Drumroll, please…

This past Friday, I received my permanent site placement for the school that I will work at beginning in December! This was a HUGE, momentous day for all of us trainees, and was met with a great deal of anxiety and excitement. The ceremony was carried out in Harry Potter fashion, using a “sorting hat” to divide us based on region: Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western Provinces. I will be teaching at….

G.S. St Jerome Janja, a Catholic boarding school in Janja village, Gakenke district, and the Northern Province!

250px-GakenkeDist

The school itself is definitely not what I expected when I envisioned my life as a Peace Corps volunteer. It received the award for #1 school in all of Rwanda in 2009 and 2010 and is still among the top secondary schools in the country. In Rwanda, students take three National Exams during their schooling, and these exams essentially determine the fate of their educational career. The first exam takes place after 6th grade and determines which secondary schools students are eligible to attend. Therefore, only students who do exceptionally well on this exam and who are able to pay the school fees can come to my school. My school is focused on science and technology and is very large: 780 students between 6th-12th grades. Unlike most of my fellow trainees, I probably won’t have major problems with insanely large class sizes, access to materials, and students not being properly nourished. However, I have no doubt that my school will present its own unique challenges…

I am St. Jerome’s third Peace Corps Volunteer, so most of the students and teachers have a pretty good understanding of what Peace Corps is all about. However, I am the first female volunteer that they have had and also the first volunteer who will focus on English Education rather than science and technology. I am hoping that this will offer some opportunities for me to chart my own course as a volunteer and undertake projects and initiatives that are different from my predecessors’ but equally helpful for my community. I will be one of only a few female teachers, from my understanding, and there are twice as many boys at my school as there are girls, so I am sure there will be many opportunities to explore topics of gender equality, one of Peace Corps Rwanda’s focus areas. Peace Corps has started two programs under this umbrella, G.L.O.W. (Girls Leading Our World) for girls, and B.E. (Boys Excel) for boys. My school already has GLOW and BE clubs and even hosted a GLOW conference this year to support girls’ involvement in the fields of information and communication technology (ICT).

I met my school’s headmaster, Father Alphonse, yesterday at a Peace Corps conference, and he seems absolutely wonderful. Along with being the school’s Director, he is also a priest and religion teacher. His English is excellent and he seems to be pretty progressive and accustomed to working with Americans, so I’m very lucky. He told me that I will probably be living on the school’s campus in a large house shared with a female school administrator. I still don’t know much about the surrounding community except that it’s very small, rural, and remote. I am pretty far from other volunteers and up in the mountains, which will probably make transportation difficult. However, I’ve heard that the north is absolutely beautiful. I’ll be close to Volcanoes National Park, which is where the famous mountain gorillas are. I’m about equally close to the borders of Uganda and the Congo and a few hours from Kigali.

That’s about all I know for now, but I’ll find out a LOT more in the net few days because I actually get to visit my site! Tomorrow I’ll head up north with Father Alphonse. I’ll get to see my living quarters and the school, sit in on a class, meet the other teachers, and explore my future community. On Friday I will travel to Musanze (aka Ruhengeri—many towns in Rwanda have been officially renamed by the government but are still known to many by their old names) for the regional meeting of all Peace Corps Volunteers in the Northern province. I can’t wait to meet some of the experienced volunteers and get to hear about some of the programming that they’re doing in the region! I’ve also heard that Musanze has really excellent pizza and ice cream…

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