Friday, 13 October 2017

Big Cheese!

Happy times during my visit 'home' with the Somerset Grandchildren. 
September 2017, saw the onset of my 6th year in Burundi. During my two month visit to England in July and August, I seemed to face the ‘How long?’ question more than ever before. How long have you been in Burundi? How long are you home for? How long do you think you will stay out there?
Some are surprised at how long I’ve been out there, some can’t believe it’s been 5 years. Some would like me to come back home (England)now.

I met this little one for the first time ! She snuck into the
world in September 2016, no one was even aware she
was on her way! Not even her mum!!

Lunch out with the Hinckley Crew.

So as I started out on year 6, I thought I’d do a little reflecting on the changes that have taken place.
(That was September, now it’s October! I didn’t get so far with my reflections. The school year hit me like a battering ram and I found myself hurtling through September and out the other end, hardly even touching the sides.)

My first year saw me writing merrily about ‘Bathroom Buddies’. Huge cockroaches that decided to occupy my bathroom. I made a great effort to tolerate their presence in my life. It seemed wrong to  destroy them  just because they were foul, grotesque creatures (in my humble opinion). Oh no, I tried to rise above my prejudices and ablute alongside them.  Roll on to September 2017. Two bathroom Buddies who have been enjoying free use of the facilities for the past few months, discover a new tolerance-free me. They were zapped and beheaded. Then just in case…… heads and bodies were drowned.  It was fascinating watching their decapitated bodies wriggle around alongside the isolated heads with antennae twitching bemusedly.  Sorry, to all you nature lovers, but cockroaches just don’t feature on my compassion scale any more.

The same can also be said of my attitude to the Sugar ants I used to find so cute and enthralling. I’d spend many a happy moment gazing at the lines of miniscule creatures, earnestly making their way across my desk, into my cup of tea for a drink and off home again. NO more gazing, just a quick mop up with a wet cloth and a rinse down the sink.

But don’t worry, I’ve not completely lost my Awe and Wonder at the world. I’m just rationing it a bit more now.

When I arrived in Burundi in August 2012, I took on the role of Year 6 teacher. Years of teaching in the UK education system had left me a washed-out, cynic. Within weeks of being in the classroom in The King’s school, I realised just how much I loved teaching.  Yes, I missed my interactive white-board, internet connection in the classroom, but oh the joy of being empowered to ‘teach’.  After so many years of being treated like a brain-dead robot, I was suddenly a professional again; with the ability to make decisions about the needs of my pupils; the authority to implement strategies that enhanced the individual achievement of the personalities occupying the seats in my classroom. My pupils had names, characters, home lives, personal histories. They were no longer just a set of ‘Levels with Targets’. I didn’t need to be obsessed with Pupil Progress in every single lesson. I could acknowledge that some days it was just great that ‘A’ was sitting on the chair quietly, listening and taking things in, because two years ago he’d have been sitting under that table, chewing the plaster off the wall.

September 2012 was a Landmark month – I re-discovered my love of teaching.

For those who support me financially - your support
turns into smiles like this. I was able to buy this young man
his House T-shirt. He is number 6 of 6 in the family.
House T-shirts are a luxury. 
September 2015 saw me move into the Role of Primary School Head. This is not the place to go into the circumstances that led to that change, other than to say it was a little more of an abrupt change than I had been anticipating.

Despite the suddenness of the role change, I discovered a great joy in the new situation. Having been confined to the classroom for so many years, I found the freedom of the Headship invigorating. I had the ability to make decisions, see needs and react to them. I had the power to change things.
Alright, alongside that, I had the frustrations of, working in the ‘Third World’, economic instability, political disturbances and a few other minor issues.  But on the whole being Head of Primary was a role I loved.

Here we are in September (October) 2017 and I have moved on once again. Now I find myself Principal of the whole Show; Nursery, Infant, Junior and Secondary. Boy, am I a Big Cheese ?! Actually no. Certainly, I am living and working well outside my comfort zone now. But still the same me, just with more responsibility and influence. It’s actually a bit scary (a huge bit!)

As I write today  (Friday 13th October 2017 – Rwagasori Day ) I have completed 7 weeks in the Role of Principal of The King’s School, Bujumbura, Burundi.  We have 425 students across the whole school.  36 teachers, 18 Support Staff, 6 Administration staff and 14 Site personnel.  I think that is 499 + me = 500. I often have to pinch myself to check I am not dreaming. Me in charge of all that!
My mornings now begin with a prayer, “ Lord, I know you know what you’re doing, I can’t believe you are trusting me with all this. Poke me hard in the eye if I’m not doing it the way you want.”

 It may only have been 7 weeks, but I have already managed to accumulate a number of ‘Projects’ that require support  from the world outside Bujumbura. This job is much, much bigger than me and my efforts.
  • ·         The Library Project – We are hoping to establish a Literacy and Language Centre to serve the school and the surrounding community. We have already linked up with New Generation , a local church working with Street children.

What we need now is an Overseas Sponsor or Project Co-ordinator. Someone  who has a love of reading and books. Someone who wants to bring books into the lives of people who otherwise have no access to them. If you do a little research into the literacy rates of Burundi and the publication of new books in this country, you will discover there is a huge need.
So far we have set up a Library, we have two Librarians working every day, to improve and expand the Project.  However, funding will run out in January. At present I have no clear understanding of how we will continue moving forward.
Are you the person? Are you the one who can co-ordinate fundraising and enthusiasm for the Project? Please contact me if you are.
  • ·         Laptops for Teachers – The King’s School delivers a British based curriculum. That means a skills based approach to learning. The East African, French, Belgium and Burundian approach to learning is predominantly ‘Chalk and Talk’. The teacher has the information – the teacher delivers the information – the pupil receives the information – the pupil retains the information – the teacher sets a test – the pupil regurgitates the information – the teacher checks the information has remained exactly as delivered – the teacher ticks the box – Learnt.

For Chalk and Talk , all the teacher has to do is write on the board or dictate. Easy. No resources required. Skills based learning is another story entirely . Skills based learning requires the teacher and pupil to move from ignorance to understanding to applying. Skills based learning demands resources.
Many of my teachers (especially the Burundians)  struggle with the acquisition of resources. One Primary teacher spoke to me recently, saying we do have a laptop, but we have just one in the family. (Both husband and wife are teachers at The King’s School.) She went on to say, I did get the laptop the other day, but then I felt so guilty, I took it from my young brothers who are studying at university. If I have the laptop, it means they can’t do their work. So I gave it back after a day.
This teacher would dearly love to have access to the Twinkl site (who very generously Sponsor our school). She is not alone. I have around 10 teachers who are either sharing laptops with family or have none at all.
If you could get a Laptop to us, you’d be making a big difference to the life of not only a teacher but all the pupils they teach.
  • ·         Completion of the Administration Block – at the Secondary School. For the past five years this block has stood derelict. It needs finishing for a number of reasons. We need the space. At present Administration uses a classroom. We need that classroom urgently. The new block has space for a Study area/Library, which is also a great need.

But for me there is a deeper purpose. At present the incomplete building gives the whole site an un-cared for feeling. Without making a ‘political’ statement it is extremely hard for the young people of this nation to feel proud of their country, their situation. Young people often experience periods of hopelessness and depression about their future, regardless of the country they live in. But for young Burundians it can be an enormous weight to bear.  I want to make The King’s School a positive place for our young people, a place where they learn to believe in a positive future for themselves and their country.
I know it is just a building, but in a sense it is the tip of an iceberg. It is just one thing in a long line of negatives that ends with drugs, drink and hopelessness.
This one really just involves money . The Project has started, I am living in faith that we will be able to finish by December. But finances are the KEY.
  • ·         Scholarship Programme – Of the 425 pupils, 58 are on some sort of Support/Sponsorship/Scholarship programme. When the school was founded in 1998 , it was the vision of Chrissie Chapman. She had rescued around 45 babies and toddlers in the 1990’s conflict. These children were now all needing education. The King’s School was established to provide that education. As time went by the school grew.  New students were introduced on a fee paying basis. And the school continued to grow. Today there are 14 of the original ‘Orphans’ left in the school. All in years 9 and above.  It is our desire that we continue to offer an education to those who are not in a position to pay for it. Recently we have accepted new pupils who are returning refugees. It is not easy if you have grown up in an English speaking environment and then find yourself needing to attend a French/Kirundi speaking school.  Of the 58 supported pupils, some are the children of Burundian Pastors, missionaries, support workers.

This September we formally introduced a Scholarship Programme for the Secondary school.  
If you would like to help us extend that Programme and reach out to more young people who are not in a position to pay fees we would be happy to receive that help.

I think that is probably enough for now! The next bit in the Blog process, is the most frustrating. Moving photos from folders onto the Blog, it usually takes ages and involves many bad words falling out of my mouth!

One final appeal …….. please come and visit us! If you want a life changing ‘holiday’ come to Burundi. Don’t worry too much about the FO status! Just go for it

Another event that happened because of a generous
Supporter. Newly elected Prefects and Head Boy and Girl
on a lunch out

. At Bujumbura's one and only answer to
Mac Donald's.
Events like this make a great difference to morale.
I can't end without showing off my Burundi Grandchild.
Hamish Mwakao Stephen born 23/07/17.
Parents Andrew and Peris Stephen.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Hippo Hunting

It’s 3:40 am. I ‘m sitting bed with a coffee and my lap top (and a few uninvited, unwelcome mosquitoes) It’s not unusual for me to be awake at this time, I’m not a proficient sleeper. But it is somewhat unusual for me to resort to coffee and typing.
The dog is howling and yapping in the ‘garage’, in the near and far distance a variety of other  mutts are howling and barking, for whatever reason they deem best. 
But we at on the corner of Burugane and Nwarante are up and about because a HIPPO just strolled by!
It’s been happening for a while. Every so often our worker will tell us about the hippo who wanders through Kinindo at night. We nod kindly, and think   ‘ Yeah, in your dreams.’  Alli (housemate) had asked that he wake her next time it goes by.
Tonight, the knock on the window came. The hippo is outside. Alli leaps up, knocks on my door (I’m awake so I leap up)  And out we shoot! Onto the road, clad only in night clothes; two ‘post-50’ women, bare foot, in the middle of the night, dashing around hippo spotting.
Sorry no Hippo, picture. But me visiting pig purchased by Hinckley Baptist Church, to replace the previous one that had been fried by a lightning strike!
It was amazing, there just yards away, a full grown hippo, sauntering down the road, munching the plants and plodding on, turns and casually acknowledges our presence. Unimpressed, it returned to its munching and then wandered on. Alli’s camera is flashing away. (Sadly, nothing but darkness shows on any of the pictures)  I’m remembering all those ‘facts’ about how fast a hippo can run. Fortunately, this hippo, either hasn’t watched the documentary or is a not-up-for-running hippo.
 I also briefly wonder whether we are watching a Norman No Mates of the Bujumbura hippo population or Percy Plenty Pals!  What if there is another one quietly padding up behind us? I have a quick check, but it looks like this is Norman’s time to be out in town.
So, I can’t just jump out of bed at 3:30am, watch a hippo pass by, then crawl back into bed and go to sleep. If anything qualifies as a ‘Blogging plot’ this surely does.
Unrelated again. Teaching English at Saturday Wezesha Kids Project.

We are into Day 7 of no power at home. I was thinking I’d check when I last Blogged. But it’s not possible. Oh yes, even though I’m post-50, I do know about Hot Spots on the phone. However, knowing is not enough. My phone or my service provider has decided not to play. It doesn’t want to go the final step and allow me to connect. But enough of boring ‘technical moans’.
I’m now approaching the end of my fifth year in Burundi and still enjoying new experiences.
Last week, I had the dubious pleasure of extracting a Mango fly larva from the back of my housemate! It all started with the very mundane,  ‘can you have a look at this on my back?’  With my move to Bujumbura came my introduction to the world of Boils. Maybe it’s the climate or the dust, or ………………..  But for some reason boils are a routine.
Didn't think you'd want to see the boil! But here's another of my very rare Nursy moments. Broken arm falling out of a tree, during lunch break.
So I look at the not-so-attractive red lump on the back of my house-mate. It could be a boil, not really sure. Let’s say it is. Over the next few days the let’s-call-it-a-boil grows, develops a large infected area around itself. But shows no real signs of coming to a ‘head’ ( the proper behaviour for any self respecting boil) A second opinion declares the let’s-call-it-a-boil to be in fact a Staf infection (??) treatment advised, covering it with a tar-like substance, to draw out the yukky stuff. Two days later, whilst changing the dressing, it appears that let’s-call-it-a-staf-infection-now has sprouted a sort of head. This calls for a tentative squeeze of the area. Further squeezing produces a small (I haven’t got my glasses on, so can’t see properly) something that looks remarkably like it might once have been alive. After, sending the photo to a friend via What’s App, we are informed it is in fact a Mango fly larva. Oh yuk! Yuk! Yuk! So that’s why the boil felt like it was wiggling under her skin!
Easter Holiday. Rowing on Lake Gihoa

It’s no longer 3 something am! It’s now the weekend. We have today purchased a new android phone, whose sole purpose in life will be to provide a ‘hot spot’ for our internet connection.  No more relying on the power being on to be able to get on-line. Next power cut that comes along, we are still part of the technologically advanced world.
I have now checked and seen that my last Blog, was in fact 6 months ago!  Oooops!
So now I have the task of dragging through my aging memory to think of things that have happened that were both Blog-worthy and politically neutral enough to share.
Perhaps the event that has most shaped my thinking over the past months is one that is not quite within the parameters of that which I usually want to share. It’s not funny or quirky, it’s doesn’t make me smile and I can’t think of a way to putting it into writing that will make it any of those things. It is serious, sad and for me was utterly heart wrenching.
One of the teachers at school, who I have increasingly become close to, crept into my office, back in November to say that she was pregnant. Great news, you might think. Actually, my heart lurched and feeling of dread spread through me. Why? because the previous three pregnancies had ended in miscarriages. We agreed to tell no one, but to commit to earnest prayer. Slowly the days went by. She passed the 8 week mark. No miscarriage. 12 weeks. No miscarriage. 15 weeks. Things were looking good. She began to look pregnant. 20 weeks, she’d made it past all previous miscarriage points.
 It felt like it was ok to begin letting people know. My own daughter-in-law had also announced during this time, that my 8th grandchild was due two days after Antoinette’s baby. Baby talk was becoming comfortable amongst the staff. We were planning for maternity leave. I was moaning about missing the birth of my last three grandchildren, because I was in Burundi, and now missing the arrival of the Burundi baby, because I’d be in England.
Then on the evening of Wednesday 29th March, came a text message that would change the course of events. Antoinette had noticed blood and gone to the hospital. A scan could find no heart beat. It seemed that the baby had died. She had been sent home from hospital to ‘wait and see’. I went along with a friend and colleague to be with her at home. The next few hours are ones that will be seared into my memory for the rest of my life.  The utterly raw, bitter emotions were over whelming. We prayed. We pleaded with God, for that tiny life to be, if not to be, then to be restored. We called on all that we knew of God. He is a God of miracles, blessing, life. We prayed, praised, hoped. We left Antoinette that night falling into an exhausted sleep.
The next morning when she went to the hospital for another scan our worse fears and dreads were confirmed. The baby was dead. Five months into this most precious of pregnancies, just at the point where we had dared to hope, all would be well, it was over.
As her Boss and friend I decided I should go to the hospital and ‘stand with her’ through the delivery of this cherished baby. What followed were hours of excruciating pain, physically and mentally. Fervent prayers. Around 8:30pm on Thursday 30th March, a tiny little boy was delivered; a vision that will be with me for a very long time. That tiny little body held so much potential for so much joy and healing; yet he lay there lifeless.
In the days that followed it was so hard to gather together all the questions and emotions. I have been a Christian for around 40 years, but still it was almost impossible to see the ‘sense’ in what had happened. So many events in my life have taught me to know that I don’t understand God’s ways. Many times I have had to humbly accept that ‘God’s ways are not my ways’. But this time seemed to push me to limits beyond myself. I was angry. I shook my fist at God. I stomped of, I turned my back on Him.
I knew all the platitudes to answer the questions, but they didn’t seem good enough this time. This time God had gone too far. He had breached the limits of sense and moved into nonsense, as far as I was concerned. I was falling into an abyss, where nothing made sense any more.
It was only when I heard Antoinette bravely declare, ‘He’s a good God’ that I was forced to drag myself back from my drop into oblivion. If she could in all the confusion and grief, still declare God to be good. Then so could I.
My faith is built upon knowing that there is somewhere a Good God. This is not all random, senseless, pain and joy. It is purposeful, meaningful, created life. There is over it all a God who understands and cares. Who has a plan and purpose. I don’t say that lightly. It still causes huge turmoil in me, that I can’t see the sense in so much that happens in my life and in the world. But I can only see two choices- it is either all random, meaningless happenings or it is created, purposeful life. The first needs no ‘God’, the second requires such a being, but not just a ‘being’, it requires a loving creator a Good God.
So we are now into Term 3 . Today (May 1st ) is Labour Day, a holiday. I’m looking out of the window, it’s gently drizzling. The sky is grey, the mountains are hidden. I’m looking out on a mango tree, papaya trees and a Coeur de Boef tree. Lenga lenga  and beans growing in the vegetable patch. It still amazes me that I live in ‘Africa’ . Sometimes I so wish I could meet myself of 20 years ago and tell her what is coming! 
Final unrelated!! Christmas holiday in Tanzania.Breakfast with Zebras.
Last week I walked into the Thursday Debate club and discovered about a dozen Year 1’s and 2’s sitting with glazed expressions listening to the older children debate. I made a quick decision to remove them to another classroom and start an impromptu Mini-Debaters Club. Great fun, when one of the ‘Honourable Speakers’ stood and addressed the ‘”Horrible Chairperson” !  The motion was, ‘Children should not be made to do homework.’  The Honourable Speaker went on to declare, that this was in fact true, because, ‘if you do too much writing when you get home it makes your arm hurt, then it makes you sleepy and then you start to feel ill.’  The next Honourable Speaker stood and proudly addressed the Horrible Chairperson, with the very persuasive argument, ‘I haven’t got any points.’
Oooops!  A little work needed there methinks.

Well I think that’s about it for now. Time to get on with some serious work, or maybe a cup of tea first, followed by some Turtle making, then some work.