Meeting ‘Eddy from Rwanda’ Changes Jerry Parr’s Life
Approaching my one millionth thank you to the World Forum community for yet another connection made, this time in New Zealand at the conference. As I was waiting my turn at the fresh seafood table at one of the receptions I was introduced to ‘Eddy from Rwanda’… torn between a newly refreshed platter of oysters and continuing my conversation with Eddy the conversation won…and so did I!
From that casual encounter has blossomed a professional relationship, a friendship and a kinship… typical World Forum progression…
Eddy is a better communicator than I am so much of the work to move our initial conversation to a lasting relationship fell to him and he was up to the challenge.
As a result of our New Zealand encounter I had an opportunity to join with Eddy in Rwanda to visit several “ECD” programs in their remote villages as well as one in a Congolese refugee camp. Even though each was in a setting uniquely its own there were many common denominators: mud/stick/straw construction with mud/clay floors, sparse classrooms with no manipulatives or furnishings that we would recognize as early childhood appropriate, 2-4 hand-drawn posters of fruit labeled in English, the English alphabet and the numerals 1-10 accompanied by site words one through ten, a chalkboard with the lesson of the day… and children, very happy children highly engaged with equally happy teachers both women and men…
Getting to the classrooms meant crossing, at the beginning of the rainy season, water filled ruts, irregularly pitched muddy pathways with goats and chickens serving as sentinels in every cleared area and groups of people of every age riding bikes, walking alone or in small clusters carrying bundles (but seemingly unburdened), the children not appearing to be attached to any particular adult but intently making their way either to or from the classroom. Bathrooms quite far from the classrooms that children went to and came from at will then heading to a makeshift washing station before re-entering the classroom.
The topography of the mud/clay floors in each classroom was defined by whoever and whatever had been walked or dragged across them after the most recent rain… deeply rutted, cratered, multi-leveled… packed to the hardness of concrete… not a single level surface for the many child sized chairs set up in two groups of rows facing each other.
Getting to the classrooms meant crossing, at the beginning of the rainy season, water filled ruts, irregularly pitched muddy pathways with goats and chickens serving as sentinels in every cleared area and groups of people of every age riding bikes, walking alone or in small clusters carrying bundles (but seemingly unburdened), the children not appearing to be attached to any particular adult but intently making their way either to or from the classroom.
Bathrooms quite far from the classrooms that children went to and came from at will then heading to a makeshift washing station before re-entering the classroom.
Many, many children hovering on the perimeter of the classrooms often ducking into the tropical environs when looked at… children without the ten dollars a month required to attend the ECD program.
…And in the refugee camp… children taking their noon break, walking several kilometers up a steep incline with a cliff on one side and a deep gully on the other on a dirt road that was barely a single lane with cars and trucks driving at reckless speeds through the throngs of walking, running, playing children… often with no more than an inch or two separating the vehicles from the children… it was as though the vehicles were driving at full speed through a busy playground…
I was challenged to remove the filters I am so programmed to view programs through… regulatory filters, supervision filters, ‘developmentally appropriate’ filters… with Eddy’s help I was able to see the programs through his eyes… ripe with promise, filled with hope and expectation, challenges that needed to be conquered, centers of peace and peace building in a country too often remembered only for its history of genocide.
Eddy also introduced me to the men and women of one village that led a mediation process… mediation of social issues and violations as a means to keep peace in the villages and to avoid legal avenues such as jail and courts… in each village seven men and women known for their personal integrity are chosen by their peers to serve as Abunzi… to reconcile differences, conflicts and adjudicate disputes… We spent a morning with them learning so many things that are relevant to our ECE communities and, likely no surprise to many, practices found in our ECE classrooms: peace building, conflict resolution, listening to all sides of a situation, peace and resolution built upon caring and respect for each other, celebrating differences and diversity, holding our classroom communities accountable… in ways that I felt were important I realized that our teachers and our children are Abunzi too!
…and then there were cows… thanks to Eddy a group of us are now getting milking cows to each center… and mango trees and banana trees and avocado trees… Eddy is the central figure in an effort to reduce the rampant stunting problem and every time we place a cow at a center every child gets an additional meal of porridge and soon the porridge will be supplemented by fresh fruit that they have only seen pictures of…
So thank you for that too World Forum Family!