Statistics students build houses, and lives
GISAGARA — It is 11:00 am at Gahora Primary School, a site where students of the National University of Rwanda have set up a National Community Service Camp. It is day four for the camp.
The camp is a beehive of activities. Students are actually bonding in the spirit of community service with residents of Gisagara. This sort of bonding spirit could not be broken by the early morning down power.
Allain Ngoga, a second year Statistics student is a towering figure. He is bare footed and soaked in mud. He could be mistaken for one of the muturages of Gahora. What makes him stand out is his new pair of shorts and snow white polo–neck t-shirt which differentiates him from the crowd.
The resident’s team at Gahora is mainly composed of women. Some are carrying buckets of water to the building site while many others stand in a long queue passing on lumps of mud for brick making. An old woman, in her 60’s is the moral booster at the site. She cheers up the working group by cracking jokes.
“Please I need a phone to call the guys down in the quarry to speed up, they are taking their sweet time,” she says, attracting prolonged laughter from the working group.
Murekatete, a village resident is mesmerised by the involvement of university students in what she calls ‘dirty work’.
“I thought university students were only cut out to do class work and none of this ‘dirty’ work like making bricks. It’s a big challenge to us here in the village. If they [University students] can descend from the ivory tower to lend us a helping hand, who are we not to do the same or even a lot more? We are humbled,” she says.
For Ngoga, working with the local community has opened his eyes to the realities in the villages.
“I cannot imagine spending one whole week without some cash on me but it is considered a normal occurrence here,” he says.
“We live very different lifestyles. But this camp brings us together. This is quite encouraging to have a sort of bonding work session between students and community,” he adds.
Bonheur Nganji, a first-year student says that this community outreach with its physical work programme has been exciting because it directly impacts the lives of the residents.
“We prepared plots of land in Muganza sector where houses for the needy will be erected. The local community turned up massively in support of the works programme. It is gratifying to put a smile on the faces of the rural folks who are struggling to meet the basic needs of life,” she says. According to Nganji, poverty is biggest challenge among villagers.
“Residents have small plots of cultivable land. I witnessed one family of four sharing a single hoe for cultivation, so they work on the farm in shifts,” she says.
She adds: “Family planning seems to be a new way of life here. Much needs to be to bring in modern ways of living in this village.” However one can say that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
In a nearby classroom block, a medical clinic is in progress. Residents are being given lessons on reproductive health. The question and answer session attracts great debate as local residents express discomfort with issues related sex.
For instance rather than come out on issues touching on sexuality they prefer to use varied euphemisms. The moderator of the session would not hear any of that. He prefers to call a spade a spade rather than a big spoon.
The academic side of the Camp
Dr. Jose Ariyappillil beams with excitement as he describes the events of the previous three days.
“We have bonded well with the local communities. The local leadership has been supportive, they have been greatly involved in all of the activities from day one,” he says.
In the town Sector of Ndora, the district executive secretary Jean Claude Kabalisa, vacated his official house and left it to be occupied by the students and university staff. In the yard, tents were erected to house male students.
Dr. Jose added that the academic side of the camp involves carrying out a household survey.
“The survey mainly tackles development monitoring and evaluation. We want to determine the progress of different district programmes and how they have benefited the local people,” he says.
“Data collected will be vital for the district. It will enable evidence based policy making in the district.”
Dr. Jose adds that the field experience for staff and students is important because it shows the realities on the ground.
“There is wonderful work being done in the villages. In Kigembe Sector, we visited a modern fish farming project and a solar system project lighting the nearby sector facilities,” he says.
“There are still glaring gaps that need redress such as malnutrition in homes, family planning and housing shortages,” he says.
“We are appreciative of the gesture shown by the university. The house hold survey would have cost the district millions and a lot of time but it will be done in only five days by experts in the field, thanks to the National University of Rwanda,” says Cyprien Munyentwari, the district public relations officer.
It is 4.00pm, the students and teaching staff have split in different groups for data collection. One more activity awaits them though; the cultural evening and it will be the end of day four.