A delivery of 145 Peace Pals by Susan Boyd to Rwanda: Musanze and the School for the Deaf(about 3 hours from Kigali)
Cheryl Rainey took me to the School for the Deaf located only about 1/2 mile up the mountain from Musanze. There are about 90 total kids enrolled, ranging in apparent age from about 5 to 19. Gemma, the director from England, said that 75 of them board at the school, but the others are CHH and are only day students. What is CHH you ask? Hang on to your hats - Child Headed Households. That means that these kids, already estranged by being deaf are also the inheritors of their orphaned siblings. One girl, seeming to be about 13, has 6 younger siblings at home. So after her day at school she does all the mom duties - can you imagine that? There was one young boy about 11 who had been living on the streets his entire life until someone brought him to the school. Most probably his parents did not want a defective child, or so it would seem.
Anyway, these kids all receive an audiology exam to determine if there is any hearing at all. Only a handful has any hearing at all. I asked the main cause of their condition and was told it was predominantly a genetic issue, although less than 5 had been dropped, injured or had meningitis as infants that caused their deafness.
The children are divided into learning levels so that the age is not as important as the level of learning. Since so many had not had access to any schooling in their youth, there are often tweens in the primary grades. That does not seem to bother them at all.
They receive academic instruction according to the National Curriculum so that their education is of the same caliber as every other child who finishes secondary school. Additionally, they receive instruction in Rwandan sign language (a variation of ISL) as well as lip reading in Kinyarwanda AND English. We found every single child to be engaged, engaging and eager to interact. That is not so in the schools we have visited previously - there it seemed they had learned a "dog and pony show" reaction to visitors, repeating rote dialogues for their guests. These kids were anxious to show us what they were learning, ask us questions and even joke around!
The morning is spent in academic instruction for all levels up to secondary, but the afternoon for secondary students is also academic. The younger ones spend the afternoon learning trades such as machine knitting (they were knitting the sweaters the kids were wearing as part of their uniform), sewing (they were sewing a skirt and a pair of uniform shorts - all of their uniforms are apparently made there), electrical wiring, and even art! The kids learning art were about 11-13, I would guess. They had notebooks where they learned to sketch a pattern to carve in wood - the pattern was often geometric although some of the more advanced were carving gorillas and faces. They were eager to show us their work, and it was really very, very good. They sell the carvings as well as baskets and other crafts in their little school store, where all proceeds go toward the purchase of craft supplies.
But the secondary students were incredible! Cheryl Rainey volunteers there every Wednesday so they cheered and welcomed her into their classroom. There were about 10 kids there. So each of us had to say our name - one student would come to the board and as the teacher signed each letter they wrote our name on the board. Then the fun began - they had to give us a "nickname" - something that related to our name but was a simple one stroke sign rather than spelling. So Cheryl's sign is a C circling over her heart because she loves them. My sign is S (fist with thumb extended over index finger knuckle) rubbing in circles on my cheek. Another fellow there was named Jack so his sign became the letter J bounced on top of his bald head (they thought his white bald head was amusing). On it went so that each of us felt so deeply drawn to these wonderful kids.
Their biggest accomplishment is that this year, for the very first time in Rwandan history, there are 6 secondary students mainstreamed into the regular classroom. The teacher of that class has absolutely no training in sign and makes no allowances. They have moved from a class of about 10 in the deaf school to a class of 50, yet when the deaf school administrators ask them if it is too much and they want to come back they all give a resounding NOOO! They are doing very well, and are preparing for their tests which will qualify them for University.
In this continuing series of seemingly random meetings, about 5 months ago we received information about a new fish farm that was opening in southern Rwanda only 15 minutes from the Burundi border. Over the past months Bill has been in contact with the couple, Faith and Roger Shaw who are investing their own resources in this for-profit entity, and Bill will be serving as their Bio-Security expert. So yesterday we had the extreme pleasure of meeting them in person, and spending the entire day and evening together. While their work on developing the fish farm is noteworthy, you just have to read "the rest of the story".
Faith is Rwandan and was actually sent into exile during the first genocide in '59. She grew up in desperate circumstances herself, but pursued her university degree in education. She is actually an incredible artist and so specialized in art education. But as a refugee teaching and living in Kenya her future would remain that of a refugee (lower wages, no promotions, etc) unless she expanded her horizons. So she managed to save enough to put herself through grad school in the UK where she met her husband of 30 years, Roger Shaw.
Then came the second genocide in 1994, and when circumstances began to settle down she returned to Rwanda to try to find her father. She did find him living in a very small crevice type hut, but she also found orphans. So they purchased a home for her dad, took in the first of the orphans and her dad became the role model and mentor for these kids, as she and Roger continued to live in Silicon Valley.
But I will let you read the story, as I do not do it justice. If you do nothing else today, please go to their website: www.ishimwe.org. Plan to spend an hour learning about their passion, their story but most of all about the lives of the now 20 orphans who live with them as family. Yes, 20 ranging in age from 3 to17. Get the Kleenex out and go to the Christmas archive. Each child received their very first gifts, and as each was opened the rest clapped. Wow.
Back to our visit yesterday. We had no idea of their lives outside of the fish farm, but as we were collecting what we wanted to take with us on the 3 hour ride from Musanze to Kigali, I decided on a whim to take 12 of the Pocket Peace dolls with me, just in case we might run into some children. Little did I know that in fact the Shaws have 12 orphans ages 5 and under living in their home in Kigali (with an additional 8 living in their second home in Musanze).
Roger met us at a landmark, and we followed him to his home in Kigali (which we would never have found on our own btw). As soon as the cars were parked a gaggle of small children came running up to him shouting "Uncle"!!! We assumed they were children of the gardener or staff. Nope - these were some of Roger and Faith's own adopted orphans. They ran to Bill to be picked up, hugged our legs and just wanted to greet us.
So, AHA! The dolls - turns out there was just enough for the group. I held out the bag and let each child pick his/her own doll. Their eyes were bright and smiles broad. So when they each had one, we said we were going in, and each child began to put their doll back in the bag. What???? Could children really be that well mannered? Seems so. When they discovered that they could keep their doll, they went running around back to the teachers who home school them to show them their prizes.
Faith and Roger are truly extraordinary people, and we feel positively blessed to have been introduced. Please, please go to the website and read their story. You will not forget it.
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