying bundles of goods ranging from grasses, sticks, large plastic containers of water, and fruits and vegetables on their backs as they walked on worn red clay paths. Our van was hot and steamy. We had the windows open as wide as possible, and fine red dust floated through the van as well as our lungs.
As we traveled together, the students were buzzing with enthusiasm and excitement as they talked about our upcoming day's work. We stopped by the Agricultural Fair briefly to drop off Frank, Jerrel, and Andrew so that they could purchase some items that we would need for the day. Bus driver Bob dropped the rest of us off at the Star school and we were greeted by many of the children who were delighted to see us. Brittany and Caleb were in charge of meeting with Principal Marjorie to get details about the physical plant of the campus of the school (total number of buildings, square footage, lay out for the biofuels system, etc.) and to document the physical plant via pictures.
Gina, Kristen, Andrew, Donnan, Mickey, and I met with Teacher Andrew who took us to his classroom where we taught our lessons on Life Skills to the Secondary 4 (10th grade) students. We did some "get to know you" activities and small group work. The students were terrific and very happy to have us there. Gina's meticulous planning and innate teacher-instinct ensured that the lesson was a great success. Mickey was amazing with the students, as usual, and had the students laughing and having fun. Andrew related so well with Derrick and enjoyed our game of "telephone." Donnan added her student-centered and humanistic approach to our interactions with the students. I enjoyed singing a few lines from Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" when students asked me, "What is your favorite song?" I then played a bit of the song from my iPad, and it was magical when the students started to hum along with the tune.
Lee Ann was busy all day long with logistics and setting up the week's agenda, as well as ensuring meaningful experiences for us with our Rwandan friends. Later this week we will visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial and the Reconciliation Village, and we will return to the Inema Arts Center to see art from the Women's Collective as well as some children musical performances. Later in the week we will travel northeast for a safari.
After our lunch of water, Luna bars, and Kind bars (the latter given to me by my kind friend, Donnan; I note that it is NOT a candy bar), we taught two more lessons to the Secondary 5 (11th grade) students. The class size was much smaller, so we were able to cover much more material. We made great connections with the students. Derrick, Vanessa and Nadine remembered us from last year and asked about some of our students (Angie, Mike and Curtis) who traveled with us last year but who aren't with us this year. It was nice to make that connection with them and Gina created a video of the Star school students to share with them. Our day spent with the students was terrific. At times were we were laughing together, and then we would be moved to tears. At one juncture, Derrick, whose English was note quite as good as the other students, was expressing the challenges he faced, noting that some of the other students had many more years of English training than he and thus more "life chances." This crystalized for us the importance of getting additional sponsorship support for the students. (To learn more about child sponsorship, visit Penn State Altoona's sitewww.bezaproject.org). Two of the students, when asked who their favorite person in the world was, said, "My sponsor, who pays for my schooling and all expenses, because she has changed my life and given me hope." All of us were moved to tears and our commitment to our work was deepened.
Eli, Frank, Andrew and JJ worked with Rose Marie to prepare the raised beds in the greenhouses so that the soil would be ready for transplanting the tomato bedding plants later in the week. It was sweltering hot inside the greenhouses and they stuck with the project all afternoon. Jerrel was busy in the library all day, preparing a report for Mavuuno, the company in Nairobi, Kenya, with whom HESE (Humanitarian Engineering Social Entrepreneurship) at University Park licensed their greenhouse technology. Jerrel is proposing that we hold off on building our third greenhouse until we optimize the productivity of the two greenhouses we put in last year.
On our way home we stopped by the Inema Arts Cener, a local artist cooperative to meet the artists and tour their galleries. Emmanuel Nicuranga, the founder, met us, introduced us to his artist friends, and gave us a tour of his galleries. There is a special program for street children and there were several children and families hanging out and creating art. There were some terrific pieces there and the view of the City of a Thousand Hills was fabulous. It was a great way to end our day and connect with folks in yet another concrete manner.
We arrived back home at Jambo Guest House about 6:00 p.m. and had a nice dinner of fish, salad, and fries. The sun begins to set early here and the temperature has dropped significantly, and it feels delightful. It is wonderful for all of us to eat dinner together, to talk about our day, and to begin our planning for tomorrow. Our team has gelled very well and I couldn't be more proud of our students, whose commitment and dedication to our work is beyond reproach. It is soon time for our evening debriefing and planning meeting, and then it will be time for bed so that we will be rested for tomorrow's activities.
Today we spent the day at STAR school. We installed a path from the school to the greenhouses and met with school's principal to review the process for applying for discounted internet access via the Ministry of Education. We organized books in the library, played with kids, and discussed the main needs of the school and prioritized our projects which include:
It was great day! We're planning lessons tonight for tomorrow's day with the students.
There is great energy among and between students and faculty. This is a highly motivated and responsible group; a great team. It was a fulfilling day; feeling grounded and thankful and delighted to be doing our good work here.
Looking forward to tomorrow and another beautiful day!
Marjorie, STAR school director, giving us directions about transplanting tomato plants they grew from seed into greenhouses that were built last year by Penn State Altoona students and faculty members.
We just arrived at STAR School! Right now we're busy checking out our greenhouses that we built last year. It feels so good to be back. It's a surreal feeling; seems like we never left.
We have a terrific group of students — highly motivated and energetic. I am so proud of their commitment and good works! I'm here with students Kristen Ray, JJ Cagner, Frank Amabile, Gina Volpe, Jerrel Gilliam, Caleb Bowser, Brittany Gil, and Andrew Scott. Also here is Donnan Stoicovy, Principal and Lead Learner at Park Forest Elementary School, Mickey Port, Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies and Women's Studies Lee Ann De Reus, Senior Instructor in Business Administration Cynthia Wood, and Cynthia's son Eli Wood.
We are trying to figure out crop rotation and decide what types of fertilizers we need to get. We need to try to get artificial fertilizer to increase the frequency of crop rotation so that crops can be grown year round. Natural fertilizers deplete the soil and decrease production. Artificial fertilizers will increase crop production, which means more money will be made from sale at the market. More money at the market means more investment in the school. Plus more crops mean more food year-round for the school children.
We're also discussing an irrigation system that we'll install. We'll likely use a drip irrigation system.
The STAR Kids are excited to see us. They love our being here and enjoy the the fresh tomato sauce they have to eat. We will also be planting more grasses behind greenhouses to prevent erosion. We'll add some trenches as well. Plus we'll add a new path connecting the school to the greenhouses in the fields.