Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Making friends and comics ... Rwanda Revealed part 1

Last Friday I arrived home to England but, due to a monumental 22 HOUR door-to-door return trip, I proceeded to spend most of the weekend - and yesterday - sleeping! With my batteries now fully charged I feel ready to reveal the magic of Rwanda and its people.

But there is SO much to share! Where do I begin? Strangely enough (and anyone who's read the opening chapter of Long Gone Don will appreciate the symmetry here) I want to start at the end.

On our last full day in Kigali - the capital city of 'The Land of a Thousand Hills' (more on that later) - I visited Remera Catholique 2, a large primary school in the Remera district. The trip had been organised by my good friend Kate Haines and Stephen Mugisha, the founder and president of the Rwanda Book Development Initiative. One of the brilliant aims of RWABODI is to 'develop a culture of reading', and that is where I come in ... for Rwanda is a country that had NEVER read a comic book!!!

The reaction from the children was ... erm ... quite frankly amazing.

As if the lack of comics wasn't enough of a brain melt, you need to understand that Rwanda only switched from French to English as one of its official languages (the other being Kinyarwanda) TWO YEARS AGO!

So as I stepped into the classroom, armed only with a huge pile of Monkey Nuts/Baggage and a special version of our GO NUTS activity sheets, I was ready for a challenge.

The children however were more than ready to listen, to learn, to laugh a LOT (see if you can spot my drawing of Sid, or some questionable stick men!) and to get involved.

Lorenzo and I have visited a lot of schools in the UK where books are increasingly scarce but still available. That is not the case in Rwanda. Most of the books in the school library are curriculum based, or factual and there simply aren't any books for the children to read for FUN!  Leaving Remera Catholique 2 with the knowledge that the adventures of Sid and Rivet and Randall will soon be worming their way through the hands of hundreds and hundreds and HUNDREDS of kids was a fantastic feeling. They might not understand every word on the page but I know for a fact they're going to have a blast looking at the pictures!

And the good news continues as Aaron, the teacher whose class I met, was keen to keep the comic spirit alive with further lessons in storytelling.

HUGE thanks to Kate and Stephen for giving me this incredible opportunity; to Lauren Bennett and the kind folks at Random House for providing the books; and to all the children and staff at Remera Catholique 2 for being ... well, for being basically awesome.

Rwanda ROCKS! More soon when I'll be revealing how I influenced an ape...

- Robin!