As a teacher, you’re the most important part of a young student’s life. Your love of learning can be infectious and inspiring to any student you teach. Remember how you nurture the courage in a pupil’s heart. You are a tutor, an enabler, and a caregiver combined, and you can—and will—make a difference, writes Lebanese artist and writer Kahlil Gibran in his book, The Prophet, in reference to a teacher’s role.
Educators, on the other hand, say their greatest reward is when their students become influential members of society. And indeed, that is the one thing that elates veteran teacher Augustin Nyabutsitsi today. The 74-year-old taught President Paul Kagame in primary six and seven between 1967 and 1968.
Nyabutsitsi, who currently teaches at Le Bon Berger school in Kimironko, Kigali, vividly recalls that he tutored President Kagame at Rwengoro Primary school, which was located in Gahunge refugee camp in Uganda, where he too was also exiled.
With over 50 years experience in the classroom, he says he remembers most of his former students.
“Kagame was like other children, but he was exceptionally intelligent. His favourite subjects were mathematics and English. He was also very curious, and I remember he would not stop asking questions until he felt satisfied,” says Nyabutsitsi, adding that the school records can actually confirm that he always topped his class.
Nyabutsitsi also recalls that like most of his contemporaries at the time, Kagame’s favourite sport was football, which they played using balls made from dry banana leaves.
Kagame remembers his teacher
Nyabutsitsi says greater fulfillment, however, comes not when your former student has made it big in life, but when they are able to remember and appreciate the teachers who molded them.
Nyabutsitsi admits that for years he harboured a strong wish to meet in person his former student President Kagame, but little did he know that the President had also been on a similar mission.
“This continued until one day when President Kagame was in a meeting in Nyagatare, where he asked those in attendance if by chance anyone knew where his former primary teacher Augustin Nyabutsitsi lived,” he says.
From that time, the President tasked Prof. Manasseh Nshuti to locate Nyabutsitsi. The former student and teacher finally met on January 25, 2016.
Nyabutsitsi now lives In Kinyinya Sector in Gasabo District in a modern village known as “Kwa Dubai”. He stays in a decent 4-bedroom house which was donated to him by President Kagame.
“When we met, I didn’t ask for anything from him, but I was surprised that he knew almost everything about me. He told me he had heard I was renting after which he tasked Prof. Nshuti to get me a decent house. This is what you see today; it’s feedback from him. I never dreamed of owning a house like this, and take this opportunity to thank him sincerely,” says Nyabutsitsi with a beaming face.
He says many people come to pay him a visit and take a look at a house he has been gifted by President Kagame.
Teddy Kawera, 60, Nyabutsitsi’s sister and a teacher at Wellspring Academy, Kigali, says the house they received from President Kagame was a miracle.
“We used to rent a three-bedroom house in Kanombe for Rwf150,000. We are now happy and we sleep peacefully without worrying about monthly rent fees. We are more secure and at peace, thanks to the President,” says Kawera.
Nyabutsitsi says he is proud that some of his former students have become influential persons in the country.
“I feel I’ve been useful to the country. There are many other top officials and soldiers who sat before me in class when we were in exile. Some of these include Joseph Mugambage, who works with the Presidency, Major Rugira and Alexis Kagame, among others. The list is indeed long, with President Kagame on top,” says Nyabutsitsi.
With 50 years in the trade, Nyabutsitsi says he has always been driven by passion to teach Rwandan children.
“Nothing brings me greater joy than seeing someone I taught become an important person later,” he says.
A lesson to other teachers
Nyabutsitsi says teachers’ working environment is not the best, but it is their duty profession and love for students above everything else.
“My advice to my fellow teachers is to love our profession and students unconditionally. When students feel loved, they love us in return and remember us forever. Nothing feels as good as being remembered by your former student just like the President did for me,” he says.
Stevenson Mutunzi, a teacher at Le Bon Berger school, says it’s a great opportunity to tap into Nyabutsitsi’s experience and wisdom.
“Nyabutsitsi inspires us to be passionate about the teaching profession despite some challenges like low salaries,” he says.
Egide Musoni, a member of the school parents’ committee at Le Bon Berger School, says they are proud when they hear some of their children are being educated by the former teacher of President Kagame.
“President Kagame has many values we wish to be passed on to our children. So knowing that one of his teachers also teaches our children is of great satisfaction,” he says.
‘The Rwanda I want’
Nyabutsitsi says Rwanda has transformed greatly since he returned in 1994.
According to him, if Rwandan development continues on this speed, surely in next few years many more great things will be achievable.
“I wish to see a Rwanda where every citizen has access to water and electricity, tarmac roads everywhere, and at least a nursery school at village level. I am optimistic that we shall achieve it with President Kagame,” says Nyabutsitsi.