Friday, 13 October 2017

Big Cheese!

Happy times during my visit 'home' with the Somerset Grandchildren. 
September 2017, saw the onset of my 6th year in Burundi. During my two month visit to England in July and August, I seemed to face the ‘How long?’ question more than ever before. How long have you been in Burundi? How long are you home for? How long do you think you will stay out there?
Some are surprised at how long I’ve been out there, some can’t believe it’s been 5 years. Some would like me to come back home (England)now.

I met this little one for the first time ! She snuck into the
world in September 2016, no one was even aware she
was on her way! Not even her mum!!

Lunch out with the Hinckley Crew.

So as I started out on year 6, I thought I’d do a little reflecting on the changes that have taken place.
(That was September, now it’s October! I didn’t get so far with my reflections. The school year hit me like a battering ram and I found myself hurtling through September and out the other end, hardly even touching the sides.)

My first year saw me writing merrily about ‘Bathroom Buddies’. Huge cockroaches that decided to occupy my bathroom. I made a great effort to tolerate their presence in my life. It seemed wrong to  destroy them  just because they were foul, grotesque creatures (in my humble opinion). Oh no, I tried to rise above my prejudices and ablute alongside them.  Roll on to September 2017. Two bathroom Buddies who have been enjoying free use of the facilities for the past few months, discover a new tolerance-free me. They were zapped and beheaded. Then just in case…… heads and bodies were drowned.  It was fascinating watching their decapitated bodies wriggle around alongside the isolated heads with antennae twitching bemusedly.  Sorry, to all you nature lovers, but cockroaches just don’t feature on my compassion scale any more.

The same can also be said of my attitude to the Sugar ants I used to find so cute and enthralling. I’d spend many a happy moment gazing at the lines of miniscule creatures, earnestly making their way across my desk, into my cup of tea for a drink and off home again. NO more gazing, just a quick mop up with a wet cloth and a rinse down the sink.

But don’t worry, I’ve not completely lost my Awe and Wonder at the world. I’m just rationing it a bit more now.

When I arrived in Burundi in August 2012, I took on the role of Year 6 teacher. Years of teaching in the UK education system had left me a washed-out, cynic. Within weeks of being in the classroom in The King’s school, I realised just how much I loved teaching.  Yes, I missed my interactive white-board, internet connection in the classroom, but oh the joy of being empowered to ‘teach’.  After so many years of being treated like a brain-dead robot, I was suddenly a professional again; with the ability to make decisions about the needs of my pupils; the authority to implement strategies that enhanced the individual achievement of the personalities occupying the seats in my classroom. My pupils had names, characters, home lives, personal histories. They were no longer just a set of ‘Levels with Targets’. I didn’t need to be obsessed with Pupil Progress in every single lesson. I could acknowledge that some days it was just great that ‘A’ was sitting on the chair quietly, listening and taking things in, because two years ago he’d have been sitting under that table, chewing the plaster off the wall.

September 2012 was a Landmark month – I re-discovered my love of teaching.

For those who support me financially - your support
turns into smiles like this. I was able to buy this young man
his House T-shirt. He is number 6 of 6 in the family.
House T-shirts are a luxury. 
September 2015 saw me move into the Role of Primary School Head. This is not the place to go into the circumstances that led to that change, other than to say it was a little more of an abrupt change than I had been anticipating.

Despite the suddenness of the role change, I discovered a great joy in the new situation. Having been confined to the classroom for so many years, I found the freedom of the Headship invigorating. I had the ability to make decisions, see needs and react to them. I had the power to change things.
Alright, alongside that, I had the frustrations of, working in the ‘Third World’, economic instability, political disturbances and a few other minor issues.  But on the whole being Head of Primary was a role I loved.

Here we are in September (October) 2017 and I have moved on once again. Now I find myself Principal of the whole Show; Nursery, Infant, Junior and Secondary. Boy, am I a Big Cheese ?! Actually no. Certainly, I am living and working well outside my comfort zone now. But still the same me, just with more responsibility and influence. It’s actually a bit scary (a huge bit!)

As I write today  (Friday 13th October 2017 – Rwagasori Day ) I have completed 7 weeks in the Role of Principal of The King’s School, Bujumbura, Burundi.  We have 425 students across the whole school.  36 teachers, 18 Support Staff, 6 Administration staff and 14 Site personnel.  I think that is 499 + me = 500. I often have to pinch myself to check I am not dreaming. Me in charge of all that!
My mornings now begin with a prayer, “ Lord, I know you know what you’re doing, I can’t believe you are trusting me with all this. Poke me hard in the eye if I’m not doing it the way you want.”

 It may only have been 7 weeks, but I have already managed to accumulate a number of ‘Projects’ that require support  from the world outside Bujumbura. This job is much, much bigger than me and my efforts.
  • ·         The Library Project – We are hoping to establish a Literacy and Language Centre to serve the school and the surrounding community. We have already linked up with New Generation , a local church working with Street children.

What we need now is an Overseas Sponsor or Project Co-ordinator. Someone  who has a love of reading and books. Someone who wants to bring books into the lives of people who otherwise have no access to them. If you do a little research into the literacy rates of Burundi and the publication of new books in this country, you will discover there is a huge need.
So far we have set up a Library, we have two Librarians working every day, to improve and expand the Project.  However, funding will run out in January. At present I have no clear understanding of how we will continue moving forward.
Are you the person? Are you the one who can co-ordinate fundraising and enthusiasm for the Project? Please contact me if you are.
  • ·         Laptops for Teachers – The King’s School delivers a British based curriculum. That means a skills based approach to learning. The East African, French, Belgium and Burundian approach to learning is predominantly ‘Chalk and Talk’. The teacher has the information – the teacher delivers the information – the pupil receives the information – the pupil retains the information – the teacher sets a test – the pupil regurgitates the information – the teacher checks the information has remained exactly as delivered – the teacher ticks the box – Learnt.

For Chalk and Talk , all the teacher has to do is write on the board or dictate. Easy. No resources required. Skills based learning is another story entirely . Skills based learning requires the teacher and pupil to move from ignorance to understanding to applying. Skills based learning demands resources.
Many of my teachers (especially the Burundians)  struggle with the acquisition of resources. One Primary teacher spoke to me recently, saying we do have a laptop, but we have just one in the family. (Both husband and wife are teachers at The King’s School.) She went on to say, I did get the laptop the other day, but then I felt so guilty, I took it from my young brothers who are studying at university. If I have the laptop, it means they can’t do their work. So I gave it back after a day.
This teacher would dearly love to have access to the Twinkl site (who very generously Sponsor our school). She is not alone. I have around 10 teachers who are either sharing laptops with family or have none at all.
If you could get a Laptop to us, you’d be making a big difference to the life of not only a teacher but all the pupils they teach.
  • ·         Completion of the Administration Block – at the Secondary School. For the past five years this block has stood derelict. It needs finishing for a number of reasons. We need the space. At present Administration uses a classroom. We need that classroom urgently. The new block has space for a Study area/Library, which is also a great need.

But for me there is a deeper purpose. At present the incomplete building gives the whole site an un-cared for feeling. Without making a ‘political’ statement it is extremely hard for the young people of this nation to feel proud of their country, their situation. Young people often experience periods of hopelessness and depression about their future, regardless of the country they live in. But for young Burundians it can be an enormous weight to bear.  I want to make The King’s School a positive place for our young people, a place where they learn to believe in a positive future for themselves and their country.
I know it is just a building, but in a sense it is the tip of an iceberg. It is just one thing in a long line of negatives that ends with drugs, drink and hopelessness.
This one really just involves money . The Project has started, I am living in faith that we will be able to finish by December. But finances are the KEY.
  • ·         Scholarship Programme – Of the 425 pupils, 58 are on some sort of Support/Sponsorship/Scholarship programme. When the school was founded in 1998 , it was the vision of Chrissie Chapman. She had rescued around 45 babies and toddlers in the 1990’s conflict. These children were now all needing education. The King’s School was established to provide that education. As time went by the school grew.  New students were introduced on a fee paying basis. And the school continued to grow. Today there are 14 of the original ‘Orphans’ left in the school. All in years 9 and above.  It is our desire that we continue to offer an education to those who are not in a position to pay for it. Recently we have accepted new pupils who are returning refugees. It is not easy if you have grown up in an English speaking environment and then find yourself needing to attend a French/Kirundi speaking school.  Of the 58 supported pupils, some are the children of Burundian Pastors, missionaries, support workers.

This September we formally introduced a Scholarship Programme for the Secondary school.  
If you would like to help us extend that Programme and reach out to more young people who are not in a position to pay fees we would be happy to receive that help.

I think that is probably enough for now! The next bit in the Blog process, is the most frustrating. Moving photos from folders onto the Blog, it usually takes ages and involves many bad words falling out of my mouth!

One final appeal …….. please come and visit us! If you want a life changing ‘holiday’ come to Burundi. Don’t worry too much about the FO status! Just go for it

Another event that happened because of a generous
Supporter. Newly elected Prefects and Head Boy and Girl
on a lunch out

. At Bujumbura's one and only answer to
Mac Donald's.
Events like this make a great difference to morale.
I can't end without showing off my Burundi Grandchild.
Hamish Mwakao Stephen born 23/07/17.
Parents Andrew and Peris Stephen.

No comments:

Post a Comment