May 26, 2016

B-O-O-K. Book.

"You are only as strong as your weakest link." 

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at a small workshop that a Peace Corps volunteer coordinated in her village. Because Rwanda is the smallest thing ever, it is quite funny how it all came to pass. Robert, my co-fellow in crime, was at a Chinese restaurant a few hours outside Kigali a few months ago and they met, because hey - white people in Africa. Robert invited her to one of our trainings and then she invited us to her village to assist her. She has single-handedly revived and grown the small library in the sector office. Her vision was to have a workshop for teachers in the sector to learn about the importance of reading and get a walk-through of the 3 shelf-library and learn how to use it (checking out books, books are free to read, etc.) The whole idea is new, so it was a great concept come to life. 

One of the interesting things about Rwanda is that it looks amazing on the surface. Since genocide, Rwanda is an NGO's gem and has become a symbol for fast economic recovery post-war. However, when you scratch deeper beyond the surface there are human rights violations (How do they keep the streets so clean? Beggars are put in jail) and discrepancies across the country once you leave the capital. If you only come to Rwanda (or any African country for that matter) and see the capital, you will have not seen Rwanda. I fully believe that. 

Another issue is the mis-direction of aid. There are many books on this subject (Dead Aid, When Helping Hurts - are two great ones) that highlight the negative impact or neutral/wasteful impact of aid. An example that is very obvious in Rwanda is the donation of books. It seems to be a popular thing to have embassies, NGO's, well-meaning religious groups in Western countries, send books to Africa. The problem is - getting a huge bag of books in a language you can barely understand is overwhelming! Those books typically get locked away or not even un-boxed. (As was seen at my university job, and at schools across the country). Just giving something DOES NOT HELP ANYONE. That donation needs to come with a training, a teacher, someone to explain how to categorize books, how to distribute books, how to READ. Gah, I could go one forever. 

The PCV we were working with has done a fabulous job of seeing a need (a room of books locked away and dirty) and totally revitalizing the space and introducing the library concept. We were there to discuss reading with groups of teachers. Because everything must be taught. Even the importance of reading must be taught to teachers - nothing is intrinsic. (HUGE Africa lesson right there, ya'll). 

I began my session like this: 

"To be a good driver. You must drive." 
"To be a good runner. You must run." 
"To be a good reader. You must....what?" 

And I was met with blank stares. From teachers. 

This is our Rwandan education reality, people. No CNN article telling you how great Rwanda is for it's economics could come close to touching this reality in the education system. 

When I gave enough time for thinking and gave them the answer,
"To be a good reader. You must Reeeead!" 
Their sweet faces were like, "Ohhhh!" 

But that wasn't the shocking part. (Actually nothing is shocking anymore). 

In my session with the primary teachers, who typically have lower level english than their secondary teacher counterparts, I asked them to tell me if they read books to their students. I was not prepared for the response. 


I had to teach the word "book" to an english teacher. 

THIS is the reality of English education (and perhaps all education) in very rural Rwanda. 

It is a light on a greater problem within this country, the continent, and perhaps the world over. Because truthfully, we are only as strong as our weakest link. If the teacher in the village does not know the word, "book," how can the country be praised as a global leader? When wealth, opportunity, education, health care access, and transportation development are concentrated on one small area of cannot say the entirety of the country is successful. 

BOOK. It means freedom. It means knowledge. It means awareness. 

And we don't all know what those things are. 
Because the advancement, bright lights, opportunities...they don't reach all of us.

walk slow. xoxo. 

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