Monday, May 23, 2011

Muraho from Rwanda!

Every now and then we come across funny, interesting and inspiring journal entries written by our volunteers, which provide a really unique personal insight into their volunteer experience.

Recently we've been enjoying the journal of Heather Padilla, a 27 year old from the USA, who is volunteering for the month of May in our Rwanda Literacy Program.  Below we're sharing with you some of Heather's pearls of wisdom, her highlights, funny anecdotes and experiences teaching in a school in Rwanda.

"After a bit of a rough start (i.e. luggage full of everything for the month being sent to another city, potential blow-out of laptop, adjusting to the city/life in general), things have finally started to settle down and I’ve found myself able to take a deep breath and relax a bit.

The first week in a new place is always eventful and a bit energy-sapping as you are thrust into a new way of life in unfamiliar terrain and this has been no exception.

“African Time” – even though I had mentally prepared for it, it’s been a bit of a challenge going from a rigorous, packed “5 minutes early is on time” schedule to a “no rush – we’ll get there when we get there” mindset.

I got a chance to see the school where I’ll start teaching tomorrow, there are two shifts (students come from 7-11:40 and 12:40-5)...the school is EXTREMELY poor (no running water or electricity) and the students walk there from all over and crowd into rooms of sometimes 50 or 60 students at a time, some of the students don’t even have shoes…however, evidently they are still really good at soccer…the director’s assistant was very proud of how hard the students try and showed us all the medals they had received from games.

It was decided that I would teach P3 (third grade) English. I’m not sure if I’ll be moving around to other grades as the weeks go by or not but for now I enjoy the age group. The students are really funny. The first day they seemed really shy and quiet (well, apart from the breaks where they would just surround me and stare until one brave soul decided to talk to me, consequently opening the door for the rest of them to shake hands or hug me as they giggled).

They have progressively become more talkative though (mostly when their Rwandese teachers are out of the room). There are five questions that they ALL ask me: 1) “How are you?” 2) “What is your name? 3) “Where do you live?” 4) “How old are you?” and my favorite 5) “What is your mother/father’s name?” Some of them are becoming more familiar with me and have decided to try and school me in English. As I walk around the room monitoring the class as they copy notes from the board (which takes forever, by the way, but is essential since they don’t have worksheets or workbooks) I will hear [Student]:“Teacher, teacher! What is this?” (holds up a pen) [Me]: “It’s a pen.” [Student w/ HUGE smile and congratulating eyes]: “YES!! Very good!” They then continue to ask me everything they can think of (paper, eyes, ears, nose, hands, etc.) and seem very surprised each time when I know the answers.  Speaking of answers, these students LOVE to try and participate when they know the answer. We studied how to tell time this week and I was a bit blown away the first time I drew a clock on the board and asked them what time it was. The class of 50 or so students was filled with raised hands...

As far as school goes, all I can say is I’m ready to challenge anyone to Pictionary or Charades as soon as I get back home. There are no worksheets or workbooks…just my acting and chalkboard drawing ability. I’m sure it’s quite entertaining to watch me dramatically act out various jobs or places in the community (the lessons this past week).

I was told that my first name is hard to pronounce so it might be easier to go by Padilla instead. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it at first but then decided that it sounded pretty sporty (going by last names and all) and might be kinda fun. Apparently Padilla is just as hard to say. All the students and teachers called me “PED-rah” after the first day so I made an executive decision to go back to Heather. It doesn’t really make a huge difference though because the students call me “Teacher” anyway. Well, that or “Natalie”…the name of their last teacher!"

Volunteers in the Rwanda Program have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of under-privileged children and adults by assisting processes to help eradicate poverty, reduce HIV infections, provide education and help communities through capacity building programs.

For more information about this program, or to apply online visit: