Helen & Chris have been here four days now and already a lot has happened. After a long but pleasantly uneventful journey, we arrived late on July 4th, Rwanda’s Liberation Day (that marks the end of the 1994 genocide) at the culmination of a long holiday break that begins on July 1st, Independence Day (which in turn marks the nation’s emergence from Belgian colonial rule in 1962). There to meet us at the airport was our old friend Jean de Dieu, accompanied by the ever-reliable hotel owner, our host and caretaker, Phocas. As an added bonus, out of the crowd of greet-ers and meet-ers came one of our Rwandan alumnus, Innocent. Quite by chance he was there to welcome folks arriving for next weekend’s Ubumuntu theatre festival, in which he will be performing. Innocent is a real success story, a shining spirit endlessly creative and always working. We were delighted to see each other again, and of course to learn details of the festival that our students and us are now booked to attend. In return, Innocent has asked to join our workshops at URCE in the coming weeks; word will spread and no doubt other alumni will follow his example! Our early encounter was an immediate reminder of the enduring community we have had the honor to become a part of in this beautiful and hospitable country.
The following day, before we barely had time to draw breath the round of preparatory meetings began. Jean was soon back, accompanied by Leon, our other musketeer. It was a delight to be with the pair of them again, and to begin catching-up on all the news – personal, professional and national – with the August 4th Presidential election fast approaching!
High on their agenda, was the news of the very recent ministerial decision to ‘rationalize’ the structure of the University of Rwanda. An immediate and concrete consequence of the changes in education is that the main campus of the University of Rwanda, College of Education main campus is about to be moved! Come September, it will be relocated beyond the City, one hour and 15 minutes drive away. Three thousand students, along with faculty and administrators, will take up residence on a still-developing campus at Gahini near to Kayonza and Lake Muhazi. You may imagine the mixture of excitement, anticipation and consternation that this is causing amongst staff and students alike.
It was in this context that we had our first meetings at the College the following day, first with another old friend, Emmanuel Ahimana (Head of Department), along with Leon and Jean, and then with the ever-supportive and welcoming Dean of Language and Humanities, Cyprien Niyomugabo. Preparations are well advanced with the Rwandan students that have elected to join our workshops. This year, they are coming from a range of subject areas including French, English and Kinyarwanda language and literature studies, as well as drama. We had already been told that we would be working with 63 students but another surprise was in store when we were asked if we could expand our program to accommodate a further 20 Early Childhood Education majors. Given the orientation and interests of some of our own students (with thanks to the CUNY Creative Arts Team Early Learning Program) this is a welcome curriculum challenge for us, but it also presents a significant logistical challenge, not least for the final devised production that is always the culminating feature of the two weeks work. When we add in our own student numbers, it means this year’s play – yet to be created – will have a cast of 97! We will keep you posted!
Following the news of the imminent relocation of the department, we were invited to visit the new campus. Later that morning, Jean and Leon drove us out of town to the site. We arrived unannounced but quite by chance encountered the Site Director, Dr. Gahima Charles. He was technically on vacation but had dropped by to pick-up a few things. To say he gave us a warm welcome would be an understatement! A tour of the large campus (where new classrooms and dormitories are under construction in a race against time to the beginning of the new academic year) was followed by an invitation to lunch at a near-by lakeside resort, Jambo Beach. This turned out to be the site of an excursion we had made on our first visit to Rwanda in 2010. Indeed, the children’s see-saw that we – Helen and Chris – had been caught abusing on that occasion was still there – and in working order, we hasten to add! This time around the main attraction was a boat trip on the lake, replete with refreshments, while our chicken lunch was being cooked ashore. (SPS Deans, please note that lifejackets were provided!) And so it was that a short reconnaissance trip had turned into an unexpected, somewhat lively, full day’s outing. New catch phrases were coined. “Only in New York” is now rivaled by “Only in Rwanda” and (as we marveled at the instant bonhomie between Jean and Leon and the newly-met Director), “ Three Rwandans make a party!” We returned to Kigali late but happy. The new campus definitely offers possibilities …
The following day saw the arrival of our students. Five trips to the airport between 7am on Saturday and 12.05 am on the Sunday brought all 14 of them, weary but safe and excited, to the Civitas Hotel, our regular home-away-from-home. Phocas was a star as he ferried us back and forth all day long, several times enduring long waits as a result of the numerous flight delays our students experienced en route. But all is well!
As we write this, we are waiting for our hire bus to arrive to take us all on the introductory tour of Kigali. The latest episode of our Rwandan adventure begins! Stay tuned ….
Helen & Chris