Olive, while studying at Gasave Primary School, in Gisozi Sector, Gasabo District in the 1980s, was ordered by a teacher to remove her shoes “because they were not allowed in class.” The teacher then told the nanny who had escorted Olive to school to take back the shoes home, leaving Olive barefooted.
“It was very challenging for me because I could not walk without shoes. So our nanny used to bring me the shoes at lunch time so that I could walk in them on my way back home,” she says, adding that she changed school after just one term because she could not bear with that ‘hard life’.
“I joined Sainte Famille School (in Nyarugenge) because they had no problem with learners putting on shoes,” Olive says.
But Olive is not the only one who was ‘harassed’ for her shoes.
A source from Kayonza district that requested not to be named also told Education Times that as students in the 1990s, teachers used to tell them to leave their shoes at the entrance of the classroom “so that they do not spoil the cement with their mud-filled shoes.”
Although not all schools were against putting on shoes, there were very few children that would afford them. Shoes were seen by most parents as a luxury and not a necessity. According to Education Times’ research, the few children of the rich who would afford them were usually directed to remove the shoes by the teachers for uniformity. And this was the situation in both the urban and rural areas.
Francois Mivumbi, 63, a guard at Remera Catholique Primary School who was born in Kigali, said, “I put on shoes for the first time when I was 15 years of age.”
Mivumbi, who was dismissed from school for being two years older than the rest of his classmates, said: “We used to walk barefooted to and from school. Our feet and toes were always pierced by thorns and sharp objects.”
Change of policy
When Education Times visited Remera Protestante School in Kicukiro District recently, every student had shoes on. This was also been observed during our visits to schools across the country. But the shift in thinking in less than 20 years is no accident. The Government, together with its stakeholders, has through local leaders and opinion leaders held continuous sensitisation campaigns about the importance of shoes in relation to health and sanitation improvement.
According to Claudine Mukagahima, who is in charge of health and hygiene in schools, an inclusive ministerial health instruction was given to schools in 2006 and, among the things, it emphasised wearing shoes. It was reinforced in 2012 and 2014.
“We do not need to push parents to buy shoes for their children anymore because they have already appreciated the importance of shoes,” says Marc Habimana, the district education officer for Nyamagabe district.
He adds that the focus now is on sensitising pupils and parents to take good care of their shoes and to make sure they first bathe or wash their feet before putting them on.
“Some children think that once you have shoes; there is no need to wash your feet which is a wrong,” Habimana says.
For school, learners are encouraged to buy closed shoes especially sneakers which cost between Rwf5,000 and Rwf10,000. These shoes are recommended for their durability and can be worn at school, at home and during sporting activities.
But girls have also embraced the Masai-invented shoes because they are “cheaper and lasting.” The Masai (a tribe in Kenya) brands are popular because they are multipurpose.
Benefits of campaign
Unlike in the past where shoes were supposed to be worn only on special days, today they have become a part of everyone’s life. Reason? People, including children, have come to appreciate the advantages of covering their feet.
When Education Times made a stopover at Remera Catholique for a chat with teachers and learners on Saturday, it discovered that shoes are valued greatly.
“We wear shoes to protect our feet from broken bottles and other sharp objects that can cause injuries,” says Pacifique Manariyo, a pupil in Primary Five.
Lea Mutavu takes it even a notch higher.
“When you don’t put on shoes, there is a chance of getting cut by rusty objects which could easily lead to Tetanus,” warns Mutavu, a pupil in Primary Two.
But that’s not their only worry. It is also a matter of hygiene and pride.
“Shoes protect us from worms. For instance, if hook worms enter your body through the feet, you are likely to become anaemic since they survive on sucking one’s blood,” says Naomie Mbabazi in Primary Five.
These children were also quick to highlight the importance of public image. “It is important to be smart before you leave home and you can’t achieve that without shoes,” said Emmanuel Bizumuremyi, a Primary Four pupil who owns four pairs of shoes.
Organisation in shoe campaign
Much as most people assume that shoes are cheap, the reality on the ground is a bit different. For instance, Remera Protestant pupils have received help from organisations such as Compassion in Jesus Name in regard to buying shoes.
Marie Jeanne Umutesi, a social worker of the organisation, says they spend about Rwf5m on shoes meant for 300 needy pupils of the school.
Umutesi and her team also follow up on the pupils to ascertain whether they put on shoes at home and the signs are great. She says, “putting on shoes is already a culture in all our communities — rural and urban.”
According to Charité Ingabire, a teacher at Nyaruzi Primary School in Musange sector, Nyamagabe, students put on shoes or at least something that resembles them for fear of being mocked by the public. Parents are also labeled ‘careless’ when they fail to buy their children shoes. And the biggest beneficiaries from this trend are traders.
ELDERS SHARE WITH US THEIR MEMORIES
It was rare to see someone putting on shoes those days.It was only children from rich families that owned them and this was partly because the standard of living was too high and the people too poor. Therefore, shoes were not any parent’s priority.
Financial power and exposure to the world was limited to a small group of people at the time. The availabilty of seach commodities was also very limited which made it impossible for students of our generation to put on shoes. It was perfectly normal to walk barefooted.
Shoes were not that valued at our time. A child would still perform well with or without shoes. Besides, teachers also lived a desperate life and the levels of poverty were so high. Therefore buying food for children was a priority.
Education was not treasured those days so it was hard to ask your parents for shoes. No one should tell you that parents then were too poor to afford shoes. They just considered them as a luxury.
I had shoes but I was not allowed to wear them if it was not a Sunday or special days like Christmas. There was a general perception in our community that whoever put on shoes would be showing off, so we opted to leave them home most of the time.
The first time I put on shoes was in 1985 while in Senior Two. My parents did not consider shoes as something important and only cared about academic performance. I used to have two pairs of uniform but without shoes. It was only the teachers who used to put on shoes in my school.