It had been 18 months since my last trip to Nyantende. For my first visit, I had been with the Foundation’s other Co-Founders, Jon and Aristide, and the duration of our stay was a mere 5 days. This time, it would be a three week long stay in Nyantende and I would be working there by myself. Also, instead of residing in a hotel in the busy, dirty, provincial capital, Bukavu, like last time, I would be staying in peaceful, green Nyantende, at the parish’s guest house.
On Tuesday March 3rd, after a long bus ride from Kigali, Rwanda and some added delays at the border, I arrived in Nyantende tired, but glad to have completed the 40+ hours of transit. Wednesday I was to begin the first of my 15 school visits and, despite the fatigue, I was excited for my work to begin.
Once I had been introduced to the parish personnel who were to become dear friends, I was shown my room; a residence-style accommodation outfitted with a desk, shelves, a single bed, even a sink. After unpacking and eating my first dinner, fresh from the parish garden, it was an early night to bed to be ready for the week I had ahead.
My first day of school visits was relatively light for what was eventually to come. It began with a planning session between myself, Mulume and Emmanuel, our two directors of operations in Congo. This was the first test for my barely adequate French and, for that reason, it took a lot more time than initially expected. Yet, by the end, we had formalized the trip's objectives into a working schedule for the duration of my stay and were ready to get out to the schools.
Our first visits were to Institute Nyantende and EP Nyantende – the primary and secondary school closest to the parish.
After all this time, I was surprised to learn the school week in Congo runs different to what is conventional in the West. School hours are 8:30 – 1:20 and students have class Saturdays as well. We started with the secondary school, Institute Nyantende.
Here’s a breakdown of how one of these visits typically went:
Meet Principal of school
Discuss purpose of visit, that being, to build a
profile on their school to send to potential sponsors back home and abroad
Get updated school overview, receive grades of the Foundation’s students, and field questions from principal and meeting attendees
Meet students and get group photo
Interview three girls and three boys*
Hand out small packet of crayons to participants and Canadian souvenir pen to principal
Get tour of school while taking photos
*Here’s the list of questions asked to each of the students:
Name, Age, Class
Who takes care of you? What do they do?
How many brothers and sisters?
What do you do after school?
What are your favourite activities? Classes?
What do you want to be when you grow up?
What is the DR Congo’s biggest issue?
What does education mean to you?
If you could give back to your community in any way, what would you do?
In retrospect, it is apparent that the needs of Institute Nyantende relative to the other Institutes were minor. By the time this first visit had finished, it was past 13:20 and the school day had already ended. It was agreed that we would see the school's primary counterpart, Ecole Primaire (EP) Nyantende, first thing the following morning.
This second day of visits proved to be by far the longest and most trying. After EP Nyantende in the morning, we saw both EP and Institute Kalagane and EP Force, all of which were in much worse condition compared to what we saw at Nyantende.
Despite their state, the principals of these schools were extremely organized, highly respectable individuals, and, during my time at each, the overall morale in the classrooms was high. All of these schools had similar levels of degradation and deficiency.
The buildings themselves were wood and no longer in a stable condition. Holes in the roof and walls were common, and at EP Force multiple, rag-like, cloth dividers were used to separate the classrooms. EP Force and the two Kalaganes had few significant improvements since we had last visited in 2013.
The highlight of the day was receiving my gift from the students of Institute Kalagane – a wooden carving of the African continent with all the names of the countries engraved. By their demeanour and organization, I found of all the schools the students of Institute Kalagane the most respectable and outgoing bunch.
They had speeches in English prepared that I taped and can be viewed below.