As once stated by Marcus Garvey, a black American publisher and journalist, “a people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Perhaps, this is what École Privée Marie Auxiliatrice in Kigali is trying to evade by doing whatever it takes to make sure their students grow up to understand their culture.
The school last year set up a ‘special place’ to help learners learn about and grow with the Rwandan spirit and culture. The reserved place, specially perfumed with traditional fragrant herbs, goes by the name “Agapfundikiye gatera amatsiko”, loosely translated as “what is inside creates curiosity”.
“The idea surfaced after realising that there is a need for the learners to be instilled with their culture. Most schools don’t have such places and students only rely on museums to learn about their culture,” says Sister Elizabeth Furaha, the head teacher of the school.
The hut houses all kinds of long-established items that were used in the past to date. According to Sister Furaha, this is mainly to help learners acquire skills about the Rwandan culture, its history and traditions.
Items such as inkono, a traditional pot used for cooking; ingobyi, used as an ambulance to carry people to the hospital; urusyo, used for making flour; urutaro, a traditional tray used for winnowing; umuzinga, a honeybee; and igisasiro, a bed where the king used to sleep, among others, are housed in the huts. Students are taught the importance, purpose and the value of each and every item.
This, according to Sister Furaha, not only helps the learners to be aware of their culture, but is a way of making them memorise everything learnt, thus better performance.
“In national exams, most of the questions are based on some of these materials inside here. When a student learns through touching and seeing, it’s easier for them to remember than when they are only taught in theory. We believe this will be a stepping stone for our learners to perform better in their final exams, as well as being familiar with their culture,” she says.
According to Sister Lumière Luce, a principal at the school, another reason why instilling cultural values in children is essential is because most of them are city dwellers, meaning that they don’t have access to knowledge about their history.
“Apart from just being attractive to them, it helps them to also share with their parents back at home what they have experienced. It’s important because the learners are able to pass to their ‘digital parents’ some of our indigenous knowledge,” she says.
Sister Lumière, however, adds that this is also a way of backing up our history to the next generation as they are also able to pass it on to others in future. “This way, we are able to maintain and preserve our Rwandan culture.”
According to Jean-Paul Kagabo, a creative art teacher, this initiative has since boosted the morale for students to learn.
“As an art teacher, I have realised that students are more eager to learn about everything concerning their traditions. This innovation has created more interest among them. With just few months after its introduction, almost every student can remember each and every item and its use,” he says.
Kagabo says that this is just one way of showing teachers that students learn and understand more easily when they are able to see, touch and practice with what they are being taught.
Meanwhile, Jacques Nzabonimpa, the in-charge of culture promotion at Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture, says it’s important for learners to be instilled with their cultural values so that they become more aware of their origin.
“This is one way of promoting and at the same time protecting our heritage. When we talk about culture, it consists of a lot of things, including ideas, beliefs, customs, taboos, tools, codes as well as works of art. All these should be made known to young generations so that they also pass the knowledge to other generations,” he says.
Nzabonimpa notes that they actually have a lot of initiatives aimed at promoting the Rwandan culture. “For instance, we author books about culture, do trainings through different media, as well as in itorero.”
Nzabonimpa applauds the school’s effort and urges other schools to follow suite to promote the Rwanda culture.
Although parents, teachers and students have embraced the initiative, there are still some setbacks that hinder their activities.
Sister Furaha says it is very costly to get certain materials from upcountry due to high transportation costs.
“There is also still a challenge when it comes to teachers. Some of them too are not familiar with some materials, making it hard for them to teach the students well.”
About this, Sister Furaha says they have hired experts to train their teachers so that they pass on the the right information to the learners.