I’ve always loved the start of a new school year, but after surviving two months at site without anything in particular to keep me occupied, I don’t know if I’ve ever looked forward to the first day of school as much as I did this year. As is typical with the Rwandan way of life, the school year started very slowly and lackadaisically (or buhoro, buhoro as Rwandans like to say). No one taught formal lessons the first week (I was teased by the other teachers for even attempting), and students continued to slowly trickle in for the first two weeks.
Finally, last week, I received official rosters for my classes and solidified my schedule. I teach four sections of Senior 4 (equivalent of about 10th grade), and each class for two hours a week. I’ve been working hard to get to know my students—or, at the very least, some of their names—but with class sizes of up to fifty and only two periods a week with each section, learning their names has proven to be just as difficult as actually attempting to pronounce them. In Rwanda, many students change schools between Senior 3 and Senior 4, so for most of my students it is their first year at St. Jerome. Although all of their classes are taught in English at this point, the vast majority of my kids cannot give an example of an adjective, they have never been introduced to the concept of a paragraph, and their writing is rampant with comma splices and run-on sentences. Fortunately, for the most part, they have already proven themselves to be hard workers and eager learners.
I have also been asked to help with Senior 6 (12th grade) classes from time to time to help hone their communication skills. On my first day with them, when I asked if they had any questions for me, they absolutely blew me away. They wanted to know the real story about Ferguson and race relations in the U.S., requested that I sing a chorus of a Beyonce song, asked me to compare economic development in Rwanda and America, and hoped that I would reveal any insider knowledge I have about Area 51 as an American (I reassured that them that they probably know just as much as I do). Here’s hoping my current Senior 4 students rise to their level in the next two years! Generally, although lesson planning can be tedious, actually being in a classroom and teaching is probably the happiest and most fulfilled I’ve been since moving to my site in December. Finally, after living in Rwanda for five months, I am actually doing what I came here to do!
When I’m not in the classroom teaching, I spend a lot of time in the teachers’ room at my school planning lessons and getting to know the other teachers. In general, the other teachers have been pretty friendly and interested in conversing with me in English. I’ve found that sports has been one of the best way to bond with them. I play volleyball with a group of teachers a few times a week and act as an assistant coach for the girls’ soccer team.
There’s plenty going on outside of teaching, too. I’ve been putting a lot of time into becoming part of the Community Finance Initiative, which is a partnership between Peace Corps Rwanda and an NGO called Global Communities designed to bring household finance and entrepreneurship skills to remote villages like mine that have difficulty accessing the formal financial sector. However, in order to participate, I need to raise $800 in less than three weeks, which will be quite a feat. If you would like to contribute or learn more about the project, please check out my fundraising page here: http://www.gofundme.com/mjukl8. This income-generating program could have a huge impact in my village, and I would appreciate any and all assistance you are able to give!
I have recently been appointed a regional representative for the STOMP Out Malaria committee, a project that unites Peace Corps Volunteers throughout Africa in our goals of improving treatment and reducing the spread of malaria. I’m responsible for doing an anti-malaria project once every three months at least and helping people in the Northern province do the same. We are planning a Malaria Expo in April open to all PCVs to kick off Malaria Month at the end of April.
At my school, I am working to charter two new clubs, one for girls called GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) and one for boys called BE (Boys Excelling). Later this year, the PCVs in the North will organise week-long GLOW and BE camps to encourage leadership, gender equality, and healthy living amongst Rwandan youth. I also plan to apply for a grant later this year to improve our library resources for students.
Over the past few weeks, I have developed a friendship with the nuns and friars who run a primary school down the street from me. They also offer schooling specifically for children with disabilities, which is virtually unheard of in Rwanda. Part of my job here is to encourage the development of a reading culture, so I plan to start reading to the children at this school once a week.
The first term ends at the beginning of April, so my friends and I are planning a trip to Uganda! We’ll explore the craziness of Kampala, raft the Nile, and do some much-needed relaxing on the shore of Lake Victoria.
So once again, my life has changed pretty drastically, from nothing to do to, well, everything to do. I think the question now is not what I should do, but what I should do first.