Friday, 25 April 2014

Super LONG rant - reason for tears

Today was the end of a LONG and GRUELLING 10 days of training. 

The training was funded by UNICEF with the tag-line: ‘Training teacher-trainers who train teachers to teach…”

I was one of three trainers – or ‘facilitators.’

Background facts:
  • The course took place during the Easter holidays – so effectively, the tutors of the TTC only had 1 week out of a 3 week holiday.  (Tough when this is the first holiday/break since term began in January.)
  • The tutors were PAID 5000Rwf/day (equates to £5/day) to attend the course, board & meals included.
  • The UNICEF facilitators were also paid (undisclosed amount) but as a VSO volunteer – I was not as it is expected that we work during school holidays anyway; any leave must be requested and approved beforehand.
  • 12 days of course content was covered in 10 days with participants and facilitators having to work on Good Friday and Easter Monday.

I was fighting a losing battle from the start.  The participants were only there because of the ‘motivation’ of the little money being offered to them.  The training was designed for teachers – but because of the monetary incentive, all manner of staff members crawled out of the woodworks to sign their name on the register daily to claim their remuneration.  It was not fair.

The training was entitled, ‘Active Learning and Life Skills for Teacher Trainers in Rwanda.’

The content was GOOD, it was relevant and NEEDED but unfortunately, like with all things here – there was too much to cover in a short period of time.  To put it into perspective, my contract here is for 2 years (although I have only agreed to do 18months with the prospect of extending…) – what I have been assigned to do is to work with the tutors of the TTC to develop their practice in basically EVERYTHING within that course.  I have been here for 8 months now (wow!?) and I have only just scratched the surface and am still working on concepts that were covered in 2 days within this training.  There was a LOT to cover!  

Today found me reduced to tears in front of the participants.

Training was due to start everyday at 7 am – if you know me, I am NOT a morning person.  Participants would show up anytime between 7.30 – 9:00.  At 7am on the dot, there were maybe 3 out of the 33 registered…these were the most active of participants – they were the keen beans but the ones who made my role worthwhile because they WANTED TO BE THERE.

All others who turned up late would be the first to stand-up at 10:00/12:30/15:00 when there was a break to leave even when someone was speaking at the front of the class; they were the last to return from the 20 minute break times (returning 30-40mins later) and yet they were the first to complain that they did not have enough time to do the activities.

I am not a huge fan of teacher-trainings myself…INSET days are things I dread – repeating the same course/tasks over-and-over-again, being told that there is yet MORE that needs to be done as a teacher (i.e. what we do already is not and never will be enough!)  BUT…when needs must, one rises above all of this, accepts and tries to make the most out of every situation.  There is always room for improvement and learning to be had, so if one is given the opportunity for ‘continual professional development’ – it is taken and done so with hopefully an open mind.  But not here.

Today I cried unexpectedly.  It was coming up to 10am, time for tea but I wanted another group to present their work to end the session.  Whilst the presenter spoke, as per usual, some participants listened carefully, others talked amongst themselves and yet others walked in and out of the classroom on their mobile phones.  Something snapped in me and I stopped the presentation, apologized to the presenter and as I uttered the words, ‘do you know how disrespectful you all are?’ – the tears began to flow.  10 days, 100 hours had taken its toll on me.

As I cried in front of my participants, my colleagues and some of my friends – no one came to comfort me, they just fell silent and stared.

I managed to pull myself together to lecture them on human decency:

“This is your colleague here, show some respect!  Yes, you are tired, yes, it’s nearly break time and you want your tea – but the tea will still be there in 10 minutes – they’re in thermos flasks so it will still be hot!  YOU have all worked for over an hour to prepare these presentations and if you don’t listen to your colleagues, that one hour and this time now is wasted.  What is the point in you being here?  What will you have learnt other than to complain about it being break time?  You’re not only disrespecting your colleague but ME and the other facilitators.  *more tears*  You don’t think we’re tired?  You think we want to be here in OUR holiday?  You think we haven’t been working as hard as you?  Am I being paid to do this?  You’re getting 5000f/day – I’m not.  And don’t tell me it’s because I’m rich…this is my JOB.  We, the facilitators have been here everyday just before 7am and at least till 6pm when you have gone…why have we bothered if you don’t want to learn?

You’ve asked for training and we’re giving it to you, what you wrote down in your expectations – how can they be met if you aren’t willing to learn, to participate?  What is the point in any of us being here?  I know you’d rather be somewhere else – but you’re here and you have to be here – so deal with it.  It’s the last day and maybe it’s too late me saying this now – but why are you wasting your time, my time, your colleagues’ time with your frankly, childish attitude?  Yes, you are teachers, some of you have degrees, some of you already KNOW what is being discussed – but does that mean there is no room for development?  Are you APPLYING what you know?  Your attitude and participation here tells me not.  How can you teach about respect for others when you don’t even respect each other, your colleagues? 

You have all spent an hour preparing this work – for what?  To present to people who aren’t listening?  How does that make the presenter feel?  What was the point in you working and wasting MY resources?

What model can YOU be if you do not practice what you preach?  How can you teach about collaboration and other life skills when you are showing up late to sessions, complaining about minor things beyond MY control and in the grand scheme of things – DON’T MATTER!  It’s not just unfair on the facilitators but those who WANT to learn.  There are people here who have shown up ON TIME, they’ve asked questions and been disrupted by others who talk, they’ve got the same complaints as you – but they understand that there is SOMETHING to be learnt and something is better than nothing.  They want change.  They know that change takes time and effort…and so they're making the best out of their time here.  Thank you to those people.  

UNICEF are putting a lot of money into this training and you may not think it has anything to do with you – but you’re wrong.  They’re investing in YOU – they want to develop YOU because you have the responsibility to train the future generation, the future parents, the future communities, the future leaders – and that is a responsibility that you chose to do when you took on your job.  So how can you be effective in this when you aren’t willing to change habits that we, as a group have identified as being damaging to individuals and society?

I know what happens in a classroom as a teacher, I am a teacher, I have sat in your seats and continue to do so, you have been behaving like your students – but YOU ARE NOT CHILDREN!  YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A HUMAN BEING – so show some respect!” 

Rant over.

This was the first time that I had the full attention of everyone in the room. 
This was the first time there was silence to be had amongst the teachers.
This was the first time that I’d verbalized what I’ve been thinking since I arrived here.

We then went for tea.  There was no use in continuing.  Nobody followed me as I left the room, only the other facilitators.  It took at least another 20 minutes before the participants did join, I didn’t know if they were embarrassed by their behaviour or in fact, embarrassed for me because I’d cried.  But whatever the case, when we returned from break, I had everyone’s undivided attention.  No verbal apologies were given to me but I could see that I had struck a nerve.

This is a sweeping statement, but the ‘aid-giving culture’ has nurtured an (unknowingly) damaging sense of dependency and expectancy here.  Please note, this is not the attitude of ALL people in Rwanda  - nor am I trying to undermine the work of aid workers and those who work for NGOs (after all, I am a volunteer for one of those NGOs.)  Yet, so often have I met people, some very educated people here who simply expect handouts.  Handouts come in many guises – money, materials/resources, food, drink (usually beer) and even answers to problems/questions.  There is no sense of taking responsibility for one’s own problems but instead one is always the victim.  The first thought is not, ‘What have I done that has led me here?’ or ‘What can I do to solve this problem?’ but ‘why has God forsaken me?’ or ‘I do not have any food, I will just go hungry, somebody give me food.’

Why else am I asked on a near daily basis, ‘give me money’ or told, ‘I am hungry’ if someone before me has not come and done exactly that?  How are young children taught that all ‘muzungus’ have money so ask them for it?  Surely it has happened in the past that money/food/pens/sweets were given for there to be an expectation that every muzungu will do the same?

But the way aid is given now has changed – skills are taught/shared for people to farm, to family plan, to promote health and wellbeing and whilst people here happily receive NGOs with open arms and smiles, at the crux of it all – all they want is money and to be taken out of the situation with little or no input on their behalf.  Again, I reiterate, this is NOT everyone and perhaps I am over generalising because I have also met the ‘success stories’ from recipients of aid – those who were granted the opportunity to have an education and even study abroad, who have returned to make a difference within their community; those whose mindsets have expanded to empathise with others and see beyond their growling stomachs; some who have been given the tools and knowledge to farm effectively and are able to feed their family, make a living and provide employment for others; and I have seen the joy in a child who has received a pack of pencils and a notebook, carrying them around as though they are their most prized possessions and showing me their markings, inviting me to draw with them.  Simple joys and reminders that I am not here in vain even if these last ten days have felt otherwise.

I hope that this blogpost does not stop you from donating to 'worthy causes' - people here are (usually) grateful for what they receive and in the end, giving something is better than nothing.  How aid is given/distributed is often beyond our control…but I guess that's why I am here…so I am responsible for the 'aid' I give - the impact that I have out here may be like a pebble dropped into the ocean but as an organisation, as nearly 90 volunteers in Rwanda, when dropped together - the ripples are far reaching.

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