After months of preparation, excitement and passion from afar, Sarah and David, the co-founders of Sanejo, landed in Rwanda to join forces with Laura, the Rwanda Coordinator from our partner organization Y-GAP. The week, spent organizing volunteer logistics and the commencement of the foundation for the construction of two new classrooms and latrines at the Ntenyo Primary School, could not have gone better. During the field trips from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, to the village, Ntenyo to access the needs for the upcoming project, the team was greeted with open arms and warmth from the school and the local community.
The first day for the team in the village involved meeting with the Headmaster of Ntenyo Primary School in rural Rwanda. While discussions commenced between David, the Headmaster, the local builders and those with vested interest in the school on where and how the classrooms should be built, Sarah and Laura spoke with some of the teachers. It was during these discussions that the team really started to grasp not only the gravity of the problems the community faces daily but was inspired by the resilience shown by the teachers who persist and are motivated to teach the future generations of Rwanda with the limited resources they have.
Nestled in Southern Rwanda, the Ntenyo community has been living with damaged and dilapidated infrastructure since the devastation of the genocide against Tutsis in 1994 and war of the 1990s. Sarah, Clint, Marten, Stephanie and David established Sanejo in order to empower tomorrow’s generation through promotion of education in Rwanda and the East Africa region. One of the goals of the organization is to fulfill David’s grandfather’s dream of reconstructing the primary school within his community.
Presently, 597 children are enrolled at the Ntenyo Primary School but there has been a significant decrease in actual attendance because the school’s facilities have severely deteriorated and are not up to government standard. For all of the 597 children at the school there are 9 teachers for 6 classrooms with nothing more than a few blackboards, limited benches and scant basic materials. This is clearly not an ideal learning environment. It significantly decreases the chances of children being able to continue their education into high school.
Before we had even arrived the Headmaster had organized that on Wednesday the community would come out for Umuganda (a monthly community service participated by all Rwandans). On Wednesday we too were to join Umuganda. Sarah and Laura were put straight to work joining the women in clearing the ground for a road while David jumped in with the men.
After the hard labor we were honored to be a part of the normal post-umuganda debrief where the local leaders chat with the community. Surprised that David, having achieved so much in life, would return to his grandfather’s home to rebuild what his grandfather set out to build – an unexpected occurrence in Rwanda – it was at this meeting that we gained and were blessed with the full support of the community. Not only did the community support our work but demonstrated willingness and a desire to work along side and together with the volunteers – stressing that the school is for their children and the future of their children’s children and therefore should have a hand in its growth.
Developing the English program was the next step on Friday. David, Sarah and Laura returned to the village to meet with the teachers, who requested – motivated and committed to learning English – that each volunteer to be partnered with a teacher to work along side for the 5 weeks to come.
The day ended with a trip to the local cement supplier. Filling the car with cement, the team walked their way back to the school as the sun set through the maze of Ntenyo village, greeting the locals and chatting to the older school children as the younger children, excited by the “mzungus” (white people), formed a trail behind.
While the week was jammed packed with long days and sleepless nights – the team could not have asked for a better beginning – foundation for the school commenced, we gained the communities full support, learned more about the larger story behind why this project has come to be and was overwhelmed by the number of people involved and committed in making this happen. It was an inspiring week in which we realized how much this project – which began over 30 years ago by one man’s dedicated to education – goes beyond us as a team with ideas and resources to incorporate a spiraling web of individuals motivated to educate and make change in Rwanda. The week ended with the realization and satisfaction of how much this project was something much more beyond ourselves.
With everything set in place the team could not wait for the entire Y-GAP volunteer team to arrive and get started in rebuilding the school, supporting the teachers in learning English and making life long lasting friendships with the community.