The “calm” before the storm

Apologies for the lateness in this update – we have had a busy weekend and with an even busier week ahead it is sometimes difficult to find the time to talk about it! But we love knowing that people are looking out for what we are upto and we hope that you readers feel clued up about things.

Our Saturday started at 6am, with rushed PB&J sandwiches. We left the uni around 7am and set off on our roadtrip to Nyanza with some of the Rwandan team members. First stop – Muhanga prison, obviously! The College of Science and Tech at URwanda (also termed KIST) helped with a biogas installation there, and therefore we thought it a suitable stop on our journey. Sadly, after a lengthy discussion with the commanding officer, it was clear we could not just pop in and check out the prison without prior permission. We didn’t have 3 working days to spare that morning, so we settled with getting a short tour around the workers yard at the prison. Prisoners engage in a variety of activities from carpentry to dress-making, completing orders for external parties. The handiwork was incredible! Chairs made from banana leaves and handmade clothing were amongst the things we got to try out.

Now the exciting part – our first secondary school, Byimana (aka. Group Scowls ire Notre Dame de Lourde Byimana), one of the best schools in the country. We had not rung in advance of our arrival but were advised we would be able to set something up anyway as it is a boarding school. However this type of unexpected visiting is not a quick and efficient process, so a lot of waiting around before we got a chance to speak to some girls. However we were kindly assisted by a Sister Marie-Ernestine, who was very happy that we wanted to come and talk to their students and led me by the hand to the place we would be talking in. Approximately 30 students from S6 (final year) were sitting awaiting our chat, and we introduced ourselves and our subjects, before splitting up the room into groups for smaller discussions. Most of the girls knew what engineering was, however the different types of engineering baffled them somewhat. Being in the smaller groups allowed for more indepth discussions and questions about the different degrees, and we asked them things like “what are you interested in?” and then tried to show them how they could incorporate their interests with an engineering degree. Many were worried as they didn’t think they had picked the correct subjects, and this is a key issue, as many universities are quite particular about which secondary school subjects have been taken for particular degree subjects. I managed to chat with the Director of Studies, Emmanuel, for a while during these discussions. He was pleased with our vision and we swapped details in order for us to be able to follow up with the visit. It was short and sweet, but definitely had an effect on the girls involved. We recorded interviews with them and gave them stickers to remember us by before we moved on.

 

After a lunch of brochettes (meat kebabs) and grilled corn, we had a peaceful interlude at the King’s Palace. We got to see where the old kings of Rwanda used to live, the progression of the country’s growth by the centuries, and even got to use the old king’s toilet, apparently. The king was also big into cows, and we got to meet some of these lovely creatures up close. They had massive horns but loved being stroked and sang to by their keeper.

Next we went to our final school of the day, Indatwa n’ Inkesha, also in the top 5 best Rwandan schools. We had to wait quite a while to find out if we were able to talk to anyone, but just as we were about to give up we were ushered to a classroom which had some girls in it. We started chatting with the girls who were already there, and I was called to meet with the Head of Studies, Joël. He was pleased with our initiative but worried we would not get to speak to as many girls as we wanted. However he then started calling to all the girls walking around the campus and gathered them in a troop to follow us back to the classroom. Conversation was buzzing and eventually we had around 40 girls to chat to. We found out their interests and tried to get them over to speak to the most appropriate members of our team. Surprisingly these girls knew a lot more about different types of engineering – many of them wanted to be biomedical engineers, and some even aspired to do aero! There were worried they couldn’t study these subjects in Rwanda, however we assured them that there would be more courses established with the years, and encouraged them to look into scholarships abroad as well. Again, we swapped information to ensure we can follow up to these kids and their teachers and provide relevant guidance from the University of Rwanda. It was difficult to leave – we kept getting asked for our details and more questions about our subjects – but we had left the driver for so long that he had fallen asleep, and darkness was almost falling. So we scuttled back to the bus and were on our way.

Even though we only visited each school for such a short time, each of us gained a great deal of insight into the different issues and worries that these girls had about progressing into university. There seems to be some fundamental confusion about exactly how the process works, but we need to see how we go with the other schools before we discover the best way to assist these children. It was lovely to have been able to visit these out-of-the-way institutions and I believe we had an impact on the children – and their heads of studies – despite the slight haphazardness of it all. I was really amazed at how the team were able to instantly engage with the children and we all felt like we have now had a taste of exactly what this project is about. Being able to reach so many children in this small period was rewarding and the experience gave us a boost of energy for the week ahead.

Sunday got to be more relaxed – we had a lie-in (or at least tried to – being near so many religious buildings makes Sunday mornings rather musical!) and paid a visit to the Genocide Memorial in Kigali. Learning more about this particular part of history is crucial for the team and was a harrowing but very interesting museum. The impact of the genocide is still so widespread and it is hard to fathom exactly how awful this event was for those living here.

The day ended with a late-night clear up of our workshop rooms ready for the next day, with only a few gecko encounters, and preparing what we need for the workshops. An early rise with a lot of sign-making and delegating was ahead, but after a restful Sunday we are geared up to get inspiring! Look out to see how we get on with our first workshop day.

Lots of love,

The FemEng in Rwanda team

 

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