CMU Project Rwanda

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Ariel’s Diary- Kigali, Rwanda May 12-23, 2010 by cmuprojectrwanda
May 27, 2010, 2:07 pm
Filed under: Ariel's Diary

Our trip to Rwanda is one that I wish never to forget, so I kept a brief diary of our daily adventures. One must keep in mind while reading this diary that it is strictly from my, Ariel Solomon’s, perspective; so things will be shown as they were seen through my eyes. I hope that my teammates will enjoy each entry, and never forget about this journey.

05/12/2010- Landing in Africa

I’m in Africa! After hours on British Airways (7:35 pm flight from JFK to London and 10:20 am flight from London to Nairobi) we are finally in Africa! Nairobi, Kenya to be exact. We have to grab our bags and check them in with the Kenyan airline before we can move on. Thus far, we have been told that only 4 of our 7 checked bags have made it and many are panicking. Even I’m panicking and I didn’t even check any bags! We sent Urna and Josh to identify the bags. Right now, the rest of us are sitting by our gate waiting for the Qatar students to arrive so that we can greet them. I like to call them my “Qatari babies”, at least for now because I know once they get here I’ll have to dump that epithet. One of the workers at the Kenyan Airport helped us to get situated and later asked us for a tip. None of us really had any money on us, but Vishal gave him $2.00. Josh says we shouldn’t give them money and he’s right….

Jimmy is here! He seems very friendly and laid-back. I look forward to getting to know him. Vishal has left to look for the other Qatar students….They’re here! They were in the lounge upstairs. We should be boarding within the next hour and a half, and I need to take my malaria tablet once the plane takes off! Once we got everyone together, we discussed the Project Rwanda kickoff. I explained to everyone the different icebreakers we could do and then we began to discuss the pen-pal program. It feels good to have everyone here. ….

Now the Kenyan plane is taking off and we will be in Kigali within 2 hours! I can’t wait! We are in Kigali! It is after 1:30 am. We met an OLPC guy by the name of Sam along with 2 taxi drivers and they took us to the church where we will be sleeping. The place is very nice. While in the car Sam asked, “So what do you know about Rwanda? Aside from Genocide?” I paused for a moment, told him it was a good question, and then Vishal chimed in and began speaking about education. I then told him everything I knew about the country’s development technologically and socially along with its new reforms for petty thieves and the homeless (Rwanda’s Island Prison-IWAWA Island).  Sam was pleased. He said that it is good to see that we have good factual info about the country as opposed to the rubbish he hears people say at times….

We’re home. We each are sleeping two to a room (I am sharing a room with Urna). I took a shower almost immediately. We had a meeting in Sruthi and Amy’s room where we all  got to know each other better . We went around talking about what we are involved in on campus, told embarrassing stories, and told jokes. Now I am going to get some rest and prepare for a big day tomorrow. We can’t wait to start working with the kids!

05/13/2010- In Kigali

The church we’re staying in is nice. It doesn’t seem like a church, just more like a hotel; kinda like the place we stayed in when we got to Nicaragua the first night. The difference is that this place has both hot and cold water and for some reason, yesterday we weren’t given a designated place to brush our teeth (since we can’t drink the water here). It seemed as though no one had given this much thought but I brought it up last night and we all have been clinging to our bottled water. In our room, there are 2 beds, a big closet, a television, bathroom, table & chairs, and our beds are equipped with mosquito nets above them. Which reminds me, I need to take my Malaria meds soon- what a pain!…

Breakfast time! We had bread with jam and butter along with eggs. So good. And the tea was the bomb!… We’ve been resting for a while and now we’re about to head out so that we can change some money. We each brought between $300-$500 to change. The cabs can only seat 4, so since there are 10 of us we plan on doing 3 trips to the UTC- a sort of shopping center in the center of town where one can find virtually anything. This morning Urna and I found out that our rooms run for a bit more than the $25/night that everyone else has to pay so we’ll be moving soon….

We changed our money at a fixed rate of 577 RWF for each $1. We then went to a restaurant called “Shake and Sip” to be served. The restaurant was owned by an Indian man (Punjabi) who called himself “Happy” and it took them over an hour to serve us. We were informed that this is typical of service in Africa. The food there wasn’t very ethnic. I had a cheeseburger and fries, some had beef curry and rice, others had sambosas, masala fries, or grilled cheese sandwiches. The restaurant owner seemed very happy to see us (perhaps he was glad to see other Indians in Rwanda, seeing as though the majority of our team is brown). Afterwards, we went to the market to pick up a few groceries- we brought water, bread, nutella, peanut butter, jam, and chips. We then walked back to where we’re staying which was actually a pretty nice walk. Urna and I moved our things to the newer, smaller room and then we went to Sruthi’s room where the money was split up according to how much we changed. I got 115 $2000 bills (RWF) since I changed $400. Josh went with some of the OLPC volunteers, namely Melissa, to check out the school. We can’t wait to hear about the school upon his return!….

Josh is back! He told us that we can’t have the huge kick-off we wanted to have but that instead, we only get 10 minutes to introduce ourselves to the students tomorrow-Friday. The school has 127 P5 students we will be working with and they come half in the morning and half in the afternoon. We will be presenting ourselves twice tomorrow. We discussed our plans for tomorrow a bit more, our need for translators, and Elisee- a Rwandan guy we met who studies in the U.S. and wanted to help us out. I haven’t been able to get in touch with him yet though. It would be nice if he could help us out-even if just translating for us. Today Urna and I discovered that they don’t exactly do a “thorough” cleaning between visits here. I left a pair of pants, vaseline, and a pillow in our old room and none of these items had been removed before the new visitors came. I had to go to the receptionist and tell her about my loss before getting them back. I find this quite off-putting but we’ll just have to deal with this since we’ll be here for about 3 days.

I got super tired today and took a nap while the others went out to dinner. I don’t feel quite hungry, but I think we should definitely get some sleep before tomorrow morning since we’ll be waking up early in the morning to introduce ourselves to the students. In terms of the Rwandans I’ve met thus far- VERY FRIENDLY. But I noticed that as I walk the streets they tend to stare at me a lot. I think they are busy contemplating my history, wondering where I come from and why I look so much like them, yet so different. Most women here have their hair short and it is very coarse, while mine is longer, silkier, and straighter. Not to mention the way I dress and the fact that I’m walking around with a bunch of Indians and a white guy (whom I love by the way)!

Side note: Efficiency is key for the next couple of days, I just hope the rest of the group will keep this in mind.

05/14/2010- First Day at the School- Nonko Primary School

Today we’re going to the school! I think it’s pronounced NOHO though it is spelled otherwise. I couldn’t sleep much last night. I had so much on my mind and I was filled with anticipation. We have to leave by 7:20am this morning and breakfast doesn’t start until 7am so everyone has to be up and ready pretty soon. Urna and I got dressed and headed out to breakfast which is complimentary here. We spoke about our intros. Amy will begin by introducing the entire group, then one person from each group will tell what program they will be working on during the week while the other group members introduce themselves, and then the boys will show the students how to “pound it.” I hope everything works out….

The kids were amazing! We went to two fifth grade classes and introduced ourselves. A translator by the name of Bonfils helped us to say the things we didn’t know. The students seemed very happy to see us and were very respectful. They sit quietly in their seats and when they answer a question, they do a snapping thing with their fingers and then stand up to address the class. It is absolutely wonderful to see. Not to mention, they were SOOO cute! After the intros, we went out into the field and took some photos before heading over to the Genocide Museum. We can’t wait to start teaching the kids next week! “Pound it” was a hit and they pounded us to death as we tried to leave the school. We are so excited…

We drove to the Genocide Museum which of course was a totally different atmosphere.  We toured the mass graves, wall of names, and then the inside of the museum where there were informative posters, images, and videos. No cameras were allowed inside. We saw some pretty graphic images such as the skeletons of children, images of stacked dead bodies, mutilated families, and violence. It was hard to watch but I think it was important for us all to see. We all left pretty much speechless. Afterwards, we dropped off our translator Bonfils and visited the hotel that held the refugees during the time of genocide (this hotel was featured in the movie Hotel Rwanda). We then left to grab some food- finally some Rwandan food! We went to a buffet and ate tons of good food like rice, cassava, liver, beans, fruit, and drinks. The place was really nice and only costed us 3000 RWF (which is less than $6). Afterwards, we returned to our hotel and settled some business with one of the taxi drivers who claimed that we hadn’t payed him for one of our trips. We will be heading back to the school for our second round of introductions soon…

The music in the taxi was awesome. Vishal, Waleed, Urna, and I shared a cab and we fell in love with the taxi driver’s music. He played one song that chanted “E-Cho-ho-la” (or something like that) which apparently means “What I do.” It was great. Vishal liked it so much that he asked the taxi driver if he could borrow the CD so that he could copy the songs. The second round of intros was great!The kids are so cute and they happened to be getting out of classes when we were done, so they flocked to us to take pictures. They love to “pound it” with us- I think this will be  a theme for our trip. We then checked all the XOs with OLPC employee- Jimmy Intwali, to make sure that we have enough functioning ones for when we begin teaching next week.

It took a while and when we finished we came back to the hotel. I got pretty tired so I took a nap while the others went out to dinner. It seems I’m never hungry during the nights here in Rwanda. So when everyone got back, the boys stormed into my room- Vishal, Jim, and Waleed, and told me that we’d be going to a club. I thought the idea was sketch at first since the guy “Happy” that we met yesterday was the one taking us, but it was actually a blast! We went to a club called DMH and the DJ’s name was “DJ Focus.” It was actually his birthday that day and he played pretty good music. Oddly enough, the servers at the restaurant were dressed as cheerleaders- we got a few laughs off of that. Jim and Vishal were STARS on the dance floor tonight. They did all types of cool/crazy dances and were super entertaining.

Tonight is our last night staying in this church/hotel and and we leave tomorrow morning at 8am right after breakfast. We finally figured out that Rwanda is exactly 6 hours ahead of Pittsburgh time. I think I’ll be getting up at 5am so that I can shower and do my hair before Urna wakes up tomorrow at 6am. the total cost for all 10 of us for the 3 nights thus far is 375,000 RWF  or $65/person or $21.70/night/person. I should get some rest now, just a few more days before we meet the kids!

05/15/2010- Sightseeing

Today was absolutely amazing! I can’t believe I’ve only been in Africa for 3 full days. Today we changed locations in terms of housing so we had to wake up pretty early. I got up at 6am, showered, packed, and got dressed. I ate breakfast and then started putting my things in the van since we were supposed to be out by 8am. We rented the van for the day. Josh has been really good with heading our ground operations in terms of travel and rides. After breakfast, we went to the bank to change more money and we also went to an internet cafe. We then went where we will be staying for the rest our time here. The rooms weren’t ready when we got there so we put all of our things in one room and then took off. It was quite an eventful day.  We drove for what felt like days to Lake Kivu. Before arriving we made a short stop to take some scenic photos. Once we got to the lake, I’m sure I speak for all when I say it was gorgeous. Vishal and Jim, our team dare-devils went down to the actual lake while the rest of us looked at it from above. The locals saw us as quite the spectacle as well. They played music for us, took photos with us, and some even asked us for money. Oddly enough, there was one young boy who continuously asked us for a “pen” but I wasn’t quite sure if a pen was really what he was looking for and/or why.  After taking tons of photos at the lake, we headed over to Amaharo Island by boat. It was delightful. We could see Congo from the boat. While on the island, we entertained ourselves while waiting for food by playing volleyball and soccer.  The funniest moment for me was when we saw two men on the island chasing a chicken and then a few moments later, saw one of the men re-emerge holding a dead chicken. It was sort of sad, but it was our dinner after all. This was a very long day. I got closer to Waleed and Sruti today and I found out that Waleed plans on studying at the Pittsburgh campus in the Spring. I’m pretty excited about that. I also learned that Abhay allows others to call him Joseph as it is easier to pronounce….

We’re back home! We are staying at a convent named St. Francois… D’Assise. We were all given our own rooms which I think is GREAT though there is no internet here like there was at the other place.. I’m pretty tired so I think I’m going to take my malaria pill and head to bed. Little did I know, everyone wanted to go the the UTC for dinner so though I was not hungry, I tagged along so as not to be left alone here. I ended up buying a plate of food from the buffet.

In terms of language differences, I have realized that many Rwandans speak English. It seems like everyone here is AT LEAST bilingual- quite impressive. I have met some people here who speak up to 5 languages!

Abhay does a great impersonation of Jim (but Jim would beg to differ). And Melvin’s sarcasm is hilarious. The funniest part of the night by far was on our way back home when Abhay continuously impersonated Jim- and quite flawlessly. The guy named “Happy” who we met not too long ago (and who had taken down our names at the club so he could add us on facebook) called us during dinner and wanted us to stop by. Jimmy made the van stop on our way back to the hotel (his friend from home was accompanying us) and he went to go get “Happy.” After talking to him for a bit, we headed home, reflected, and worked a bit on lesson plans before heading to bed. This day has made us even more pumped to work with the kids…

05/16/2010- The Day Before

The place where we are staying is very blatantly and obviously a convent- no question about it. There are nuns, strict rules, and a glow-in-the-dark Jesus in every room. Last night we got lots of rest- at least 12 hours per person on average. Since we didn’t have any obligations today, I slept in until after 1pm. We got on motor bikes today for 500 RWF. Urna got a not-so-nice burn on her lower leg. (Vishal would later acquire the same burn.)We had the bikes drop us off in front of Happy’s place at the UTC. He seemed pretty happy to see us.

We walked around searching for some restaurant called Poseidon but we couldn’t find it. We ended up stopping at a Pizzeria called The Downtown and it was quite nice. We’ve noticed that service here in Rwanda is extremely slow and one may wait up to an hour before being served. We had pizza, pasta, burgers, and omelets. After spending hours at the restaurant, we went to an internet cafe and a coffee shop-Bourbon Cafe. This took about 2 hours. We then went to the market to pick up some snacks in case we get hungry while at the school. Afterwards, we took cabs instead of bikes back home. When we got back to the convent they had made dinner for us (which we are paying $2500/night for). After dinner, everyone split into their groups and worked on lesson plans- Me, Urna, Waleed=RECORD, Sruthi, Josh, Vishal, Melvin=SCRATCH, Amy, Abhay, Jimmy=TamTam. We can’t hardly wait to begin! I later took my malaria pill and went to bed. Melvin has become the designated malaria pill reminder.

05/17/2010- First Teaching Day!

We had breakfast at 6 am. We ate bread and eggs and then headed out a bit before 7 am so that we could get to the school before 7:30am.  Once we got to the school we were placed in 3 separate classrooms so that we could proceed with our lessons. The kids were amazing! For our group (RECORD) we began by assigning the laptops and then proceeding with an icebreaker-Simon says. It seemed difficult for the translator to say Simon so we later changed it to Sam says. It was awesome, the kids really wanted to win. When they lost, they had to say their names and then sit out. We then had them record their emotions (by taking photos) and then recorded action videos…

We are now taking a lunch break after teaching 3 consecutive classes. We will do 3 more this afternoon. We ate snacks and reflected on our first round. We all have so much respect for teachers because we’re tired now…

Round 2 was great as well. The afternoon sessions seemed to move much quicker than the morning sessions for obvious reasons (laptops already assigned, learning curve on our behalf, lesson plan modifications, etc.). Our final session of the day finished so early that we allowed the children to ask us questions, any questions. I was not only asked questions about America, but also rather personal questions like how old I was, whether or not I had a child, or a boyfriend. There were OLPC interns sitting in on our classes and a grad student from McGill studying anthropology, “studying” and “learning” from us. They thought we were great which further validated our efforts. Also, our translator is awesome. His name is Maurice and he is studying computer science at Oklahoma Christian University.

The school is definitely different from any school we have ever seen. It has limited resources. Each room is equipped with desks for the kids, chalk, a chalkboard, and a sort of spongy material that they use as an eraser. The schools are made out of inexpensive materials and get dirty very easily. When it rains, the school also experiences many leaks. The actual school yard is large and very green and brown (trees and dirt). The country itself is very hilly (as expected. It is after all the land of 1,000 lakes (and hills as Professor Rugege says)).

After classes we packed up and then hung out with the children a bit. We did the “Soldier boy” and took lots of photos with them. We later headed to the Ministry of Education to meet up with Professor Rugege- the father of a fellow CMU Professor Crystal Rugege. We ended up meeting the actual minister who was very kind. He told us to come work in Rwanda after our studies. Professor Rugege then took Sruthi, Amy, Jim, and me to his home which looked straight out of cribs. He gave us books with some kinyarwanda words and prases to help us during our stay here. We then went to an internet cafe and then to an Indian Restaurant for dinner- Khana Khazana. The food was GREAT! Everyone was so exhausted that we went home immediately after. Some stayed up to work on lesson plans, while most went to bed to work on plans in the morning (including myself).

05/18/2010- Second Teaching Day

I woke up around 4:45am to shower, get dressed, and work on lesson plans.  We had breakfast and then headed to Nonko, the school we’ve been teaching at. Today we did actions with words. We started by having them introduce themselves by saying their names and doing an action. We had them go around and do it again but this time they had to mimic the actions of the person in the center. Next we had them split into groups of 3 and gave them each a scenario to act out and record on their laptops. They did exceptionally well! They did so with minimal help and their skits were both intricate and engaging. It was a pleasure to watch! I slept during our break and the second round of classes was just as great as the first. There is a boy by the name of Fronke that I have taken a special liking to. He is 11 yrs. old and has an older brother who is also in the class, different section. I took photos with him and he came to check up on me every chance he got. There is also a little girl I exchanged numbers with. She wrote me a sad note about wanting to study in America. Afterwards, we went back home. Josh, Urna, Abhay, and I took motor taxis to the internet cafe. It was Josh’s anniversary with his girlfriend so he really wanted to talk to her. Afterwards, we all met with Mr. Rugege, his wife, and his dad for dinner at Flamingo- a Chinese restaurant. I ate SOOO much. We then went back to the UTC to pick up more things- water, snacks, etc. and then went home. It was after 10pm at that point and the convent gates were closed once we got back at 10:30pm. We finally got the gates open…

Now I’m in my room with my group making lesson plans for tomorrow. We made animal masks to complement tomorrow’s lessons and then off to bed we went. It seemed like we were missing tons of materials but we still made pretty good masks.

05/19/2010- Third Teaching Day

Our lesson plans didn’t work out exactly like we wanted, but they worked nonetheless. I didn’t get a chance to eat breakfast this morning because I woke up pretty late and had to take a shower/make sure I looked decent because CNBC and the Guardian were supposed to pay us a visit. I ate an apple before we left. Tons more OLPC interns came to watch us today. Jessica is very helpful and often participates in our lessons. Brian, Silvia, and other people for OLPC showed up today. We began by having the kids say their names and make animal sounds. We then had them do it again but this time they dad to say their names, make a sound, and do the animal’s action. They were excellent! I then had them call out the names of some typical animals in Rwanda. Urna showed them the masks and had them guess the names of each animal. We split them into groups and gave them materials to make their own masks. Our original plan was to have them make the masks and then put on skits, but the mask making took longer than we though it would- the whole class. That was fine because we can have them do the skits tomorrow. We may have them spruce their masks up in the beginning of class tomorrow and then come up with skits. We want to do personality malfunctions. Within each group of animals, one of the animals will be acting differently (uncharacteristically) and they will record the skits on their laptops. I met a guy today named John Bosco who is also an OLPC intern. He was very nice. Jean Claude, another intern who is in our class daily brought his younger brother Adrien to join our session today. The kids behaved themselves well given a significant amount of freedom but we lost a pair of scissors and both glue sticks.  As they made their masks, several of them questioned my heritage. They asked if I was “Metis” (mixed) and whether I was half Muzungu (white) because of my hair. I tried explaining to them that there are all types of people in the U.S. and that I was just a black American. Their curiosity intrigues me. Most of them finished their masks while a few others didn’t. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel.

Tonight was the night for our meeting with OLPC. They wanted to meet one person from each group so Josh, Amy, and I went. Around 6pm we got into a taxi and went to a restaurant called Heaven for dinner where the OLPC members were waiting for us. The rest of the group went back to the Indian restaurant for dinner where they did some deep team bonding and discussed first impressions. At dinner with OLPC I had BBQ porkchops, cornbread, beans and pineapples, with a brownie and icecream for dessert (on OLPC!). At dinner was David, Brian, Joy, Silvia, Juliano, Sam, Iuri, and the 3 of us. We talked about the work we’ve been doing, our teaching styles, OLPC mission/goals/recent events, and the pen-pal program. It was a great dinner and they really don’t want us to leave Rwanda. They would love for us to stay and work for OLPC. The 3 of us left to meet up with the rest of the group at Khana Khazana and then had a team meeting in my room where we discussed Friday’s finale.

Oh yeah! Two things that happened today that stood out to me: Fronke drew a picture of me and a little girl held the door closed for me when I went to the latrine. I was touched by that in ways that no one understands.

05/20/2010- Final Teaching Day

Once again, I woke up really late and kept everyone waiting. By the time I got out of the shower, the van had come and everyone was outside. Needless to say, I missed breakfast. Also, a cat randomly walked into my room this morning. Today was a rather sloppy day in terms of the unraveling of our lesson plans. We planned to have the students put on skits using the masks they made yesterday and to talk to them about the finale at the end  of class. We began each class by distributing the masks but in each class, at least 1 student was missing a mask either because they hadn’t made one or we perhaps lost them. In that case, we just let the students use our example masks. So we decided to hold the kids’ hands a bit less today, but perhaps that wasn’t the best idea. We told them the  instructions for their animal skits based on personality malfunctions. Some were extremely creative while others barely followed directions. They were instructed to record the skits on their laptops and some groups went over the top! One group- the “monkey group,” went outside with their masks and laptops and recorded themselves actually climbing trees and doing the things that monkeys do. They were fantastic! Overall, the students pulled through and in the last 10 minutes of class, I thanked them for an awesome week, talked to them about the finale and asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to have their masked exhibited. Most of the students gave us their masks. Urna and Waleed went around taking photos and recording their skits so that we could use the footage for our finale tomorrow.

During the break, I danced Bhangra with Vishal while others joined and I also went to the market with Jimmy Intwali, Waleed, Josh, and Vishal to pick up some drinks.  Jimmy bought me chocolate and asked me some questions…I also checked my grades online- 4.00! That made my day. The second half of the day went by slowly and sadly as we all knew that this was our last day with the kids. I was happy to have successfully completed our lesson plans but I was sad to be done with these amazing kids. Most of them requested our names, email addresses, and phone numbers so we hope to remain in contact with them. I truly have had a great time in Rwanda. When we got back to our place I took a nap.  Not too long after, everyone was heading to dinner but I was still tired so I let them go without me and Urna brought me back some Chicken Tika Masala. I love Indian Food! I also find it funny that we’ve had minimal Rwandan food since we’ve been here, and every guy here we meet is “21 years old” and studies “Computer Science.”

Everyone is now working on videos and music for tomorrow’s finale. It is both exciting and sad. I made a card for the headmistress and had Urna translate it to French before having everyone sign it. Tomorrow we’re supposed to be going to a place to buy handicrafts, the finale at 2pm, and then a pizza party with OLPC.

05/21/2010- Project Rwanda Finale!

I finally ate breakfast! We were supposed to be going to purchase handicrafts today but I don’t see that happening because the RECORD team doesn’t have a video made. Last night Urna gave the videos and photos to those with laptops and was under the impression that our data would be compiled for us but this was not the case. I was pretty upset at first, but I was glad when our team stepped up, along with Josh (thank God for him) to stick behind and work on our final video. Thanks to Josh’s expertise, patience, and helpfulness, we got our video done in about 1.5 hours. It turned out really well. I then wrote a script for what we would be saying in our intro and conclusion of the finale and soon thereafter everyone returned…

We are now at the church beside Nonko setting up for the finale and we are so excited! Besides an impromptu dance performance at the beginning, some technical difficulties during Tam Tam, and projector failure near the end; our finale went really well. Everyone from OLPC, the teachers at Nonko, and the parents were raving. The students enjoyed showcasing all of their hardwork and we enjoyed watching. At the end, we presented some gifts to the headmistress: a card, some books, balls, art supplies, and the speakers. We then had all the students sign our cloth and gave them candy- the most hectic process of the day.

After saying lots of sad goodbyes we left Nonko and headed back to our hotel. We had a large dinner with OLPC at Sunae Leon (or something like that) at 6:30pm. We were a bit late due to traffic. We ate several different types of pizza- it was great. All of the OLPC heads and most of the interns we worked with this week were there. Joy was especially fun to hang out with. She studies Transpersonal Psychology. She said, “When I was young, I didn’t have an imaginary friend, I had God.” She was hilarious.  Also, she looks 25 years old but she is significantly older! Near the end of the dinner we played a quick trivia game. Afterwards we took tons of photos and Adrien asked if he could pay us a visit tomorrow.

We weren’t ready for the night to be over. Jessica was with us and were determined to show her a good time. We went to Shake and Sip to meet up with Happy who eventually closed up shop. While at his store I met a Rwandan guy who told me I was the first black American he had ever met.  Happy took us to KBC (Planet) Club and it wasn’t that great. We left the club after a while and headed back home. All in all we just really miss the kids at Nonko.

05/22/2010- Last Day in Rwanda

Today started off pretty rough because we learned that money had been stolen from a few of our group members’ rooms. Melvin woke everyone up for breakfast this morning. Most of us didn’t get to the kitchen until after 9:30 am and we were told that the cook was finished serving breakfast. Amy gave him a sad face and spoke a little French and then they decided to serve us (thanks Amy!). Waleed and Abhay came in earlier and told us they had already eaten and that they were headed to the UTC. At breakfast this morning we discussed our mate preferences in terms of race (topic introduced by Vishal). The conversation was interesting but not at all surprising in terms of everyones responses. I took a nap afterwards and then woke up, showered, and we all headed out.

Josh was up at 7am to take Jim to the airport but no luck. We went to go souvenir shopping later on because Amy and Urna had to be at the airport by 5pm for a 7:45pm flight. We ate dinner at The Downtown again. While we were there, a guy named Nick Pottier stopped by to ask about our experience with OLPC. He attended CMU (but did not graduate from there) and is opening a software company here in Rwanda. He would like to be able to work on software for OLPC. After dinner, we waited with Urna and Amy for the cab and saw them off. It was sad to see them go, but they each are studying/working in Paris this summer and had to leave.

Vishal and I went to Happy’s place while the others went to find more souvenirs/internet cafe. Vishal eventually left and I stayed with Happy. I find the guy hilarious. We just sat, chilled, and talked in his restaurant until the others came. He tried to convince us to go to another club with him tonight but none of us were up for it. Instead we invited him to come visit us at our place so that we could all hang out outside before Waleed and Abhay left.

Happy originally told us that he’d be over at 10pm but showed up 1.5 hours late. While we waited for him we discussed our best moments in Rwanda and what we each learned about ourselves. Once Happy got here he told us about a movie he was starring in and then we saw Waleed and Abhay off. I am definitely going to miss those guys. Abhay was so hilarious and Waleed was so sweet. I could see us being really close friends in the future. “Mama give me my meatloaf before I shoot you”- Waleed’s favorite quote from “the hood.” Everyone started going their separate ways and it was sad to see people leave.

05/23/2010- Back to the U.S.

This has been an amazing trip. I’m really sad to go but I’m also excited to see my family again. Melvin came and woke me up around 8:15 am for breakfast. At this point, there are only 6 of us left. At breakfast we met 4 MBA students from Berkley who are here to work with wildlife conservation and building businesses around it.

I went back to my room, showered and started packing. We waited outside for our taxis, extremely sad that our time in Rwanda was coming to an end. Now it’s time to go home for good. Goodbye Rwanda! We love you, miss you, and will never forget you!


Going to Rwanda was the best thing I have ever done. I think each of us has learned so much and has grown tremendously. I also think we are each more appreciative as well. I never felt threatened or unsafe during our time there and I really appreciated how we were given tons of freedom both from OLPC and from the headmistress of Nonko.  The Rwandan people have tons of pride for their country- a beautiful country filled with beautiful people, sites, land, great weather and great food. We ❤ Rwanda!

RECORD Plans/ What Actually Happened by cmuprojectrwanda
May 27, 2010, 9:05 am
Filed under: Planning

As we expected, our lesson plans had to be modified from what we had originally planned. Our overall theme of teaching lessons through “fables” went out the window-but this was perhaps for the best. Instead of teaching the students lessons, we actually learned quite a bit from them by allowing them to freestyle. Their values and beliefs came through their performances. Below, on behalf of the RECORD team, I have outlined our lesson plans prior to arriving in Rwanda and then what we actually did each day.

Day 1– Describe the art of conveying a message without words

*Shows that we can all work together regardless of what languages we speak, body language is an equally effective means of communication

-Facial exercises to express emotions–>happy, sad, upset, surprised, etc.

-Action–> movements with purpose-running, jumping,hugging, dancing, walking, crawling, crying

-Have them act out a popular folktale -Break into groups < 3 students

-Have the students act out the folktale without words, must be < 5 mins.

-Students will share their performance with the class

-Show them an example done by Ariel, Urna, Waleed

Actual Day 1– The same with the exception of the folktale and performances

-Explained the importance of non-verbal communication/how communication is more than just words

-Icebreaker: Simon Says (losing students had to introduce themselves prior to sitting out)

-Students took pictures of their emotions and gestures

-Students recorded their actions

-Ariel and Waleed performed a skit as Urna had the children guess our emotions and actions

*The children were very engaged. They did in fact understand the power of emotions/gestures/body language.

Day 2– Acting with words and actions

-The students will be more comfortable at this point and will find this much easier

-Share with them another folktale

-Urna and I will have acted it out and will show them our video performance of the folktale

-Have the students split up into groups once again, different groups from before and act out this folktale WITH WORDS

-Must be <5 mins.

-Students will share their performances with the class

Actual Day 2– Acting with words and actions. Objective: Brainstorming

-Asked the students what they learned yesterday and its significance

-Icebreaker: Round 1: In a circle, had the students say their names and do an action. Round 2: Had the students say their names, do an action, and had the entire class repeat the action

– Had the students split into groups of 3. Gave them scenarios and 20 minutes to come up with a skit.

– Had each group record and  perform skits.  Voted for the best- Decisions were difficult because the performances were great!

*Scenarios: Lost foreigner in need of direction, Teacher catches students cheating, Best friend moves out of town while new student looks for a friend, Trying to convince parents to buy a new game/ball, Wearing mother’s favorite necklace to school and losing it, Thinking birthday has been forgotten but a surprise party is thrown, Huge examination and trying to avoid going to school by feigning sickness

Day 3– Farm Animals!

-Show them the different sounds animals make

-The different actions typical of each animal

-Have them make masks to represent their different animals

-Read folktale, show video performance done by us

-Have the students perform (<5 mins)

-Students will share their performances

Actual Day 3– Farm Animals Mask-Making

-Asked the students what we had done the day before

-Icebreaker: Round 1: In a circle, students said their names and made an animal sound. Class had to guess the animal. Round 2: Students made the animal sound and performed the action of the animal.

-Asked students to yell out some animals typical of Rwanda

-Asked students what masks were/what they were used for

-Showed the students the masks we made the day prior and we had them guess the names of each of the animals. The students were split into animal groups (3-4 students per group). We had monkeys, cats, dogs, elephants, rabbits, and lions.

-Mask-making took longer than we expected. Materials were distributed and students spent the remainder of the class making their masks for tomorrow’s performances

Day 4– Show with Props and Scripts

-Explain the importance of props/scripts in performing– when and why they are used

-Read folktale, show video performance done by us

-Allow the students to create props of their choice

-Have the students write scripts for their shows

-Split up into groups, different groups from before and create performance

-Students will share their performances

Actual Day 4– Farm Animal Skits-Personality Malfunctions

-Students were split back into their animal groups

-Students were instructed to record and perform skits that exhibited actions characteristic of each animal. In each group, one of the animals had a “personality malfunction” and did things that were not typical of that animal (i.e. a cat that loved water).

*The skits were great! The one that stood out to us most was the one in which there were cats eating avocados and drinking milk and one of the cats refused to do so. (We didn’t even know that cats loved avocados!)

-We spent the last ten minutes telling the students about the finale and asking them to volunteer some of their masks to be exhibited

Day 5– Finale

-Each team: Scratch, Tam Tam, and Record exhibited the work they had done over the course of the week

-Live performances and video compilations

-Gifts were presented to the headmistress for the school: a signed card, art supplies, soccer balls, speakers, English books

-Students signed our Project Rwanda cloth and were given candy

-Lots of photo-taking

~Ariel Solomon (RECORD team)

Teaching experience of a Record Team member by Waleed Ali Khan

I met Darbi Roberts (The Student Development Coordinate at CMU-Qatar) today  to tell her all about the trip, and I realized that there was so much to talk about. I therefore decided to document my teaching experience, for myself and for others interested in getting involved with OLPC.

Shedding Inhibitions:

Josh told us that the students were going to be a bit shy, but they turned out to be more responsive than expected. Nevertheless, Ice breakers were important to get the students comfortable with us and show them that we’re their friends rather than their teachers. Our team  played ‘Simon Says’, but since the students and our translator had trouble saying ‘Simon”, we changed the game to ‘Sam Says’.  This is just one of the many ways we adapting our activities to suit the students.


Some things are better left untouched…

We realized was that the kids knew so much more than they showed. I remember in the beginning we asked the translator to ask them simple questions like “What just happened in the skit?” and no one would answer. We were initially disappointed because we would get blank, scared faces. However, our translator came up with the idea of pointing to a student and asking him/her to answer the question. This was something that we were initially not comfortable with, but it worked. Perhaps the “modern” solution of not singling a student out isn’t universally the best. We all made it to a point to realize that the school had opened it doors not to change their teaching methods, but to enhance them. This involved us being sensitive to the traditions of teaching followed by the school.


I remember how I overslept for one of the lesson planning and Ariel, who was the only one up on time, ended up whipping a plan from the top of hear head. What was funny was that the lack of confidence we had in our not-so-planned lesson plan became our strength. We were more open to modifying what we wanted to do in those 50 minute slots according to what we deemed necessary. For example, the ice breakers, which was initially just one round of making expressions without sounds, was changed to a two round ice breaker where the second round involved everyone performing the same actions as the selected student. This exercise not only gave the students confidence when they were doing silly actions, but also created a more trusting environment.

Keeping it open-ended…

One aspect that I really appreciate about the OLPC applications is that they are very open-ended in nature. This means that they leave large room for creativity, making them interesting for students and instructors alike. For instance, our record program was just a webcam application that allowed taking pictures and videos. However, our team managed to make it an extremely educative experience for the children, as they were challenged in many dimensions. They were taught the concepts of teamwork, creativity, structure, and perhaps even critical thinking. Teamwork, Creativity and Structure were taught through the skits where the students worked in groups of 2 and 3 and were asked to perform a skit. Furthermore, they were also asked to make masks for their jungle skits.

However, the most interesting aspect that we aimed to teach them was critical thinking. We asked these students to explain why we did “actions without words” and through that, taught them the importance of nonverbal communication and body language and how they transcend the language barriers that we faced.

Lastly, we taught them how to create. These students created their own movies, something that they could give credit to themselves. This is probably their first “creation” and will hopefully encourage them to be enterprising in the future.

Giving them a start…

It was important for us to give the students some scenarios instead of giving them nothing at all. It was their first experience with creating and acting out skits, so giving them complete freedom would have made them completely lost. Therefore, we gave them a template, and then asked them to do whatever they wanted with the stories. The way the changed the stories was mind boggling, and we all realized that they had a knack for comedy! Some of them performed something completely different from the scenarios given, but that was fine as long as they had fun!



We really hope our efforts become sustainable. However, with the lack of internet at the school, this seems challenging. One thing that I wished we had done was to make the teachers sit in our classes, so that they can learn about laptop integration in the classrooms.


I speak on behalf of the entire team that we all gained appreciation for the primary school teachers, who work effortlessly and are often underappreciated. Our four days of teaching were so exhausting that we would’ve barely been able to do one more day. This is after being fortunate enough to have extremely disciplined students who gave us very little to complain about.

– Waleed Ali Khan

Last Day of Classes and Preparation for the finale. by cmuprojectrwanda
May 23, 2010, 5:44 pm
Filed under: Photos

We have just started to get closer to the kids and it is already the last day of classes!

Scratch– created the final game using all the skills that the kids learned all week
Tam Tam Jam– Held a dance/music contest and the winners are to perform in the finale tomorrow.
Record -Using the animal masks crafted the day before, the kids recorded skits about the animal’s behaviors and one of them represented an animal that acted “different” while incorporating the facial expressions and emotions we learned the previous day. We video taped all of the skits and will showcase them in the finale as well as in the exhibit back at CMU.
When it was time for us to go, we took many pictures and the kids asked for our emails so we could stay in touch with them. Tomorrow is the big finale where we will show the kids work process and final projects and we cannot wait!

Wednesday by cmuprojectrwanda
May 19, 2010, 1:47 pm
Filed under: Photos

We are half way through the week and we can already see the amount of progress we have made with the kids!

Today Record had the kids making animal masks as props. The kids were excited to act out their favorite animals and make masks. We also discussed how props can be used to express one’s self and that masks are a way to transform oneself.

Since we are only teaching grade 5 students, often times the younger students stand near the classroom door and outside the window to watch.

Nonko by cmuprojectrwanda
May 18, 2010, 12:36 pm
Filed under: Photos