Imigongo

 

The market on opening day with the new sign!

The market on opening day with the new sign!

Teaching is not a passion of mine. In fact, if I never teach again, in a formal setting at least, after Rwanda, I won’t be too upset. Maybe in a classroom with more than just a chalkboard and some 40+ students armed with a notebook and a pen, I would be able to enjoy it more. But chances are, I will never find out whether I would enjoy it more or not.

Being a secondary, volunteer teacher in Rwanda is probably the least amount of hours for any full-time job ever – 19 hours a week, with a day-off during the week and weekends. Of course, after school there are clubs and during school breaks there are camps, which makes the whole four hours I taught today all worth it. The time I spend outside of the classroom working to accomplish a goal, either at the school or not, is really why I joined the Peace Corps – to try to build something and maybe help someone along the way.

I recently visited home for the holidays. There’s a moment during that trip home that very often pops into my mind, a quote from my brother, which I can’t remember exactly because there was a shot of some cinnamonny liqueur that followed pretty quickly after. First he said something about how no one cares I am here, as all supportive big brothers do, but then he asked why am I teaching English to people who don’t need to learn English. What will a group of Rwandan students use the English language for?

As I tried, very badly, to defend myself, I realized this is a question I tend to ask myself a lot. Out of the close to 200 students I teach, maybe there are 25 students who will absolutely NEED to use English in their daily life outside of school – those that will have the means to continue to university, and maybe find a job outside of their small village. The others will use it just for fun, which has its benefits, but did not pull me from my comfy American life to begin with.

So to leave my comfy American life yet again after my visit back home took a lot of personal reassurances and confidence in my job. And the fact that I had new projects to work on and other opportunities waiting for me here that I did not have the first year – things outside the classroom.

With a little grant money from World Connect, I have started to help a small Imigongo (the cow poop art) cooperative. Before, the cooperative operated out of a series of two or three houses, they had no market in the village that really let any passer-by know they were there. They had no sign on the road. They had no money to find a place to turn into a market.

But their art was beautiful. If you received Imigongo from me, it came from them (except Grandma and Grandpa.) They charge a good price and make a good painting. They are kind people, farmers mostly, who love Imigongo and wanted to share their art. I wrote a grant not really invested in the project because I really had no idea what I was doing. But I submitted it and through some miracle, received the money.

I still have no idea what I am doing as I have never tried to own or operate a business of any kind in English, let alone with a group of farmers who speak only Kinyarwanda. But so far, we’ve accomplished quite a lot (and I’ve had quite a bit of help along the way, most recently from a sector official named Jost.) We have a house – a year of rent paid for – with an awesome landlady who painted and fixed up all the problems within five days. We have a sign, on the road. We have a shelving unit half-made to display the art. And we have a great group of artists who have already started to make the Imigongo to sell at the market.

Next Friday is our opening day. And by some act of God or perhaps just Rwandans naturally good networking skills (knowing everyone, everywhere helps a lot), the mayor of the district might even be in attendance. There also might be a popular radio station DJ coming to help advertise. Jost is willing to help teach business to the new business owners, for free. And there is a need, actually a want, to learn English to expand the market to possibly even other countries.

While some of my days here are completely worthless in the great scheme of life, both mine and my students, the challenge about Peace Corps is to find the thing worth sticking around for –to find the reason to live 27 months in a developing country. For some volunteers, I’m sure teaching is their passion, and whether or not Rwandans are benefiting from their learning experience with us native speakers might not matter. For some volunteers, it is their personal relationships with their communities that keep them around.

But for me, while I love my students and my community, I left my family because I wanted to help one family who does not have what we have – bring an opportunity, or knowledge, or skills to a group of people who wanted it. And I think I have found that in cow poop.

3 responses to “Imigongo

  1. Sara, this is your best post ever (although I have enjoyed all of them)! You can’t even imagine how proud I am of you. Very well said, and anyone who is considering the Peace Corp option should read this. p.s. I would love another Imigongo–mine is displayed proudly in my kitchen. Love you and miss you lots and lots, Momma

  2. Sara,

    I always enjoy reading your posts. Thank you for what you are doing and for the lives you are changing. Even though you don’t know what you are doing, you’re doing it well.

    God Bless!

    C.F.

  3. Sara, Keep up the good work. You have been called for a purpose. Don’t be discouraged–you are doing what God has you to do. I truly hope the artists do over the top business. (How much are they? I’d love a piece of their art!) Take care!

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