Monday, November 5, 2012

Straight on to November

Thank you.  Thank you to those who donated, thank you to those who shared LIP information with friends and colleagues and thank you to those who “liked” my blog posts and videos and pictures on facebook. 

The time for donations has come to a close and I can happily share with you that we have a total of $1,503.  We did not get entirely as far as we wanted, but that’s the only half-complaint you’ll hear from me!  With this 1.5k we’ll be able to do almost everything we want to do!  Also, folks at the school have pledged to raise the rest of the money by way of the PTA and school funds from the gov’t, so we may just get to where we need to go. 

What will we do now?  Well, as soon as possible, we will begin building the Library shelves!  A carpenter will come and build them on-site, and I have no idea how long he plans to take to complete the project.  I hope it’s no more than two weeks, but I have also learned not to hope too hard when it comes to things like this.  The job will get done and it will be well done.  I will be supervising every step of the way, and I’ll hopefully paint the shelves with inspiring, bright hues before it’s all said and done. 

After the construction of all shelves is complete, I will help organize all books and get them to their new homes.  We will do another inventory of the books and arrange the system so that it is easy for Jimmy, the Librarian, to use and maintain.

What have I learned so far? 
  •            My school really is deserving of such a “facelift” and all of the staff I’ve been working with are eager to work and thankful to be able to.  I know that this sort of project is going to greatly benefit the school
  •             Fundraising is difficult! So, to those of you who did donate, thanks again!
  •       With enough patience you can accomplish almost anything on the internet, even from East Africa.
  •       I have some great people in my life, both near to me and far, and without them, this project would (quite literally) never have been made possible.

young Primary students crowding around the Library door

Some of the best Kindergarteners this gal will ever meet.

Kids getting enthusiastic

Beautiful young ladies of G.S. Kiruli

Be on the lookout for more posts updating you on the LIP progress.
Have a great day and, as always, thanks for stopping by!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Donation Deadline Extension!

Wow! Since my last blog entry our total raised has climbed to $1,417! This is FANTASTIC folks.  I never thought we could get this far, and seeing that we're SO close to where we want to be, I've extended the donation deadline through this weekend.

That's right, you have until Monday, November 5th to get your donation in!  I know a few people have expressed interest and the desire to donate, but have not yet been able.  To those lovely friends, here's your chance!

Remember, I'll be rounding up some excellent students to write personal thank you letters to each and every person who donated.  I'm also toying with the idea of including a photo or two with each letter so you have some small thank you from all of us here.  Let's say, it's going to be a surprise, and one that's coming your way right around Christmas/ Chanukah time.  There will also be another video or two made before this thing is all said and done, so keep your eyes peeled for updates!

Since we started this entry talking about donations, let's end full-circle.  We are less than $600 away from our dream budget, but the better news is that we're less than $200 away from our "bare-minimun" budget.  I am sure that we can get $200 more over the next three days- what do you think?

All of the Primary School books, stored in the back until our new shelves arrive!

Taking a break (from lugging around dirty, heavy books) with my favorite Kindergarteners. 

Sorry for the low photo quality.  Sometimes the connectivity out here dictates what I do.  Wait, did I say "sometimes?" I mean ALL the time.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

One More Week!

Here at LIP we are approaching the final stretch.  Only one week left to make a LIP donation.  But LIP isn't the only thing over here that's nearing the end.

My intake group and I just celebrated our two year anniversary in Rwanda!  We arrived in Rwanda on October 21st, 2010 and now that we've hit two years, it's time for people to start returning to America.  I am one of the few volunteers (5 out of nearly 60) who has decided to stay in Rwanda to do a third year of Peace Corps service.

This means that I have to watch a significant chunk of my Peace Corps family move back to the other side of the world.  I also have to start saying goodbyes to the people in my village; the people I've lived and worked with for the past two years.  But I'm lucky that I'll be able to visit my village from time to time next year in order to check-up on people and projects.

It's true what RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) say about their service: the two years go by in a flash!

In preparation of my move from the village to Kigali, I am going to help make LIP a smashing success! Consider it my final hoo-rah.

Even though we've raised less than half of our target amount, we are going to work with what we've got and make magic happen.  If you want to get in a final donation, you are more than welcome to do so!  Even 5 or 10 dollars can help us- we certainly appreciate all support you're willing to give.  If you're not into the "donation of money" angle, but still wish to help us, let me know!  I'm sure that we can think of creative ways that you can aid us in our endeavors!

Our donation total is at $765 currently.  Our goal is $2,000.  Is it possible to raise the remaining $1,235 in the next week? ...You tell me.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Debut of the official LIP video!

We never thought it was possible, and even now I feel like I may jinx us to say it, but- WE’VE GONE DIGITAL.  Yes, you’re right, having a blog means that we were digital to begin with, but now we’ve gone and made ourselves a video.  Living in a village means technology struggles.  It’s amazing that I can even get internet via my USB modem, but it crawls.  Half the time I can’t load html format g-mail, so uploading a video was OUT OF THE QUESTION.  However, I had some work to do in the capital on a Saturday morning, and lo and behold- I found a speedy connection.  Well, it was speedy enough to upload this video in about 2 hours…

What will you see in the video?  Well, I should say you must watch it to find out.  But, here’s what to expect: Rwandan students (ranging in age from 3 to 20 years), the librarian at G.S. Kiruli, limited footage of our current library, a view inside a Primary 2 (equivalent of America’s 2nd grade) classroom and more.  The video is less than four and a half minutes; so take a break form your demanding work, and catch a glimpse of Rwanda.

Also, feel free to give me your feedback! This is my first foray into video creation and it was quite fun! I plan to do this again in the future, so ‘tis the season to share your thoughts. 

Official LIP video

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What does a PCV do?

For those of you who are new to this, PCV stands for Peace Corps Volunteer.  That’s me. I’m a TEFL PCV at that (Teaching English as a Foreign Language).  There are countless more acronyms that are tossed around within Peace Corps, but I’ll try to steer clear of them for clarity purposes. 

So, my particular brand of PCV is “English teacher.”  I am placed at a site, in a village, to work with one school for two years.  Of course, I am not limited to working only with one school, but my primary assignment is the school at which I’m placed.  In my case, that school is Groupe Scolaire Kiruli.  A Groupe Scolaire is the “French” term used to describe nine-year basic education schools.  These schools are public, and supported by the government, which means there are almost always money struggles. 

At this school, we have a Primary School component and a Lower Secondary School component.  I am a teacher at the Secondary School.  My particular school is rather small, with about 2,000 students (only 300 of which are Secondary students).  We have 6 classes in the Secondary school: three Senior 1 classes, two Senior 2 classes, and one Senior 3 class.  I have no idea what’s going to happen next year, because we really only have 5 classrooms for secondary to begin with.  Each class has their own classroom and the teachers are the ones who rotate and move around for the lessons (opposite of how we do it in America).  Since space is so limited, our classes are huge.  The class size ranges from about 40 to 60 students per class- meaning that nearly all classes have challenges which include crowding, lack of personal attention from the teacher and noise issues.  The secondary students range in age from about 14 to 20 and our instructional level is about equal to 6th to 9th grade in America.

My job is pretty much what I make of it.  I work far less than I would in America, but you have to remember that life out here requires different things than does life in America.  Here’s a typical day for me:
Wake up with the sun (and the chickens),
make tea because it’s always chilly in the mornings,
do some things around the house and get ready for work,
go to school for a few hours (teach, chat, hang out in the library etc),
come home to cook lunch (takes a few hours),
maybe pop back up to school or go to visit another school/ people in the village, 
come home and relax inside because it’s usually quite cold in the evening.

And that’s it! When I’m working on projects things change, and my routine tends to vary from day to day.  On market days, I’ll sometimes walk the 25 minutes to the market to buy some fresh produce.  Time is very elastic out here and can easily “get away from you.”  The benefit to my languid, elastic schedule is that I can be available for people when they need me, which is part of my job after all.

When I’m teaching, I teach English communication skills; which focuses on listening and speaking.  My students are able to understand me now, but when I began, as the first foreign teacher to ever attempt to teach these students, it took a while for us to be able to really work together. We do various activities that focus on this aspect of the English language, and I have seen significant improvement in English levels over the past two years.  I’m not taking all the credit on that one however.  I have observed all other teachers giving their instruction in English, so I know we’re all working together to teach these students.  I am lucky enough to have 2 hours a week with each class.  It’s not much, but at least I’m instructing all 300 students.

Since I am extending to work as a third year PCV, I will soon move to the capital city (Kigali) and take a new position.  When a PCV decides to extend, the project they work with for a third year is their decision.  I’ve decided to work in conjunction with an educational development NGO in the city, so I will no longer be teaching.  I will, instead, be working with a team of developers to help improve curriculum and materials at the Primary level.  My current village is only about an hour and a half journey from the city, so I do plan on visiting the folks here from time to time during 2013.

Peace Corps' tag-line is “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” I feel inclined to agree with them but I also find this misleading.  At least, the job is never “tough” in the ways you would expect. It’s the underlining toughness that gets to you- the small things that you’re always having to fight against.  It is not easy, but I do enjoy it most days. So, perhaps they were trying to capture the mix of emotions and experiences that PCVs encounter on a daily basis... endure that for 2 years and you too may understand how that tag-line came into being.  

Where do books come from?

In our library we have an ever-increasing number of books, the majority of which are textbooks.  Some of the books, however, are small readers for students.  About half of these are written in Kinyarwanda, and the rest are in English.  My students love these books!  All of the textbooks are written in English and I’ve yet to discern if students are truly understanding them.  Although, I’m happy knowing that they’re trying and are learning as a result. 

All of these came from the Rwandan Ministry of Education (or MINEDUC as we like to call it).  They arrive in boxes, out of the blue and only mildly organized, and it seems to be fairly luck of the draw as far as what books we receive.  I have yet to discover if we are able to really request what books we want, and like many things in Rwanda, I’ll probably never really know. 

I have looked into purchasing books from abroad/ working with an organization to get books, but all of these methods are pretty involved.  My priority was to get a functioning library in place, and gauge the level of interest.  Now that I see level of interest is high, I’m almost out of time!  However, the good news is that my site (and school) expects a new Peace Corps Volunteer to come to replace me in December.  Now, what they decide to do will be entirely up to them, but I’m hoping they too will want to help improve the library!

After our LIP is finished and the renovations are seen to fruition, I plan on taking some time to work with teachers on how to use the books.  Books are rarely used in the Rwandan classroom as instructional aids.  More often, you can see teachers simply copying information from books onto the black board and students subsequently copying information into their notebooks.  Our goal is to get teachers to use class sets of books to do various exercises and activities, and to help students understand just how textbooks can help them in their lessons.

When we last catalogued the books, we had about 6,000.  Now I believe we’re closer to 10,000.  This is great and opens up so many possibilities!  Another reason why efficient and effective library organization is needed here.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Plan

What, you may ask, is the actual plan?

Well, assuming that we are able to raise $2,000 before November 1st, 2012, we are going to be COMPLETELY re-vamping our school library.  The Library is in an old classroom, which is rather roomy, but still a small place for such a resource center.  In a long, rectangular room, the books are now strewn about in a bit of disarray, and our job is to whip it into shape.

We plan to build large bookcases that line 3 of the 4 walls.  The back wall, where we find the blackboard, will be left open, and desks/ chairs will be put there for students to use while they are reading and searching for answers.  In the center of the room, we plan to have a table for the librarian to use as the "circulation desk", and a large, double-sided bookcase for the (limited) supply of readers and small novels we have.

Once this plan is seen to fruition, the library will be so user friendly that our students are going to be amazed.  As of now, this plan has not been shared with students, but once we get further along in the process, they will be involved and they will be extremely excited.

The Headmaster of Groupe Scolaire Kiruli- Florien.  Measuring, scheming and hatching plans.

First Donation Received!

A BIG thank you to Rachael Smith, our first LIP donor (ohh.... that's gonna be fun). Let the games begin!

To celebrate, here's a photo of my school:

The building in the back center (light blue windows) houses the Library and the computer room (complete with 5 computers)

Friday, September 28, 2012

PayPal how-to

We're connected!  If you take a look at the upper right-hand side of the blog, you will see a DONATE button.  When you wish to make your donation, simply click the button and it will take you to PayPal, where you can easily donate without having a PayPal account.  Simply enter the amount you wish to donate, and they will take it from there!  This method of collecting donations seems quite easy, but if you have any questions or problems, please let me know! You can comment here or e-mail me at:

Donations can begin..... NOW! And we have until November 1st to find $2,000.  This is not an insurmountable task- let's see how quickly we can do it!!

With love from Rwanda,
Ally and co.

Our Current State of Affairs

Real-time photo of the library: Note how our books are literally exploding out of boxes, onto desks and benches.

Beginning of 2011- official library opening.  A lot has changed in a year and a half- we have more books, and more people frequent the library.

Call to arms!

Hello family, friends and colleagues!

When I look around me, in the village of Kiruli, Rwanda, and think about “need”, the instant flood of ideas is nearly overwhelming.  What couldn’t this village need?  Well, we have access to water; we have food and a good climate for agriculture.  We also have churches and other areas for people to be with one another, and the children have a school and teachers to teach them.  The basics seem to be in place.

Then I look closer at my school.  There are few computers, set up in an old classroom-turned-computer-lab.  We only have electricity about half the time.  The classrooms are sparse, but full of students.  Things could certainly be better.

One area in my school where I’ve been the leader over the past (nearly) two years is the library.  At the beginning of 2011, I took it upon myself to get all the books out of boxes and into use.  I got the ball rolling by creating an inventory list, checkout system and library use policy.  Now, I’m a very peripheral component of the library operation.  There is also a wonderful Librarian named Jimmy who, just this year, made the transition from teacher to librarian because our school administration understands how important libraries can be. 

The library has blossomed.  Now students are checking out books left and right, teachers are using more books in conjunction with their lessons, and the few storybooks we have are being devoured by curious new readers.

The problem is this: the books are getting dirty!  We currently have 5 cupboards that hold only a small percentage of the books.  The remaining books are on top of old desks and benches.  Yes, it’s working- but it could be so much better!  Here in Rwanda we have two dry seasons and two rainy seasons per year.  The Library is in an older classroom and it’s not exactly weatherproof.  During the dry season, dust blows in and blankets the books, and each rainy season gives way to new leaks in the ceiling that are hazardous to our paper friends. 

Our solution? Let’s build better storage! Jimmy and I hatched the following plan: If we build new shelves, all the books will have a safe home. We can be better organized and the library will become a more user-friendly locale.  This will help both the librarian and the students to better care for the books, and will keep them in circulation for longer.

In order to build new shelves, we need to raise money.  Each shelving unit is about $200, and we want to commission 8.  I would also like to go above and beyond the bare minimum and have extra money to provide some new books for the library. So, the target amount is $2,000.  The school has also pledged a donation of $170, so everyone will be contributing in order to make this project a success.

Here’s how can you help.  Share this information with your friends and family.  Anyone who considers reading to be an important part of their lives should understand the potential impact of an awesome and smoothly functioning library.  And having this library at a public school in a remote village makes an even greater impact than I am able to express.  This is the only place that children are able to access new information, and the students are really loving it!

After sharing with a friend or two, make a donation!  I know, things can get uncomfortable when it comes to money, but allow me to level with you here for a second.  I’m willing to bet that you have at least 10 dollars to spare.  And if I can find 200 people who can part with 10 dollars (that’s one dinner out to eat, or the price of your drink of choice for less than a week) we’re in business!  Of course, if you are able or willing to make a larger donation, it will be so very appreciated! 

In return, here’s what I’ll do for you.  If we raise enough money to complete our project, I will be sure that each of you gets a thank you letter from a student and a before and after photograph of the library. 

I am very excited to get this project underway!  Since we are working on a limited time frame, the deadline for donations is November 1st 2012.  I have set up a PayPal account specifically for this project, and I will be managing the funds.  I can assure you that every penny will go towards our Library Improvement Project! Thank you for reading, thank you for caring, and thank you for sharing this message. 

Questions? Comments? Send me an e-mail at