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Kilsyth Academy's ties with Rwanda

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 00:00 GMT on Friday, 8th July, 2011.
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Images are copyright of Kilsyth Academy.

A team of staff and pupils recently returned from their trip to Rwanda. Whilst in Rwanda they got to experience some amazing things and learn about new cultures; but what happened exactly?
Each day, Kilsyth Academy pupils, posted a blog post about the days activited and now the trip is over will give you the summary of what the team got up to, as told by the team.

Good Morning Africa!

Everyone is here and is safe. The entire journey passed without a hitch and we even arrived early.
The night also passed without a hitch, except from a few scary insects that is! And, as I am writing this post, we are all enjoying an excellent breakfast of breads croissants and fruits at the solace guest centre. The plan for today is to visit the genocide memorial this morning and then we are all going to head out to meet some opf the genocide survivors this afternoon.

Muraho! (Hello)

Well the day is almost over, and we have just finished reflection time. It was an emotional time thinking about our day meeting the genocide survivors, we all had a reality check and felt more grateful for everything we have. The two young men that we met witnessed their families being murdered at the early age of 6. They only survived because they were hidden amongst the murdered bodies. We heard about their struggle growing up without parents for support and finance. They are struggling to keep their homes and find money for food, one of them had not eaten in 3 days. It really made us think about our lives and how lucky we are. We have all realised it while out here, so maybe we should tell you "thank you parents we appreciate you !!!" 
Unforunately our day changed slightly, as we ran out of time. We were unable to go to the National Genocide Memorial, but we are visiting it tomorrow so no worries, instead we went to see the vocational training centre and got the chance to help with the work. 
Best part of the day was being greeted by all the children and adults, we have never waved so much in a day. Their happy faces put smiles on our faces and there was an amazing atmosphere for the rest of the day. We sang for the genocide survivors and they also sang to us which brought tears to a few peoples eyes, as we did not expect them to sing for us. 


The Second Night.

Sup guys, its now the evening of our second night in Rwanda and what another day we have had. First up was a rare taste of hard work, spending our entire morning manually plowing a field on a farm in Kabuga. Kabuga is a small area just out side of Kigali, the farm we worked on is heavily linked with Solace Ministries and the farm consists of widows of the genocide, supplying them with support and a job. We were greatly welcomed by these women, saying that they even considered us as their own children! We gathered together and had a time of singing and even some dancing, before getting out lunch. 
After a much needed shower, we all headed to the genocide memorial. Dont think anyone was fully prepared for what we would learn there and the graphic nature in which it was presented. We spent the following hours wandering around the beautifull gardens and among the mass graves of genocide victims. Inside the building we learned the history, reasons and consequences of the genocide. All of us found it very difficult to take this information, in particularly the way in which women and children were brutally murdered. The day has been good though and i think i can speak for everyone when i say that we are having the time of our lives in Africa...were not coming home!

Mr Canavan's Romantic Days At The Fields.

We thought perhaps that one of the young people may attract attention and draw offers of marriage. However, today Mr Canavan beat them to it. One of the widow survivors at Kabuga saw how strong he was working in the fields, exclaimed "that man is very strong - is he married?" - when asked why she might like to know she replied "I have a good daughter who would make him a good wife". Mr Canavan is mulling over the offer.

Friday 24th June.

Followed by a growing group of inquisitive smiling youngsters, we all made our way from the bus to our first stop of the day. After making our way through narrow, dusty "streets" - the surrounding basic houses constructed of mud brick and tin roofs - we were warmly welcomed into the house of a woman named Julien. Here, a community of genocide widows gathered to share with us how to produce hand-made jewellery and ornaments. After much thought, we eventually split into groups to be taught how to make the item  we wanted....some picking up the skills quicker than others!! (But at least we are now sorted for what we give you all on our return to Scotland! Whilst there, we were also fed a delicious African snack and attempted to speak Kinyarwanda to the local children.

Soon after, we found out that these welcoming and humble women had, just last month, buried their husbands and families after seventeen years of not knowing their whereabouts or fates. Images were shown to us on two laptops. Horrifying images. Images of Julien washing the remaining bones of her family, holding the skull of her dead husband, with only his clothes to identify him. The images also showed us the other widows and many more women washing the bones of their loved ones and others because the bodies were discarded in latrines.

We all found this hard to take in: the idea of ordinary people - sons, daughters, grannies and parents - being brutally murdered in cold blood before, even in death, being humiliated by being dumped into latrines. One of the images also showed us a room with its floor masked by mounds of skulls and bones. Having seen these shocking photographs, it is amazing how the people of this country like Julien can manage to continue to live and love having recently had everything taken away from them. Everything.

At the end of our visit, we thanked Julien and gave her gifts from Scotland before leaving -whilst still being followed by the youngsters. In the afternoon, we took the bus in our worst gear to the vocational training centre where we helped the labourers with some of the final touches to the centre.

Another awe-inspiring and inspirational day in Rwanda, and thoroughly looking forward to a 7am  rise tomorrow morning!

Saturday 25th June.

We all got up early today to go and work at the VTC but our plans had to change because of Umuganda. This occurs on the last Saturday of every month, everyone must take part in community cleaning or other community projects. The roads are closed until 11am, so our driver was not able to come for us. We have  a lot to learn from this country, they are very community minded. They are also very environmentally friendly, plastic bags are banned and bottles etc carefully recycled. We really cannot imagine the same happening at home!

We did eventually get to the VTC to attempt some more painting. I think we are there for entertainment value instead of our painting ability.

The highlight of our day was our visit to the street kids project. We were swamped by children who wanted to spend time with us. They have very little personal belongings and get a meal 4 days a week from the project. It made us realise just how much we have at home. In fact we have an excess of belongings. We attempted to play games but rules were not followed as the children were so fascinated by the objects were gave them. Who would know that bubbles would be a hit in Africa. We are all looking forward to going back to see them next week. Suitcases will need to be checked for stowaways as some of our group were very taken by them.

As if our day was not busy enough we ended it with a ceildh with our friends from Carnoustie and Mississippi. A great time was had by all and Mr C was in his element.

Road Trip!

After the church we returned to Solace to pack our bags to head up north to a town called Mutare. The bus journey was slightly wild and we all had great banter as we chatted about the week’s events and what we were most excited about.
Arriving at the location up north our first reaction was “Oh this is nice”, however we were given our room keys and we proceeded to venture into our rooms. We discovered that in fact the rooms were not “nice” and there was in fact no running water … at all. Yes, that means we cannot flush the toilet so we really are slumming it in Africa. Our beds are low, the floor is (For want of a better word) boggin’ and we are currently in carbohydrate city. But to be honest this is the real deal. We are experiencing frequent power cuts but we have found that if we sing ‘If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands’ then the electricity returns. We do have showers and toilets and sinks but it seems over here they are ornaments. Chips seem to be a delicacy but us Scots are not used to no salt and vinegar. So I can say that we will most probably get next to no sleep in the spongy marshmallow beds that we have been provided with.
On a happier note, We would like to thank everyone who has been following this blog, especially Mrs C who has been commenting daily and keeping a close eye on what we have been doing…Just like our very own long distance mother hen. Thanks.
It has been very encouraging to know that people have been keeping up with our activities and enjoying our nightly blog posts. We hope you have a better night sleep than we will in your nice double beds and central heating with unlimited power and no mosquitoes. Please keep following there will be much more to come!

Gerry Surrounded By Street Kids.


Just yesterday, we went to see the Street Kids. The photos here show the street kids posing for the camera and playing. They also show the students teaching them some western games on the playing field of a local school.
Lots of the children were hugging these teddy bears as though they were their dearest possesions.Comfort Rwanda brought these out the last time. These kids have very few possesions and hold dearly anything they can get.


The Group Learn To Make Crafts.

As mentioned in a previous post we went to the Rwandan craft workshop. Here are the photos of the students learning the crafts. Two of the photos have Callum on an old fashioned sewing machine. There is also a photo of Julien, to whom the house belonged, accepting a gift from Erica. In the background of that photo there is a picture of Julien’s husband who was killed in the genocide and who she only reburied last month along with her three children after that genicodarian confessed to where they were buried.



We visited some "orphan houses" as you will see these are grown men. They are called orphans because they were orphaned during the genocide. They were then living on the streets, however through Solace they were given Sponsors. This not only gave them a home but as Roland, shown in the photo, said it gave him his dignity. He was very humble as he told us that he could buy himself clothes and that it allowed him to feel like everyone else, as up until then he had no work and no family to support him to do this. That is something we all take for granted yet he values it so dearly now.

The photos also show our bus being swarmed by children. This is a very common occurrence; they all want to greet the "Buzungu" (white men). Their smiles and warm welcomes are now something we get everywhere we go.

Genocide Memorial.


We visited the National Genocide Memorial in Kigali. There aren’t many photos for this section of the trip and we are only uploading one but we believe that it speaks a thousand times more words than we ever could about the mass graves. It is a photo of a small section of the still uncompleted wall of remembrance and these are only the bodies that have been identified. Most pupils sat in silence on leaving the memorial centre after hearing and seeing the stories laid bare.


There is another group staying at the same time as us. A group from Carnoustie who also have some students over from Jackson, Mississippi. This gave Aidan an idea, whack the Vatersey Boys on and have a good old fashioned Ceilidh!
The Americans and Rwandan guest picked it up quickly. It was a great night and everyone had fantastic fun.
We have never Ceilidhd in such humidity.

A Tale Of Two Schools.

The one and only primary classroom (see right).
Well today has been a very long and eventful day. After a "comfortable" night sleep....... ha! Some of us began to experiment with the washing equipment we were provided with (i.e. a water filled jerry can, and a basin) which was a challenge. 

On arriving at our first primary school visit we were swarmed by children as soon as they saw the bus turn the corner. It was amazing to see the vast amount of children rushing out of the very small school building. After the struggle of getting out of the bus and through the mob of children, Callum Hall began to start a massive game of tig with the entire school chasing him! With help from our legendary bus driver, Silas, we finally gained control of the children and attempted to teach them a few songs such as “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” which was amusing as the children tried to repeat back to us.

We then split up into 3 different groups to teach the children some lessons of our own. It was fun to be involved with the teaching of the children and we were surprised at some of the pupils’ level of English ability especially as we were located in such a rural part of Rwanda. We also experienced our first drop hole toilet………. very interesting?... after having a traditional Rwandan cuisine of cassava, beans and cabbage… and of course bananas. 

Continuing our journey of the bus to the second school, which was both a primary and a secondary, we had a great time as we sang a mash up of classic songs and passed many interesting animals on our way. On arriving at the second school the atmosphere was a lot more subdued as the children were very disciplined. They were not used to seeing white people and were a bit spooked, they wanted to touch Ms McKillop to see if she was made the same as them.The school had a small assembly waiting for us where we introduced ourselves and sang a song to them. We met the head teacher and learned more about the school and that some of the children have to walk as far as 15km to get to school each day!!! It was astonishing to lean that the school only has 28 teachers to teach around 1500 pupils, which is in great contrast with our school of 700 pupils and 63 teaching staff. The school has very limited resources with only 2 computers and very little science equipment. 

Overall today has been excellent and interesting (even after our weary nights stay at our new location). After coming back from the school visits we ventured down to the shops in the local village where we were offered a cow and a goat for Joanne’s hand in marriage to a local man. However we did not accept the offer as we believed she was worth an additional chicken as well which he was not so willing to give!

Don’t worry parents (Erica’s mum and dad) we have been wearing our sun cream after being attacked by Gerry with factor 50!!!!!!! Thanks again to all our followers it is greatly appreciated to see so much interest in our activities out in Rwanda.


What Some Call Disaster We Call Banter.

Early this morning at 1:30 am the whole group were rudely awakened by the sound of Erica's frantic banging on Aidan's door. 'There's a bat in our room!!!!!!!!!' she screeched. Later we all awoke to hear the story of how 'Wilma' the bat, had decided to perch herself on Emma's mosquito net directly above her head. She was not amused (neither was Emma). Erica, reasoning the fact that she hadn't had her rabies jag, nominated Emma for the heroic role of bat catcher.  Thankfully she lived up to the task and nobody was harmed (including Wilma).

The day's adventures had only just begun.  

We woke to the sound of torrential rain and lighting and thunder that shook our rather basic accomodation. However we made light of a bad situation and decided to have showers in the rain as this was more reliable than our showers.  Because of the rain our journey was delayed and our trip to the primary school cancelled due to saftey reasons. Nevertheless we soldiered on to the secondary school. Our bus driver Silas once again proved himself to be not only a complete legend but a very skilled driver as he safley and effortlessly navigated us through very wet roads.  HOWEVER just as we were about to arrive disaster struck!  Due to a flooded road we were forced to go an alternate route when the bus went down a muddy trail and we heard the ominous sound of tyres spinning. Yes we were well and truly stuck.

Suddenly everybody became an expert on how to get the bus out but as opinions were shouted and ideas conveyed, the bus remained stationary.  The locals took pity on us and after a good laugh amongst themselves came to our aid with tools and manpower.  Still the bus remained stuck.  In the meantime some of us had decided to entertain ourselves with tribal mud markings on our arms and faces. Eventually after a lot of standing around pretending to be helpful a decision was made to let the school kids guide us the route to the school.  After some minor mishaps including fire ants and Victoria's flip-flop disaster we pulled through and managed to enjoy the beauty of the African countryside.  We saw many stunning bird species and striking flowers and plants.  Not to mention the looks on local chilrens faces as a group of filthy 'muzungo' passed through their village.  Words cannot describe the feeling of joy when the beacon of the bus came into sight.  Silas has now been promoted from legend to complete hero.

Once at the secondary we were yet again greeted by a sea of blue uniforms and the sound of frantic shouts.  That feeling of being a celebrity never goes away here.  We had decided that Zak would teach the physics lesson on Newton's 3rd law while the rest of us demonstrated how to make a rocket from paper, tape and 2 coins (with some interesting results).  We then launched the rockets outside to the children's utter astonishment.  The looks on their faces were priceless!

On the whole, despite the rain, the mud, the cold and confusion a good day was had by all. Tomorrow we head out to the national park to go on a safari.  We are to be there at 7am, meaning we have to get up at 5:30. Yes 5:30 AM......HA!

Wednesday 29th June.

Hi Guys. We’re just back to solace after an exceedingly long trip. Bearing that in mind, tonight’s blog will be relatively short and we will add more detail in the morning. But what a day! We embarked upon an action packed safari with sightings of:
Waterbuck, Zebra, Impala, Warthog, Buffalo, Mongoose, Topi Antelope, Giraffes,  Reedbuck, Hippos, and Olive Baboons. On top of all of that, we also spotted 30 species of bird! That’s all that can be updated tonight, more details and stories in the morning guys!!!
Safari Photos:
I think it is safe to say that the safari exceeded all our expectations.  It was a very early start 5.30 for breakfast and arrive at the national park for 7. Before entering the park we had already spotted some zebra and a few species of birds.

Thankfully we were escorted by a ranger as the park was extensive and the roads were mere dirt tracks. I could not believe the bus could make this journey, but then we do have the best driver.

Folks this was no Blair Drummond Safari park. 

We hoped to see elephants and there were plenty of signs of them trees pushed over by them when they had been feeding and the remains of their digested food were on the road. 

Firstly we saw Impala, then Topi, all forms of antelope. Then we glanced from a distance Giraffes. We headed down and got fairly close, we were all in awe they are such majestic animals. So off we went, now on our quest for Elephants. The flies on the bus gave us much entertainment, or rather the girls reaction to the flies on the bus.

Many more Topi and Impala, even some warthogs later we spotted a hippo, we followed it to the lake where there were a number of hippos bathing, as we drove closer one of the hippos took exception to our proximity and charged, open mouthed at the bus. Thankfully our driver was quick to hit the gas and we got out of its way. These things are massive but they can shift. Jane did leap over her sister with fright.

We continued our elephant quest to no avail however we did find more giraffes, some with young, more zebras, hundreds of Impala, hundreds of Topi, Baboon  family units and lots of stunningly coloured birds.

Thursday 30th June:

This morning, after finally a decent night sleep in the comforts of Solace, we were visiting the Healing and Reconciliation Project. This scheme has been set up to help repair bridges between both the Hutu and Tutsi people after the brutalities of the Genocide. We arrived there to a tradional style of building to a packed room of smiling faces. Men and women, young and old attend these meetings frequently and we definately received a warm welcome ! We were treated to not one but two beautiful songs written by one of the women there complete with tradional Rwandan dancing. Soon we were all pulled up to our feet and danced along side the exhuberant Rwandans!
In response we showed them some Scottish social dancing and roped some of the Rwandans to join us, although some of the moves seemed to be lost in translation ! Afterwards we were given a tour of the maize fields, which both the victims and perpetrators of the Genocide work together on farming which is part of reconciling both sides to learn to live in peace and community.
When we returned to the building, Jack showed off some of his amazing card tricks much to the delight and astonishment  of the Rwandans. Next, our good friend Pastor Paul wished to show us some houses that had been built for widows of the Genocide where we heard the heart breaking story of one women. She explained to us how as a Tutsi, her whole family had been murdered and also how her husband had betrayed her and their family by pretending to be Hutu and is currently in jail for this crime.
While still trying to understand the tragedy of her story, we were all shocked to be introduced to the very man who had murdered her family. Intially horrified at the concept of calling the man who had caused you so much hurt 'brother' we then reliased that this man was truly sorry for his crimes, and had built houses along with bonds with these widows, in an effort to atone for this past. It was the courage of these people who both forgive and ask for forgiveness from one another that truely inspired us.

After a delicious and filling lunch, we took a small walk through the city center of Kigali which gave us a chance to witness the hustle and bustle of the capital. After this we were all delighted to be able to visit the street kids bakery where we were greeted to the smells of warm fresh bread and delicious doughnuts. Next we returned to the street kids project again. There we were able to play some games with the kids including 'rock, paper, scissors'. Joanne and Katie soon found two adorable little babies, who both have said they want to take home ! After a long tiring day, we retired back to Solace. Tomorrow we're all looking forward to a bit of a long lie and a longer visit to the streer kids again. Cant believe we've only got 3 days left!


Friday 1st July:

Well it's been another amazing day in this incredible country we love to call Rwanda. I think it's fair to say that even after 5 years of coming to this unbelievable nation you still never know what to expect and today was certainly no exception. Most of us enjoyed a very welcome lie-in this morning before heading off to the pool for some much needed R&R (yes parents we're spending your money chill-axing by the pool and drinking coca-cola ... !!!).

However it wasn't long before we were back on the road and headed back out for what was going to prove to be a very intense four hours at the Street Kids' Rescue Project. When we arrived we were once again swarmed by an army of children that we are finally beginning to recognise and able to reply in our scant Kinyarwandan to. It's quite an amazing experience to know that these children who have known so little love in their lives are so excited that we 'bazungu' would bother to spend so much time and money to make them feel like we care.
Anyway, back to the project, soon enough we were getting stuck in with the kids with Victoria teaching the children the legendary rainbow song with a rather dodgy-looking rainbow illustration, Jack wowing everyone with his characature-drawing abilities and Erica being slightly stressed showing children how to make hamma beads. Nevertheless amidst the chaos we were able to spend some quality time with the kids being continually amazed by their incredible creativity, intelligence and talents. It seems that every day we seem to learn more from them than we could ever try to teach them.
After the craziness of the crafts we all headed down to the sports field to do some sports and were once again wowed by their gymnastic abilities and though it's safe to say no one was ever at any given point completely sure of what was going on, we had an amazing and incredibly fun time but thank goodness for the incredibly gracious, patient leaders without whom the day would have been a mess!!

Much as we loved the street kids we all breathed a sigh of relief when we got back to the safety of the bus but it was a quick turnaround before we were back out to dinner with a very dear friend of ours Ben Kayumba, although he was a new face to the most of the group. Ben has an amazing story of strength and forgiveness when he returned to Rwanda during the genocide through his own free will after the murder of his fiancee to run various projects with Compassion, reaching out to orphans and survivors of the genocide. He is a man of incredible grace and compassion with an unshakable inner strength and the heart and wisdom of an angel who welcomed us all into his home as if we were members of his own family.
We had an absolutely delicious dinner and some enthralling conversation along the way!! It's impossible to get away from the fact that everyone in Rwanda is affected by the genocide but also the fact that there is an undeniable hope that shines so far into the darkness that it is impossible for the darkness to overcome. Everyone here is so filled with this hope and eager to share it with us for which we are honoured. Can't wait for tomorrow to come around and we can do it all again!!

Thanks once again for all your support - it's brilliant to know we have so many people thinking of us back home and it won't be long before you'll all have your kids back and happy to eat a nice roast dinner and sleep in a room without looking at a gecko crawling along your roof ... not that I'm jealous or anything!!

Comfort Rwanda Commend Kilsyth Academy:

"I would like to take this opportunity of commending the pupils of Kilsyth Academy on the way they have conducted themselves on this trip. They have been a credit to themselves, their school and their country. Their behaviour has been excellent with absolutely nothing of concern throughout the trip. But even more importantly their engagement with the people of Rwanda and especially our partners in Rwanda who have worked hard to welcome and inform them has been very encouraging. They have not only got their hands dirty in practical help but they have shown consistent respect and interest in the people they have met. They have rarely complained when conditions have been difficult and when the heat, culture, driving and constant countless children have been draining. The children on the street kids rescue have loved them and their insights during the nightly 'reflections' have shown that they have thought deeply about the issues they have met. Parents have reason to be very proud as has the school!"
Doctor Callum Henderson, Chair, Comfort Rwanda.

Back Home.

Hello everyone, sorry for the delay but unfortunatly the internet cut out on us last night just as we were about to write the blog.

Yesterday was another evenful and emotional day for us all. We went to visit the street children again, but this time it was much more emotional as we were taken to where some of the street children used to live. Before leaving we were told some of their stories. One of the boys John told us that he became a street child in 2000 after his father died, he told us that life on the streets were extremly hard for a young boy of just 13, the only way he could survive was to turn to drugs and stealing.
He told us that he was the worlds best thief as no one ever caught him, even though this seemed funny at the time looking back at it made us all realised how tough life for these young children actually is. Luckly now their life has turned around and they are using their experiences to teach the younger children right from wrong. When we went to visit where one of the young boys stayed, I don't think any of us were prepared for what we saw. We were led down to a drain pipe and told that nine people used to stay in there, the smell that came from inside was one of the most disgusting smells I have ever smelt in my life, John also told us that when it rained they used to be washed out from the pipe and down into where all the rubbish had gathered.
One of the other boys there David told us that in one corner was where they done the toilet and in the other corner is where they used to grow their drugs. To think that only a couple of years ago these young men and women used to stay in such horrendous condition and resort to awful things to try and stay alive is unbelieveable , as now they are bright young people that can set an excellent example for the rest of the street children out there. It also proves that no matter how tough life gets you can never give up, as if they can make it through and turn out to be brillant young people then so can we.

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