Tuesday, May 19, 2009
At FAWE, a boarding school for girls that concentrates on the Sciences, I interviewed five extraordinary young women who spoke English well, and who were articulate, perceptive and engaging.
They answered questions that will assist Architecture for Humanity complete the Akilah Institute master plan by giving their preferences on aspects of the school’s design.
They currently live in large dorms and sleep in bunk beds with a matron on each floor. They have pit toilets (very gross) and need to carry buckets of water for their showers. Of course they would prefer smaller rooms for 2-3 girls with single beds, ceiling fans, and a place to lock personal belongings. They would also like flush toilets and smaller bath and shower rooms.
They currently eat porridge every morning and have beans at every meal supplemented by rice or potatoes. On Sunday they get bread. They loved the idea of the variety of food that would be available at a School for Hospitality.
Again I am reminded of how few comforts they have and yet they were so happy attending this school.
We then discussed their perception of Hospitality careers and what we can do to help improve this image in Rwanda.
Christine described hospitality as “character and how we receive someone that creates warmness in your heart”. I love it…
Most had bad experiences in smaller local restaurants where they were made to feel badly because people were rude. They think it is very important to train employees how to handle customers, keep a cool temper and be kind in busy situations. They also said good communication skills are critical because people will be more confident and able to give good service.
They all said there is a stigma with Hospitality jobs. They did not know that a wait person could move up the ladder to become head waiter or manager if they had the right skills. What they considered dead end jobs did not interest these girls because most would be offered scholarships to University.
We asked them what they would do if they did not get into the university and the answers surprised us; Art School, Theatre School, Music School, Tourism and Hospitality. It was ironic that three of the girls do not even like science and would prefer studying the Arts.
On Tuesday I made my first visit to the site of the Akilah Institute in the district of Bugesera (about 25 miles outside of Kigali). It was formerly a school started by a European organization in the 60s and recently it became a government vocational school. It is located on 85 acres on the edge of Lake Cyohoha. It is quite rundown but has infinite possibilities.
The school includes three classroom blocks, a large activity hall, two small dormitories and staff houses, a workshop area, administration office block and storage sheds. We plan to construct a new housing area with dorms, living space and gardens, more classrooms, a new culinary training area/kitchen, computer lab, library and dispensary. We will also renovate the existing buildings to improve the learning environment. All designs will be green and sustainable which we hope will attract donations, and publicity for both the new model of teaching and sustainable architecture.
I stated the facts above but would like to share some thoughts and sights as we drove up to the school. There were hundreds of people of all ages walking along the sides of the road carrying everything imaginable on their heads. We passed a large swamp area about 10 miles outside of Kigali where Tutsi’s lived for months during the genocide. I had a hard time imagining walking to the swamp let alone living in it for extended periods of time. But my life has never been threatened…
I saw firsthand why the country is called the Le Pays des Milles Collines’ or the Land of a Thousand Hills. It is beautiful and green everywhere you look.
There were also large numbers of men and women digging a trench on the left side of the road for fiber optic cable. It was like the 21st century meeting the 19th with all of the rural farmers walking their cows and goats to a market in Nyamata.
We needed an off road vehicle to reach the school (Toyota Land Cruiser called the Beast) and it was a pretty bumpy ride through soy bean and sorghum fields and grazing lands for various animals.
All and all this has been an incredible two days and I will post again after my adventure to Butare on Thursday.