Back to school

02-02-2010

This is the day mothers all over Rwanda have been waiting for with eager anticipation since the beginning of October. The new school term starts today. Classes broke up an eternity ago and after the long Christmas break pencils are sharpened and satchels packed. The signs were there yesterday. It was a public holiday and all Kigali was quiet, but still youngsters could be seen in the city centre, sullenly three paces behind a parent and pulling a suitcase on wheels. There is a privileged segment of the capital’s population which sends its children to boarding school.

Now normality has returned, if there is such a thing in Rwanda. Like a changing kaleidoscope, everything slips into a new pattern. Suddenly the morning streets are full of children in uniform. Yellows, blues and greens fill the pavements and there is a buzz that has been noticeably absent for the past few months.

Yet there is part of life here that continues as ever. This morning, on the way up the dirt track that connects us to the road, I was chased by a group of children. They were fast, but the Land Rover was faster and besides, it was uphill. We have become used to spotting where children come from by their appearance. Children the world over attract dirt but grime that has become ingrained takes on a shade of permanence that is telling. These boys probably belonged in the local village rather than the street but it was obvious that they wouldn’t be going to school today, and likely not tomorrow either. Instead of a smart uniform, their rags told of a less privileged existence. Aged between perhaps six and ten, maybe they had been to school once but it is very possible that they have never yet seen a blackboard, let alone homework.

Education is at the centre of all that is needed for Rwanda’s future. There is a rich economy which is growing but it is only the educated that are able to participate. Education is all. Mothers were sending their children to Bronwen’s Bible class with school jotters, expecting them to be given English lessons. We know a nursery school where children as young as two are given homework because the parents expect it! Becoming part of the new Rwanda is a dream for many, but it is a dream that won’t be realised without an education. That of course needs money which is just what most people here don’t have. Nta amafaranga pfite – there is no money!