Leontine works as a music teacher at the Meg Foundation, a UK-funded NGO. The Meg Foundation is a primary school and women’s co-operative located in Kinamba, one of the poorest communities of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city. It was founded by, and today is still run by, Meg Fletcher.
Each child admitted to the school is given two meals a day, school supplies, and uniforms. Students are offered quality education consisting of music, English, math, and hygiene classes. Even though the Meg Foundation school only goes up to grade six, the number of graduates increases every year; many plan to attend university one day.
In addition to the primary school, the foundation offers adult classes teaching basic literacy, information about HIV/AIDS, handicraft making, and sewing. The craft items produced at the co-operative are sold to benefit the members, mostly young mothers of children attending the primary school.
Below, you can see some of the women in the co-operative weaving traditional Rwandan baskets for sale.
I entered the Meg Foundation primary school looking for Leontine after lunch time, during recess. The children were quite rowdy and interested to know who I was. Many of the children greeted me with a “hello” or “good afternoon”, eager to show off their English skills.
Once I found Leontine, I offered to help set up her class outside. I had little to do, since the children were so excited about their music class that they set up everything themselves. Students are taught that the drums are a privilege to play. They must show respect to Leontine and the equipment in order to play.
We sat outside in a circle together, ready for Leontine to begin the class. There were only seven or eight drums available, not enough for every student. Each student received a pair of drumsticks to click together, while waiting for a turn on the precious drums.
I was lucky to experience Leontine’s amazing skills as a teacher. She was able to command the attention of a group of excited students within seconds. Once Leontine moved to the circle’s center, the children knew to pay attention and listen carefully to her instructions.
After a song to welcome me to the class (it was the most adorable thing in the entire world), we played several “call and answer” musical singing games with our drumsticks. I even taught them the “boom, snap, clap” game we all played in elementary school. (OK, it did not go as well as I intended, but The kids got a kick out of my attempt). Then we spent the rest of our music class rehearsing for their big end-of-the-year showcase for parents, that was coming up in a couple of weeks.
I learned that it is critical for Rwandans to educate their children about traditional Rwandan culture and where their ancestors came from. The Rwandan people are incredibly patriotic, something I admire greatly. They are passionate about their culture and strive to keep it active in everyone’s daily life. Because of this, children are taught traditional music and dance in schools. They learn the history and purpose of Rwandan songs and dances.
Fast forward to the showcase performance for parents. I arrived at the school a little late. (I was recovering from severe dehydration after my trek to visit the gorillas in the Virunga National Park, DRC – check out photos in the “pictures” tab!) Every student’s entire family was present for the showcase; I couldn’t even see the stage, there were so many people thronged together. Luckily, I didn’t miss any of the show. One of the mothers grabbed my hand and led me up front to the V.I.P. table to sit with with Meg, herself. I was told to sit down, smack dab in the middle of this giant table with decorations.
I thought to myself, “Oh wow, I didn’t even do anything to deserve being here…”. Along with Meg and the guest of honor, I was introduced to the entire audience. As they gestured for me to stand up and wave, I thought, “This is embarrassing, I’ve just been an observer”. It was wonderful to be welcomed so warmly, a great example of enthusiastic Rwandan hospitality.
The showcase opened with a tribal skit that included traditional drumming and dancing. The skit enacted a performance for the king and queen of the tribe, way back in old-time Rwanda. All the students were dressed in traditional Rwandan clothing, and they performed ritualistic Rwandan dances. The “intore” is one of these dances, a traditional fighting dance actually performed for generations, to entertain the tribe’s rulers. (You can see the videos of intore dance performed at the bottom of this post and in the “videos” tab). After all the dancing and singing, each class of students came up to demonstrate their English language skills. They recited stories like Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, performed skits about hygiene, and told what they wanted to be when they grew up.
Meg addressed the audience following the student performances, remarking how amazing the students had been the previous year. She extended her best wishes to the Year Six students, as they moved on to secondary school after the holiday break. Once the showcase concluded, every family fell in line bearing gifts of fruit for Meg and her teachers, expressing their deep gratitude for the school and the foundation. Some of the families even came up to offer hugs and to thank me.
Then an incredible thing happened: Everyone began to dance! Drums were playing, people were singing and dancing, even I was pulled into the crowd to dance! This amazed me, for many Rwandans tend to be quite reserved, especially around foreigners. Being with a hundred people, as they spontaneously celebrated their children’s successes, was a joy I’ve never seen being in a mass of people. It was joy and hope of what the future would bring, and it was beautiful to experience it with these terrific people.
Getting to know these children is something I will treasure forever. They were so willing to learn, with incredible potential to be in the world around them. If you would like to donate or sponsor one of the students at the Meg Foundation school, please check out http://www.kinambaproject.org.uk to learn what you can do to help. There is a link for donating from the USA as well. You may donate one time, or consider sponsoring a child for a year to receive a picture and story about the sponsored student. A donation of $360 ($30/month) can sponsor a student for an entire YEAR. This includes school uniforms, textbooks, meals, and supplies for music and art. Your help literally would change a child’s life.
Now for my fun facts!
-Our guard (many people in Rwanda have gates and guards for security) had a couple of pet rabbits. Many pet rabbits were eaten by stray cats (RIP Bumbina). Susan survived and was my buddy. Even though she pooped on me, I fed her carrots and let her play in the house.
-There is a casino in Kigali. A friend took me there and promised I’d win money at blackjack. We were both out of there within 45 minutes (looking at you, Felix)!
-If you remember my past fun facts about the milk culture in Rwanda, may I add that there are milk bars where you just sit down and drink fresh milk. Fresh warm milk. Imagine.
-When you order any bottled drink (be it a beer or soda, whatever), the server will always ask if you want it served warm or cold. When it’s sweltering hot outside, warm beer is really not fun.