Following an article that I wrote two weeks ago, in which I looked at the lengths immigrants leaving North Africa will go in order to arrive on European soil, this article take a closer look at my personal experiences of Rwandan youth and their perceptions of Britain.
I will start with an exercise I undertook just prior to leaving Rwanda. My English students (for the purposes of this piece) will be taken to represent Kigali’s disenchanted youth as a whole, twenty-five 17-28 year olds, either unemployed or under-employed.
Before they arrived for class one morning I wrote three sentences on the board:
Drinking alcohol and smoking is wrong. Religion is more important than money. Sex before marriage is wrong.
The students’ responses were as I expected.
They believed alcohol and cigarettes were wrong, religion had a far more important place than mere money and it was abominable to have sex before marriage.
Prior to the exercise I had asked where the students would like to live; the vast majority enthusiastically said the UK or USA. I was perplexed.
Whilst simplified, I chose these examples as three relevant and widely misunderstood perceptions about British society.
Britain doesn’t have a religion, smoking and drinking are prolific amongst young people, and to choose a more personal example, my elder siblings have involved relationships, with children but without marriage
For most this was a shock and upon the second time that I asked, significantly fewer declared their undying love for ‘the west’. However it led me to think just how much people know about these countries?
An investigative journalist declared as he walked through Accra, Ghana “people here view Britain as a tolerant multi-culture, with easily accessible wealth and opportunities, being here it is easy to see why”.
Of course people’s views are based on their conditions, this article is considering Rwanda’s disenchanted youth, not Butare scholars.
This scene in the investigation jumped to the experiences of immigrants in the UK, the point was the disparity between expectation and reality.
I respect the Rwandan people I met and the society I had the opportunity to live in, particularly pronounced by its contrast with the less savoury aspects of British society.
Rwanda harbours few rowdy football hooligans or an excessive sexual liberation amongst youth, there is a strong connection between family and community, whilst tradition hasn’t succumbed to commercialism.
These factors do ignore the most obvious reason for people to live in the UK; ‘amafaranga’.
This cannot be doubted. My students were - frankly – indignant when I told them it was illegal not to be paid the equivalent of 6000 Rwf an hour.
The tragedy is that this in Britain is poverty, even for some, exploitation.
Poverty in Britain is very different to poverty in Rwanda, but London’s ‘ghettos’ suffer endemic crime and harrowing unemployment rates, with people stuffed into high-rise flats , this, at least, makes people question the economic opportunities.
I am ending the article with one specific student. A boy aged 18, who has flirted with professional football, speaks Arabic, English and Kinyarwanda and completed school.
He asked me privately before I left, “How can I get a job in England?”
I asked what kind of job, he replied “any job .... a cleaner”.
I would encourage any Rwandan to search for reality behind myth; Rwanda both needs and can provide for its young and talented youth.