”‘All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.'Walt Disney
Returning recently to the UK after spending some time in Rwanda, a teacher colleague shared with IEY experiences of working for a charity group and volunteering in two local Primary Schools with children in the early years. Despite the lack of any key resources, a sparse learning environment, no technology or the ‘basics’ that are sometimes taken for granted in even the most deprived areas of our own country, the children embraced the learning experiences and viewed being in school as joyfully as if it were the most precious gift.
One Nursery school serves a desperately poor community of houses built for the widows left behind in the aftermath of the genocide and those children orphaned as a result. Children attending the schools are the grandchildren of that generation – still living in severe poverty, yet described as ‘bubbling around like blueberries’, eyes sparkling as they sit in rows behind desks in their concrete classrooms, from 6.30am until 12.30pm. Many of the three-year olds are asleep at their desks by 8.30am, wearied by the walk to school and a two hours of maintaining eager concentration on their formal whole class lessons. Five teachers (self-taught English speakers) work with the children and teach English, French, Kinyarwandan and all other subjects for six hours. The short break at 10am was greeted with noisy excitement, as they eagerly share the meagre lump of brioche, or a plain biscuit and drink milky African tea, sustenance enough to see them through to the walk back to their village homes. (Worth noting that dental caries is virtually non-existent here as there are no ‘sweets’ or sugary drinks available! The school’s bathroom facility for 160 children apparently took some imagining…
The simple sharing of glove puppets with the three classes (3,4,5 year-olds) apparently created uproar, after the initial five minutes, before the children began to understand what was happening! Using the same puppets to teach the emotions of ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ reduced one particular nursery child to tears, from a combination of shock and delight. She quickly recovered and took the stage with her own performance, inviting audience participation from the teachers and her friends! Play based learning is rarely, if ever, a feature in the school day, however, sparking the fire of such learning and making similar puppets with the children was clearly a legacy for this visit.
The purpose of this short blog? Simply this. To ask for a moment of reflection on the ‘rich’ children here in these school, fully immersing themselves in the opportunity that life in school offers, genuinely happy, despite their ‘material’ poverty and for us to remember that learning, however packaged, seeds future aspiration and that for good or ill, the earliest years may decide all.
Our thanks to our colleague for the ‘share’.