Project 2008

Most of us had participated in the 2007 project that resulted from the relationship between Beata Umugwangwali and her sisters Immaculee and Margaret and Brian Anderson, a team leader for Habitat for Humanity until his transfer by his employer to Viet Nam. We refer to Beata as “El Jefe”, or “the boss”, who has managed to keep the team together to restore L’Ecole Primaire Catholique de Butare, the primary school that Beata and her siblings attended. The school was developed by the Catholic Church in the early 1930′s; then given to the Rwandan ministry of Education after the war in 1994 (the “genocide”). The school is now the property of Rwanda MINDUC (Ministry of Education) but managed by the Catholic Church who provide the management and instructors.

2008 Project

On July 19, 2008, 7 volunteers met in Kigali, Rwanda, for the first day of a planned 2-week project to complete the recent work started by local contractor, Vincent Semuhungu, in anticipation of the arrival of the volunteers. A delightful lunch was enjoyed by the early arrivals who arrived on Ethiopian Airlines, and some left right after lunch for the drive to Butare , and the balance waited until the arrival of the Brussels Airlines flite with the remaining 2 volunteers; then left for the drive to Butare, arriving about 11 PM at the Hotel Mont du Huye, the host hotel for the duration of the project. Rooms were assigned, and everyone moved in.

Day 1 – Sunday, July 20 … a free day to give the team time to get used to the elevation and the town of Butare. Some of us walked up to the school and noticed that a lot of gardening had been started but was currently overgrown with weeds. New areas had been turned over in preparation of additional gardening, and the conversion of a previous abandoned classroom into a multi-purpose room with two secured rooms as well as the updating of the 6-classroom building closest to the highway was obviously well under way. Those with prior experience with Butare were delighted to find that the local market on the main street had been moved across the street and expanded to include a restaurant and espresso machine! The owners continued to exchange money at the same rate as the local banks, and the exchange process was much easier with the owners of the market.

Day 2 – Monday, July 21 … What a surprise it was to walk up the main entrance to the school and find the front entrance garden area weed-free. We found out that the new Principal of the school had led the team of sisters and volunteers to clean up the entrance before our arrival! Our first day on site with Vincent, Laurent, the construction manager, and Sister Vineranda (now known as Sister V) was to see the progress of the rehabilitation. The volunteers who had been on site in 2007 were astonished at the amount of work that had already been accomplished. The 6-classroom building that also contained the Principal’s office was literally finished! Beata agreed that the local workers should do the bulk of the work, leaving only the painting inside the multi-purpose room to the students and volunteers. The multi purpose room was complete except for the interior painting, and it was decided that the students would paint only the first coat, leaving the finish coat to the professionals. All volunteers wore laminated badges with their name on lanyards that also held miniature Sharpies so we would always have something to write with on site. Badges on lanyards had been prepared for 40 students (30 were expected), but we ran out of badges on the first day and had to resort to painting names on painters’ tape, and we were suspicious that the badges were being passed around, giving more students the opportunity to interact with the muzungas (white people). The painting was completed the first day, much to our surprise.

Day 3 – Tuesday, July 22 – what do we do with 40+ students and no painting to do? We build brick walkways which requires hauling bricks, shoveling dirt, then placing the bricks in lines as close to straight as they could possibly manage having to use broken brick. Work was also started on replacing destroyed brick boundaries on planting areas, driveways, etc.

Day 4 – Wednesday, July 23. More work on completing brick walkways and restoring brick-lined planting areas and rearranging plantings to provide more color in more places.

Bob Schoenthal introduced the staff to a donated computer, projector and the Rosetta Stone program for teaching English. The teachers were excited to have the equipment, especially the ability to use it themselves to learn English.

Lin and Beata attended an evening meeting of the Rotary Club of Butare and were quite happy to receive their agreement to sponsor a matching grant application because a Hawaii Rotary Club had already agreed to partner with the Butare Club. There was an additional surprise offer of assistance from several younger members of Rotary who were still at University. We suggested the school needed help teaching English, and the students agreed that volunteering at the school was an excellent way to reflect the Rotary philosophy of “service above self”.

Day 5 – Thursday, July 24. The same students from Rotary requested an opportunity to interview the team about what and why they were involved in the project for a school project. There was also a student specializing in radio, and the team was delighted to receive a report the next evening that a radio feature on the project had been broadcast. The “New Times”, an English-language newspaper, is ready to publish the article, subject to additional information.

The team took off late in the afternoon (much later than desired) in a van to visit the country we had not seen before. We traveled first to Kibuye, home to Beata Umugwangwali and her husband for 7 years prior to the war … the happiest 7 years of her life, according to Beata. We arrived at the Hotel Beatrice in time for a beer and a late dinner and no hot water. A word of warning .. the Beatrice sits on a steep slope and many steps lie between our view rooms and the restaurant on the lowest level of the hotel. Service was adequate but not quick, as is the case in most African hotels. Food was good, and the beer was cold.

Day 6 – Friday, July 25. We awoke early to a beautiful view of Lake Kivu and buckets of very hot water outside our doors for use the African manner, pouring the water over your head using the buckets sitting inside the bathtub in each room. We all managed to survive the experience and met for an early breakfast and photo taking. It was interesting that the water was so hot, it had to be mixed almost 50/50 with cold water before it could be used!

Beata led us on a tour of Kibuye, including a gathering of buildings that had been managed by Beata’s husband. Beata led the group up the hill to the location of her home that had been destroyed in the war in 1994.

The facility is now the Environmental Health campus of the University of Rwanda. We were delighted to find a kitchen that included extremely large vats being heated with wood burning fires. Lots of photos were taken since a kitchen/cafeteria are on the “to do” list for Butare. We traveled from Kibuye to Kigali, arriving at the hotel where, again, some of us had no hot water. But the rooms with no hot water had wireless access to the internet; so things worked out. The next day some of us had to move to new rooms, and we all found hot water!

Day 7 – Saturday, July 26. Some of the team visited the Akagara National Park and had the opportunity to see giraffes, cape buffalo, zebras, antelope, and babboons. It was VERY dusty, and the team was VERY disappointing to again find no hot water to get rid of the dust when they returned late at night after having to fix a flat tire.

Day 8 – Sunday, July 27. Those team members who were going to visit the gorillas checked out of the hotel and got a late start because one of the primary school graduates was to accompany the group, but he arrived in Kigali dressed to the 9′s with nothing suitable for the 4-hour hike up and down a mountain. A pair of pants was quickly found (and later donated), a t-shirt was provided, and a weatherproof jacket completed the outfit .. except for shoes. A visit to the genocide museum cost valuable time, and the group didn’t leave as early as they would have liked, but the student had appropriate shoes for the hike.

And Gaby Egide had the day of his life, with an ear-to-ear smile while he manned the high definition video camera because he had never seen a live gorilla and because he wants to be a photo journalist.

The team members not visiting the gorillas spent the day preparing for a meeting with the Minister of Education on Monday.

Day 9- Monday, July 28. Beata, our leader, and Lin McIntosh, the business side of the project, were fortunate to receive an appointment with the Minister of Education, Theoneste Mutsindashyaka, and the Secretary General of the Ministry of Education, Justin Nsengiyumva. The Minister had been an educator in his previous life and had spent 5 years in Butare and was well acquainted with Beata’s father, a well known ob/gyn who had built the hospital in Butare to professional excellence. Beata presented the story of her involvement, as well as Lin’s, and then asked Lin to provide more details. It was amazing that every long-term plan the team had come up with was already in process with the Ministry of Education. MINDUC had already negotiated with John Negroponte for the purchase of some 70,000 XO “one laptop per child” computers and promised that the first 600 would go to L’Ecole Primaire Catholique de Butare as a “child friendly” model school to set the pattern for the rest of Rwanda. When the subject of a kitchen/cafeteria was brought up, the Minister immediately asked the Secretary General to contact UNICEF to see if they would take over the project to allow the children to have at least one hot meal/day.

Lin and Beata left the meeting with high hopes that their long-term plans could be accomplished working with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF, and the matching grant program of Rotary International.

The gorilla group returned to Kigali and the team was reunited for the return to Butare.

Day 10 – Tuesday, July 29. Back to the school to put the final touches on the multi purpose room as well as the 6-classroom building. The grounds were also cleaned and touched up with new brick walkways in front of every classroom door.

Day 11 – Wednesday, July 30. Dedication Day. Sister V had organized quite a program that included the Bishop of the Diocese who dominated the head table, the administrator of all education for Huye province, and other people of importance. There was dancing by a dance troupe from an area to the north of Butare, and the program ended with a response from the Bishop, promising not one but two cows requested by Sister V to she could provide milk to the students and, eventually, meat for the students cooked in the kitchen she wanted.

Day 12 – Thursday, July 31. Most of the day was spent preparing the “computer room” adjacent to the Principal’s office for use. The windows had to be blacked out, furniture had to be moved, and benches brought in from the multi purpose room. Photos of the children and the gorillas were shown, much to the delight of the students, none of whom have seen gorillas .. or been to Kigali.

The team also interviewed students to determine their needs and made plans to do as much as they could for those most in need who had participated the most in the project. Another visit to the markets was made to fill as many of the needs as possible.

Day 13 – Friday, August 1. The last day. Some of the team revisited the National Museum just outside of town and others returned to the markets to finalize acquisition of more supplies; then special “gift packs” were distributed to individual students. Some received cash to buy shoes; the girls received the feminine hygiene products they requested, and most received notice that their request for a uniform, or notebooks, etc. had been met.

The team committed to financing the high school fees of two additional students as well as a vocational driving school for one of the students who had not passed the 6th-grade test required to enter high school.

Some of the team went back to the school, after a visit to the markets, to have a “movie day” with the students. Most of the students had NEVER seen a “film” and enjoyed “Finding Nemo” even though they don’t speak English, and there were no subtitles. The kids very quickly picked up the plot and were yelling for Nemo at every opportunity. I think Sister V now has another means to reward students for good behavior .. having a movie afternoon.

I even wonder if a cash theater could be established to allow 30 or 40 people at a time to see movies, generating funds for the school.

Day 14 – Saturday, August 2. What a sad day. We were to leave at 8 AM, and the students started showing up at the front gate of the hotel as early as 6 AM. Suitcases were emptied, boots were given to students and others who worked really hard, the last of the cash was given to hotel staff, students, and Sister V.

We finally got away about 9 AM, promising to return “next year”, many of us with tears in our eyes.