May 15, 2018: Thoughts on Our Last Evening in Maranyundo

May 15, 2018

Today was our last full day at Marayundo and it was a full day. Here is a tally of the events and experiences we have had as we try to finish our tasks and learn as much as we can to take back to our Boston supporters.

·      I met with Musisi Leonard, Science Teacher, and gave him the materials that Sara Wilner-giwerc gave me to bring to the school. The kit included electric paint for designing circuits, LED lights and switches, 9 volt batteries and connecting wires. He was thrilled. I also sent him CEEO videos on information about some of the activities that have been developed with these materials in the CEEO.
·      I observed Teacher Gilbert’s English class where he was teaching the Conditional Sentence. (Using If). It was a well developed class; I could see how his time with Dorian was paying off for him. He encouraged conversation among the girls as they developed sentences and moved around the class as students worked on their assignments. Later, Jane and I were invited to his next class in which the girls performed a play called The Cooking Pan. It was a timely play in that it showed a family adjusting to new ideas of gender equality. The acting was impressive; the costumes carefully chosen. At the close of the play, two students spoke about how to interpret the play and the major themes that worked through the characters. Gilbert is a skilled teacher.
·      I observed Khalia’s S3 class this afternoon. She is giving them very clear instruction on how to distinguish a topic from a theme in the short stories that they have read. Again, as in Gilbert’s classes, it is clear that the girls enjoy writing and sharing their ideas with one another. Khalia is well respected among the faculty. She is a helpful colleague. She is keenly sensitive to the cultural shifts that the country is making, especially as far as gender roles is concerned. Her students are clearly delighted by her lessons and she is encouraging them to write, especially essays about lessons they have learned and ways they have met challenges , as well as their hopes for the future.
·      I taught my third and final class of Novel Engineering. This evening the girls presented their choice of problem to solve for Nya and the sketches that detailed the solution. What a great time we had as the “engineers” presented their ideas and designs to the “panel of funders.” The girls had only three days to read the text and one evening to work on their solution. The collected sketches and photos I have are treasured artifacts already!  I am eager to share my experience with seasoned CEEO instructors.

Saying good-bye to Maranyundo Girls School is never an easy process. This time our visit has been quite special, as we have had more opportunities to teach the girls and to speak with the teachers , as well.  Tomorrow will be our last day at the school; we will leave for the airport in the late afternoon. The long flights home will be a welcome time to reflect and enjoy new memories of MGS.

May 14, 2018: Malden Meets Maranyundo

The Maranyundo Girls School is 8,000 miles from Malden Massachusetts. One of the curriculum units in the World History course is a until that focuses on genocide. Unfortunately there are many instances of genocide for students to encounter. But the genocide story that often captures the interest of the high school students in the Rwandan genocide.  The brutality, swiftness and the fact that neighbors often slaughtered neighbors makes the study of the genocide against the Tutsis particularly horrific. But the students also are amazed by the story of the gacaca courts and the reconciliation process that marked the early stages of the nation’s recovery. I have often been asked to come to speak to a class about the post-genocide rebuilding of Rwanda; I always tell the story of the Maranyundo School as evidence of the re-birth of that culture.

After my Novel Engineering course this evening, Noel Kuriakos, the IT guru at Maranyundo set up a Skype call for my students and students from Kerry Veritas’ World History class in Malden High School. Her students had studied Rwanda and in preparation of the Skype call had watched the Maranyundo video and accessed the website. They had prepared some questions for the girls. The Maranyundo girls were delighted to have a chance to interact with American high school students!

The conversation included questions for the MGS students about their school day, interests, future career dreams and whether or not they were allowed to date boys on campus. (No) The students shared ideas of “what do you do to relax (music, sports and reading seemed to cross cultures). “They shared responses to the question, “If there is anyplace you could travel, where would it be?” (USA, Paris, Mexico and London were high on the MGS  list). The career dreams for the two groups were very similar (Engineer, Lawyer, Actor, Teacher, Aeronautical Engineer, Doctor, Pilot). The MHS students also asked a question about the changing role of women in African cultures. The MGS students were clear that their school was, itself, a symbol of the rise of gender equality and rising respect for women as contributors to the new Rwanda.

Later in the evening, I received an email from Kerry Veritas. She wrote:

“I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak with your class today.  My students found it very rewarding.  I hope your students did as well.  My students especially noticed how seriously the students take their education and how much they value it.  It is something that is often hard to impart onto American children.  As I said when we ended the Skype, I would love an opportunity to continue some communication…  Thanks Again.”

Maybe it is the activism of the Parkland students that has made me so aware of the growing strength and commitment of young people to be eager to create communities of respect, responsibility through their leadership. But thinking about the Malden and Maranyundo conversation, and the “beam” that traveled over 8,000 miles to connect these two groups…there is something in the air, an energy, a pulse, a power that assures me that our future will be brighter for the future our youth can deliver.

May 13, 2018: The Boys Come to Maranyundo!

A much anticipated Sunday brought boys to the Maranyundo Girls School campus. To mark the first Sunday service in the new chapel, the Benebikira sisters invited  the boys chorus from a school in Kigali to sing and invited a priest from their faculty to officiate at the Mass. After the service, the boys and girls had lunch together and then gathered in the common space to socialize for the afternoon. The boys had brought music with which to entertain the Maranyundo students. There was quite a bit of excitement with lots of singing and dancing, laughter and clapping.

Two aspects of the visit stay with me and teach me to understand more deeply both the culture of the school and the cultural shifts that are happening in Rwanda. First, it is well noted by visiting teachers from the US that at gatherings here at the school, the girls are expected to be responsible leaders. I remember when Pearl Emmons and I were invited to a Saturday evening entertainment when Pearl was first visiting the school, We noted that as the skits and music unfolded there were no adults in the space. If the event were held at a middle or high school in the US, there would have been a phalanx of assistant principals, chaperones and safety officers on the scene. The girls at MGS are expected to be mindful of their peers and respectful of occasions when they are together to study, eat, learn and have fun. I am always so impressed how they maintain control of gatherings with care and consideration.

The second aspect I was thinking about was a major theme in the UN Conference in Kigali that Jane and I attended on Friday. One panel spoke about the fact that traditionally, male and female relationships have been seen as having a sexual nature. The conference wanted young people to know that there are many other relationships that males and females can have together. There are friendships; they can work as collaborator,; as team members , as intellectual equals working in industry and research to develop solutions to current problems. I thought the visit by the chorus of the local boys school was an occasion for learning to be together as equals. And some flirting. And lots of singing and dancing.

After all, there is so much to learn about one another as we learn about the world and try to make meaning of how all our academic endeavors help us to understand one another. I would guess that there was a great deal of learning and reflecting on that learning at MGS on this radiant Sunday afternoon when the boys from Kigali came to sing!

May 11, 2018: Inspiring UN Conference and a Surprise

For two days, the United Nations has been sponsoring a Gender Conference, “Changing Dynamics, Accelerating Progress,” to promote conversation and change about traditional notions of the role of women in Africa. The Conference was held at the Serena Hotel in Kigali. Jane and I attended sessions today with Kathy Katengwa, She worked with the Global Health organization for several years traveling abroad and in the US. Now she is back home in Rwanda and serving as the National Director of FAWE Schools.

The conference featured sessions that were developed to focus on the role youth, both young men and women, can have in effecting change and in adding their voices to the conversations about gender equality. Besides Rwanda, youth attended from several African nations including Malawi, Burundi, Tanzania, Ghana., South Sudan. Panels, video presentations, interactive sessions highlighted the powerful impact that the voices of young people can have in ensuring that the Africa of the 21st century is a continent in which women have choices, are respected, and can lead development and cultural initiatives.

The first session we attended was titled Accountability for Gender Equality. A panel of policy and religious leaders discussed the need for schools, businesses, religious organizations and all aspects of society to develop policies about gender equity that include accountability measures. A session entitled Accelerating Momentum for Gender Equality: The Role of Youth was very clear that young people must be the leaders of change to challenge the historical and cultural traditions that have framed the role of women exclusively within the context of the home. The panel included a member of parliament and two Rwandan women who are executives: one is OCT for Rwanda Online and another ED for Imaginewe Rwanda. The session was interactive, asking young people in the audience to respond after each panelist spoke. The articulate, strong voices of the youth seemed to echo the strong clear voices of the students from Parkland High School as they rally the US to make changes in our own society. It was inspiring, indeed. For me it sets the motto and mission of the Maranyundo School… Respect, Responsibility and Leadership… within a context and vision for gender equality in the continent.

And this was a surprise! When I arrived at the Conference, Jane and I were looking at these wonderful posters sponsored by Nike that highlighted various young women in Rwanda who were “making a difference” throughout Rwanda. I suddenly caught sight of a photo of a young woman in a Tufts sweatshirt. Upon a closer look, the poster was celebrating the accomplishments of Ms. Maureen Kalimba Isimbi who developed a water pump system for her village in the northern part of Rwanda. She is now in the Engineering School at Tufts University. David Hammer, physics education professor at Tufts, and I have been talking with her about new research she is interested in exploring that has to do with ergonomics in classrooms.

Her story and many other stories inspire the African nations to persist in insisting on developing their human resources and opportunities for women to achieve.

May 10, 2018: From Jane O'Connor...Attending a Segal Foundation Meeting with Sister Juvenal

Today there was a meeting at the new Radisson Hotel in Kigali, bringing together all of the educational nonprofits that the Segal Family Foundation supports here in Rwanda.  Fifteen out of seventeen Segal recipient groups were represented.

The purpose of the meeting was to provide a forum for folks to meet one another and learn about other organizations that are focused on education at all different levels.  The idea was that  this representative group would discuss ways of networking and sharing in a structured and supportive way. 

Some of the entities already know one another and shared powerful examples of how they have benefitted from their connection.  The goal of the meeting was to include all of the Segal education groups working in country to be part of a discussion to determine the feasibility of developing structured networking sessions according to a schedule and agenda determined by the group.

The outcome was an enthusiastic yes to an initiative consisting of one meeting per
term, hosted by a  member group at their site, with agenda developed and determined by the needs of the group.  Possibilities for planning shared PD, problem solving, sharing grant/funding opportunities and more.

It was a wonderfully productive and interesting afternoon!!!

May 10, 2018 Teaching at Maranyundo

Teaching at the Maranyundo Girls School is something I have always wanted to do. From the first time I walked on the campus and felt the energy generated around learning and the commitment to teaching Rwandan girls under the guide of Respect, Responsibility and Leadership, I wanted to have a chance be a teacher there. Today I had my chance.

I am teaching what Dean Christian calls a “3- Day Mini Course” loosely modeled on the Novel Engineering Program developed at the Center for Engineering Education Outreach (CEEO) at Tufts. This is the brief description I used to explain what the mini course would include:

In Novel Engineering, students learn how to read stories, novels, and other texts as the basis for identifying engineering design challenges. After identifying challenges, students can design realistic solutions and engage in the Engineering Design Process while also strengthening their literacy skills.

This is what students will do in the Novel Engineering Mini Course:

  1. Through discussion and attentive reading, students will read a book and identify challenges that the characters face.
  2. Students will think about the needs of the story’s character and the situation created by the story as they think about possible solutions.
  3. Students can work in pairs or small groups to design a model that helps the character do what needs to be accomplished.
The Dean recruited students and scheduled my course to run on Thursday, Monday and Tuesday. Eighteen girls from across the grades “enrolled” and we met in one of the new classrooms in the S6 Building. I had chosen the novel, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. I gave them a new copy of the text as my students entered the class. (There is something about holding a book that is still firm in its binding, that has not been opened yet, that brings smiles and appreciation to the faces of devoted readers.)

The Dean and I had talked at length about my lesson plan. In an effort to promote “attentive reading” and critical thinking, I decided to spend time introducing the elements of a book that are often overlooked. I wanted them to look closely at the cover, the Frontispiece, and the Map of Sudan 1985 that launches the reader into the setting before the first chapter unfolds. I wanted them to know that before they even begin reading, they can enter a novel or any text as an informed reader already curious and interested in what the author and her publisher want readers to know at the outset of their reading.

Shy and quiet at first,  the students carefully focused on their pair-share conversations What information can you gain from the cover design? What information can one gain from “reading a map” of the novel’s setting? How does the Frontispiece summarize the story about to begin? Then together we read some of the first chapter, pausing after paragraphs that shared compelling information about the challenges the main characters face about which I will ask them to think “engineering” solutions. I loved hearing their voices as they volunteered to read passages. They read with expression, enjoying the way the words joined together to create images and ideas to ponder. 

Before the class ended, I asked them for feedback on the lesson. At first they seemed unsure about to give feedback to the teacher…but after the first two comments included “I liked learning that the cover and the Frontispiece me know the story I will read’ and I like to hear my classmates reading; we should do more of that.” Almost every student chimed in with their ideas.  I am very eager for Monday! Teaching at Maranyundo Girls School was all I ever imagined it would be.

May 9, 2018: On the Road with Sister Juvenal and Jane

One of the great rewards of establishing the Maranyundo School for Girls in Rwanda has been the many friends and supporters we have made along the way. Throughout the process, Rwandans have been generous with their time, expertise, and most of all, with  their careful advice on how to navigate the cultural differences that naturally arise. Their commitment to the success of the girls at the school, their respect and support of the Benebikira Order who administer the school, are certainly reasons that the dream of a few Boston and Rwandan women is now Reality.

Our day began on the road traveling to Kigali to meet with Eugene Makamura who is now the Minister of Education for Rwanda. Eugene was the Chair of the Maranyundo School Board here in Rwanda. He worked closely with the Boston Board and Jane O’Connor, who was then Executive Director. He seemed comfortable in his Ministry office, having only been in the position for a few months. He had already been to Washington D.C. to meet wit the Master Card organization that gives substantial grants to African nations for teacher training, college scholarships and technology projects. We talked to him about the Teaching Fellows Program that Kathy Katengwa (another Rwandan Board member) is interested in adopting for the Forum for Africa Educationalists (FAWE) schools for girls and other schools across the country.  We appreciated his insights into how valuable Teaching Fellows at Maranyundo had been. They have been especially valuable for helping students develop their English proficiency.

We left the Ministry and planned to meet two other Maranyundo friends for lunch. Sister Jacinta is a Benebikira sister whom we met when she was the Bursar at Maranyundo. We came to admire her careful attention to the budget . When we met her in the early years of the school, she had not yet taken her final vows. We watched her develop into a skilled administrator. After taking her final vows, she went to Rome to study finance and business and she now has her masters degree. She is a valued member of the congregation.

Brother Stratton also joined us at the Nobleis Hotel for lunch. Brother Stratton was the headmaster at Byamana School of Science and Technology for several years. Byamana was one of the first Science and Technology High Schools founded by the Marist Brothers after WWII in Rwanda. He has been so generous with his time and good counsel as we developed the first stages of Maranynudo and certainly as we designed and developed the STEM high school. Brother Stratton says he is retired, but he now works with refugee camps in the Congo and Burundi, He identifies promising young men who are graduating from high school grades in the refugee camps and supports them to find a post secondary school to attend. He currently has helped 23 young men to graduate and find additional job training and education. We advised him to start a website, start a Go-Fund Me Page to support his tireless work.

These are only three of the many friends that Maranyundo Initiative has made in this country of resilient, courageous and hopeful people. Their dedication to our Initiative, as well as the many other good works they pursue is truly inspiring.