For the past two weeks 43 of us have been in Rwanda, working on 20 different projects across the country.
Yesterday we completed my project at the orphanage. We have restored 4 classrooms and built a new one. We have installed electricity, running water and water collection tanks. The genocide survivors now have new cooking and washing facilities. We have built benches, furniture and a climbing frame.
82 children aged 2 to 8 attend school here every day, over half are orphans. When we arrived the only teaching aids were hand drawn posters and the pencils were sharpened with a bare razor blade. I went shopping with one of the teachers. They now have footballs, skipping ropes, pens, sharpeners, calculators, protractors, and each child has their own note book. Thank you to everyone back home who sponsored this equipment.
I also visited a secondary school. It is holiday time yet in one of the classrooms a crowd of 20 pupils had gathered. They were teaching each other physics for their equivalent of GCSEs. Despite extreme poverty there is a huge willingness to learn in this country.
We should not assume that just because a country is behind us economically that they are backward. One seven year old showed me her school work. Her mathematics is way ahead of that being studied by my own seven year son old in the UK - and he is meant to be on our "gifted and talented" program!
Small things can make a huge difference here. Teaching aids are very limited. The school "library" consists of two shelves of ancient books and the headmaster teaches chemistry by showing the pupils his one test-tube and flask, he can not demonstrate an experiment let alone allow them the chance to practice one. We showed the primary teachers how to make alphabet building blocks and let the children use them to form words, they were delighted. We showed these to the government minister - the idea will now be copied.
In Rwanda we have found a deep sense of community - on the last Saturday of every month every person helps in a community clean up so the streets are exceptionally clean. Plastic bags are banned, and everything is re-used. The prison needs no guards as if people "escape" they know they will be returned by their neighbours. Given the terrible history of this country I expected to feel a bit unsafe - yet actually we have all commented that we feel very safe.
Kigali, the capital city has a growing population as people are drawn in from rural area. The mayor describes her biggest issues as Urban Planning, Sanitation and Infrastructure - almost identical to the biggest issues that we deal with on my local council in a growth area back at home.
There are enormous problems here but there is also an overwhelming desire to find solutions.