As the Conservative Party’s Project Umubano gets underway, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell MP sends this moving update from Kigali.
Our Project has got off to a great start. Remarkably, all of our volunteers arrived in Kigali safe and sound and pretty much on time on Saturday – together with all their luggage, textbooks, 1,520 English dictionaries, and crates of medical equipment and school supplies. This compares well to last year, when we turned up at the airport to find our flights had been cancelled!
On Sunday our project rightly started on a sombre note, as all of us visited the national genocide memorial in Kigali. This is an extraordinarily moving experience. We laid a wreath to commemorate the nearly one million people who were killed during the civil war and genocide of 1994.
For me, the most moving aspect of the memorial exhibition is a stark, simple set of pictures of smiling children, each next to a small plaque. One plaque reads:
Francine Murengezi Ingabire, aged 12.
Favourite sport: swimming.
Favourite food: eggs and chips.
Favourite drink: milk and Fanta tropical.
Best friend: her elder sister Claudette.
Cause of death: hacked by machete.
Seeing those children in that way makes so graphically clear that children all over they world are just the same: they all laugh, cry, smile and play in the same way.
We all left the memorial lost in reflection on the darkness of which
humans are capable. This was a sobering start to our visit, but a
necessary one. After all, we chose Rwanda for our project because it is
a country which has been to hell and back, but which is now looking to
the future with hope and determination to build a modern society.
On Monday morning our work began in earnest. Many of our volunteers
fanned out across the country to remote rural healthcare centres and
teaching outposts. Remotest of all are our doctors, but we also have
volunteers teaching English in three locations across the country. Our
lawyers, working with the Ministry of Justice and the Institute for
Legal Practice and Development, are based in Kigali and Nyanza, near
the second city of Butare. Our huge team of private sector and private
enterprise volunteers are working mostly in Kigali. And in Kinyinya, a
village of mainly orphan-headed households on the outskirts of Kigali,
we have 15 volunteers working on a sports pitch and community center.
They leave at the crack of dawn to get to work before it gets too hot.
I’ve been teaching English to Rwandan primary-school teachers in
Kigali. It’s hard work and more tiring than I expected, but really
enjoyable. Our Rwandan colleagues are a pleasure to work with because
they are so keen and determined to learn.
There are eight of us teaching here in Kigali and we have 560 primary
school teachers between us, so we have 70 in our classes. We start at
8am and break for half an hour at 10am. Lunch with all the students is
at noon and then we teach from 2pm to 4pm. We are based at a school for
girls on the outskirts of Kigali and the Rwandan teachers are living in
the dormitories for the two weeks of our programme. The same model is
being repeated in Eastern Province, where 11 of our volunteers are
teaching (including my daughter!) under the command of Desmond Swayne,
David Cameron’s PPS, and Justine Greening MP. Ten more volunteers are
teaching in Butare under the eagle eye of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.
People sometimes think that international development is just about
giving money. But skill-sharing is equally important, and is what we
are focussing on. For example, our two ultrasound technicians have
brought an ultrasound machine to donate to the hospital they are
working at. But they will, I hope, have just as much impact through the
training sessions they are running for the doctors there on how to use
All in all, we’re in buoyant mood. Everyone seems to have settled in
well and are getting along with our Rwandan hosts. We’re excited about
what the next two weeks have in store. We’ll send more reports through
exclusively for Conservative Home, and Rob Halfon, our PPC for Harlow,
will give more detail on our education project in the next few days.
More anon – and best wishes from all of us!