Today concluded our second and last day of the Story-Based Learning (SBL) workshop that we hosted for teachers in Muhunga. At the beginning of the two day training, I was NERVOUS! I hadn’t really done SBL until a few days ago when I was finally together with the village in the flesh. I never feel confident teaching a concept that I do not understand completely. My biggest challenge at first was communicating. Despite most of my “students” speaking English, teaching to speakers with English as a second (or third...or fourth) language is a whole different ballgame. I was consciously slowing down the pace of my speech and enunciating the words I was saying, but I still was having difficulty getting the point I was trying to make across to the teachers. Luckily, a few of the teachers who had participated in our workshops in previous years stepped up and helped translate our games and activities into Kinyarwanda for us. I felt completely exhausted after day 1, and I really wasn’t sure if my “students” had understood a word I said, if they learned anything at all, and even worried they would not return the next day. To my delight, the teachers DID come back and they remembered the games we taught and jumped into SBL immediately. With the support of Tierra, Gabrielle, and Molly, we managed to get some pretty amazing results from our Rwandan teachers. I was blown away by their creativity, collaboration, communication, and thirst to improve their teacher toolkit. Voluntarily spending two full days at a workshop during the weekend when they could be at home with their families, relaxing, or celebrating the Pentecost is a very honorable choice in my opinion. As a future teacher myself, I found a lot of commonalities between the teachers of Rwanda and the teachers of the United States. The teachers in Rwanda have the same concerns for their students and their classrooms. Questions arose throughout the training such as:
1. How will I have time to use this in my classroom?
2. How do I use this in a class of 40+ students?
3. How can I manage discipline?
4. But what if x, y, and z happen?
To know that these teachers had the same reactions, worries, and concerns that I do made me realize how connected teachers truly are. It was comforting to validate my feelings and remember that I have a global village of teachers to count on when I need to. It was also heartwarming to see the teachers playing on the playground after lunch. With the roles reversed and the teachers now acting as our pupils, I could not stop laughing at the teachers pushing each other on the swings, trying to squeeze into the merry-go-round, playing volleyball, and laughing at each other. It was a good little reminder that everyone still has a kid inside them that needs to see the light of day every once in a while. This exercise has been a nice test run for me to see how SBL can be incorporated into the math classroom while being surrounded by like-minded math teachers who could help me further “mathify” SBL. I am really excited to take what I learned the last few days and bring it back to my classroom back home.
June 3rd, 2019
The best way to describe today was emotionally charged. I woke up this morning after a full day of traveling feeling completely rested and alert. I was greeted by the rising sun and the luscious green landscape as the rest of Kigali was also awakening. The view from my door this morning was breathtaking and felt like my first sip of the endless beauty that Rwanda has to offer. I took a morning walk with some of my new friends and got a taste for Monday mornings in Kigali. The biggest noticing I had was the slower paced lifestyle of the civilians in Rwanda. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry to get to school or work, nobody was engulfed in their phone catching up on emails or social media. It was a stark contrast to life in the US, but a refreshing one. The people were so curious when they looked at us, but you could tell that their stares were not menacing. So far, the people have been so warm, welcoming, and kind.
The memorial site was really informative and painted a horrifically vivid image of the atrocities that took place during the Rwandan genocide. It is so easy to point fingers and blame the Hutus, but after reading some of the propaganda that was fed to them, I hesitate to think I would have behaved differently in their shoes. Learning about the strategic plan that the Hutu extremists had, the brutality of the attacks on the Tutsi people, and the number of lives that were lost puts me at a loss for words. I got really emotional in the children’s room, and two children stuck with me the most: one child whose best friend was “his mum” and another child who died by being slammed into a wall. Those children would be only a few years older than me now. The way that these children were humanized by this made their narrative even more powerful. A quote I found in the memorial that really spoke to me was “If you knew me and you really knew yourself you would not have killed me.”
Amongst all the terror, there were also many stories of bravery and hope. My absolute favorite was the story of Sula Karuhimbi, a “witch-like” woman who used her reputation for being possessed by evil spirits to scare the Interahamwe away from her home, sheltering and saving the lives of 17 Tutsi’s. She basically told the Hutus that if they stepped foot into her home, they would be killed by evil spirits. Not only do I love the story of a strong and powerful woman, but I love how she used her strengths to save lives. Another wonderful quote I found was “he who saves a single life saves the entire world.” This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Ralph Waldo Emerson. To save a life is to save a world, because each life is an entire world in itself. The stories of those who saved lives during the Rwandan genocide did the hard thing that ultimately put their own lives at risk, and I think we as humankind could learn a thing or two from those people.
The colonialization that divided and labeled the Rwandans is what ultimately led to the genocide, and it’s scary to notice that the same pattern is happening in the US. We have developed a mentality of “us vs. them.” Humans are much more alike than they are different, and the labels that we place on people have an influence of dehumanization. It is a lot easier to compare Rwanda to other countries I have traveled to, but much more difficult to consider how my own homeland parallels the negative observations I have made. I think that is the same with all judgment, and learning to see the trueness of yourself before labeling others is an important step.
I am so excited to embark on this journey in just one short week. As I reflect on the time I have spent preparing for this trip, I feel grateful that things seem to be falling into place. I have spent a lot of time researching Rwanda, reading books about the history of the country, reading articles and watching videos online, and even meeting up with a peer from high school who is Rwandan. I find that the more knowledgeable I am about a new place in the world I am traveling to, the more meaningful the trip is for me. I am struggling to feel well versed in Rwandan history, however, as it is so rich, detailed, and complicated.
This whole opportunity to travel to Rwanda still feels like a dream to me. Traveling to Africa was always such a far-fetched goal of mine, so knowing that I will be on a plane en route to Africa in just one week seems completely surreal to me. I am really excited to dive into this unfamiliar culture and experience it all firsthand by learning from the Rwandan people. I am also really looking forwards to meeting everyone from New York and California. I also feel nervous to join the group. Even though I have been to all the virtual meetings I could, I am nervous to be thrown into the group with everyone. I have no doubt that everyone will be just as welcoming as they have been virtually, but I am anxious about learning drama-based education as I have literally no experience with theater or drama. I know that I will learn quickly, but this will definitely be a giant leap outside of my comfort zone!
I am most looking forward to working with the teachers in Rwanda. I have experienced schooling and the educational setting in the United States, India, and the Dominican Republic, so I cannot wait to see how Rwanda is similar to those places and the ways in which they set themselves apart. I am thrilled to get the chance to interact with and learn from Rwandan teachers, as I anticipate I will learn many important lessons and exchange valuable ideas and strategies between each other. I am also really excited to learn the drama-based education method and plan ways that I can incorporate it into my own future classroom.
About the Author
My name is Amanda, and I am thrilled to be joining you all on this exciting journey! I heard about this opportunity through the lovely Gabrielle, and it was an opportunity I couldn't refuse. I am a dual major in Middle School Math Education and Psychology with a minor in Spanish, and I am a Columbia, Missouri native, so I attend college a far 10 minute drive from my childhood home. As much as I love Missouri, I want to broaden my world-view through personal experiences as much as possible. I spent my summer in India observing and working alongside a Middle School Math teacher and realized my passion for international education. I spent my winter break in the Dominican Republic working in classrooms and teaching English to students of all ages. My thirst for international educational opportunities has only grown stronger, so when Gabrielle told me about this experience in Rwanda, I couldn't say no. I have two main hopes to get out of this trip. The first is to collaborate and learn from teachers in Rwanda to become a better teacher and human. The second goal I have is to learn a very different approach to teaching mathematics through drama-based learning. I have no experience in this realm and I'm excited and nervous to break out of my comfort zone to learn and practice drama-based education.