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Rwanda, from Barefeet to Smart Pupils

by Jean de la Croix Tabaro
10:34 pm


Pupils at Ecole Primaire Saint Ignace

Memories of Primary school education in Rwanda in the 1980s and earlier was revived today during monthly community work – umuganda.

The end of month community work-Umuganda today included planting trees, building classrooms, and cleaning.

As usual, after umuganda the community sit to discuss pertinent matters, and today, one of the topics was children hygiene both at school and at home.

“Teachers are requested to be clean, to keep the school environment clean and to make pupils follow suit,” reads part of a statement from Ministry of local government.

“Parents are encouraged to clean their children, dress them with decent clothes and shoes.”

While attending this community meeting after Umuganda, Ladislas  Ngendahimana, a civil servant listened to this message and it evoked his experience at Tanda Primary School – Giti Commune, currently Gicumbi district.

“It was not allowed to wear shoes at school, but the rule was  not written. One day in 1983, I made a mistake and came to school wearing my Tigana shoes. My teacher beat me severely at the assembly saying that I am being arrogant,” he reminisced.

“I was compelled to remove the shoes with a warning never to do that again.”

The understanding of teachers at the time, according to Ngendahimana, was that if all children cannot afford shoes, then better option was to ban shoes at school.

“For this reason, no child was interested in shoes, be it at home or at school. One could wear shoes from the first time while joining secondary school.”

At school, teachers would only check hygiene of the body while forgetting the feet which were in many cases affected with jiggers that were increased by dust in unpaved classrooms and courtyard.

The community had no interest in shoes; parents themselves could only buy shoes on occasions such as weddings.

Ngendahimana says, “as it was a luxury to buy a car a couple of years ago, it was also a luxury to wear shoes in the 1980s.”

“The narrative has changed,” Abel Ntawigira, director of Ecole Primaire Masagara in Nyamagabe district told KT Press.

“Shoes are part of school uniform. We have hygiene clubs that help us raise funds for every child to have shoes.”

Ntawigira said, his school cannot afford unhygienic environment, keeping in mind that, “a child with poor hygiene cannot follow in class.”

Masagara, like all primary schools in the country are paved and clean. Every school has water tanks for rain water harvesting. The schools are mainly built during community work.

At the level of the child, says Ntawigira, the school is strict about hygiene to the point that it has built a bathroom to bathe children whose parents are not serious with hygiene.

“We have a reserve of uniforms. When a child comes with dirty clothes, we take them off, wash them and give him our own. This teaches the child but also sends a signal to parents,” Ntawigira said.