I hiked up a steep red dirt hill, cut off from the main road. This is the same half-mile hill that over 600 elementary students trek each day as they walk over 2 miles to get to school. There are only 6 teachers for all 600 students. Each teacher instructs a class of 50 students in one classroom from 7 am until noon. When those students are released at midday the next group of 300 students arrives, and each teacher begins with a new class of 50 little ones. I spoke with the Kindergarten teacher who was currently instructing 56 students without even a teacher’s aide. Classrooms are rarely painted, usually having only bare cinder block walls. Paint, charts, pictures and classroom resources are a luxury that most schools cannot afford. Having previously taught myself, and loving all things bright and inspirational, I often try to wrap my mind around a school in America in which a teacher has 50-60 children in a class, without any books, charts, crayons, construction paper, scissors, bulletin boards or even paint on the walls, not to mention no electricity for so much as a fan on 90 degree days with 50 children packed inside. Then I search for inspiration on how to network and bring materials here so that teachers will be better able to educate their students and students will have greater potential for learning and further developing the next generation. If you have ideas, I’m always open to learning, so please share!
Who would have ever thought that I would teach a construction class?!?!!? Yet here I was in Rural Rwanda telling a class full of eager young men what building materials in America are like. They wanted to know how building was different in America. Mind you they have not a single book for 300 students, nor a computer nor TV, so their ideas about the Western world are very limited.
No, actually we didn’t build out of mud in USA, but yes we used some brick and cement. Also our houses are supported by wood. (This they really couldn’t believe.) I used a chalkboard and my very limited artistic skills to demonstrate such things as siding, 2x4s, shingles, insulation, dry wall, carpet. I also tried to tell them about central heating and air as most households here have not so much as a fan. As I was not prepared for this impromptu building class (I walked in to say, “hello” only visiting the school), and not having built anything myself. I had no pictures, and my explanations were amateur to say the least.
Yet, here I am days later, in another province still thinking about those young men in their final year of a Secondary level skill training school, and I’m wondering how I could further help these young men. I imagine taking them pictures and how-to videos, short clips from the internet, showing them the Lowe’s and Home Depot websites and letting their imaginations soar with such new thoughts as an entire store of building materials larger than several football fields.
One thing these boys said to me was, “We love America. America is our friend. Please tell our friends in America that we need books- books on building and construction, on land survey and technology.”
Can you imagine an American school not having a single book in a classroom? How do students get new ideas, broader horizons or even accurate concepts without printed materials or pictures to piece information together?
In most schools, the teacher prepares a lesson hand-written in a composition notebook. They then write paragraph after paragraph on a chalk board which is then copied by each student by hand into his own composition book. This scene is repeated in primary, secondary and University levels.
Can you picture how even a small library would transform this school and inspire these students? When I mentioned to a teacher that her students were asking for books, she replied, “Yes, even a dictionary.” This entire school had not even one dictionary!
When I left, one of the older students stopped me again and asked me, “Will you bring us books? Will you come back?” I promised him that I would share his request with my friends, and we could pray for books.