Thursday, 14 June 2012
Leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again....
So I know this is the exact same title of a post that I wrote 17 months ago on my last night in the UK before I embarked on this whole Rwandan adventure. So on my last day in Rwanda before my flight this evening I thought it was time to reflect again. I feel sad to be leaving a place that has been my home for nearly one and a half years. Rwanda has so much going for it. It is undoubtedly the most beautiful country I have ever, ever been to (and I am lucky enough to have been to many). It has the most amazing wildlife and the most stunning scenery. It is clean and well organised. The people here are incredibly strong when you think about the horrors of 1994 and the huge progress that has been made up to this day. They carry on with their lives and they continue to have hopes and dreams for the future. People care for their families and friends and look after one another. I think I was lucky to have been placed here and very few volunteers have a bad experience volunteering in Rwanda.
However the challenges faced by this small nation are far from solved. 90% of people are subsistence farmers and as far as I can see this percentage is not really changing much. The population is going up and up and soon there will not be enough land to support this large number of people who need to live off of it. Education is still a huge challenge. Most children have access to an education, but from what I have seen many children do not learn anything in the classroom, so they still do not get an education. The house pride and extreme diligence with which Rwandans look after their property (the compounds of even the most basic mud houses are immaculately kept) masks the reality that many people live on less that 300rwf (30p) a day and that is well below the poverty line. The conflict in neighbouring DRC is escalating and huge UN trucks of refugees are streaming across the border and refugee camps are springing up in many places.
I get the feeling that while things are relatively good in Rwanda at the moment, especially compared to the past, the situation is extremely fragile. If I come back to Rwanda in 10 years time I don’t know if I’ll find one of the most prosperous countries in Africa or a place dogged by sporadic conflict, instability and a shortage of resources like neighbouring DRC and Burundi. And I think many who live here also feel this anxiety about the future of Rwanda, which results in a very tense society and an ongoing lack of trust and confidence.
If I ask myself if I have made a difference to the people of this wonderful little country I would have to say ‘I don’t know’. I would love to think that my resource centre will still be at the TTC in 5 years time, but pressure to put more and more people through teacher training and secondary school means it will probably be used as a classroom eventually. But actually, that doesn’t matter so much. The resource centre is only things. I hope that some of the teaching skills I tried to pass on to my trainee teachers will stick and be used in the classrooms of Rwanda. The reality is that I will never know if this will happen. I need a crystal ball to look into the future, and that is one of the hard things about doing vso. You will never know about the influence you might have had. I remember one returned volunteer saying ‘Doing vso is like preparing a garden. You will prepare the soil and plant the seeds, but the flowers will bloom long after you have gone.’
And this is just a note to say that this will not be quite the end of the blog. I will continue to post for a little while when I return, because there is also a transition period as you adjust to being back home. I think it is important to cover this aspect of my volunteer experience, in just the same way that I started to post before I left. I feel that this part of the journey can be neglected a bit, and it is interesting for other future volunteers to know what happens after you return.