The visit of our Kiruhura partners in 2019 and our SchoolLink in 2020

De Scholenbandengroep heeft een verslag gemaakt van het afgelopen werkjaar, waarin ze toch wel behoorlijk wat activiteiten ondernamen. Aangezien het verslag ook bestemd is voor de zusterschool in Rwanda, is het in het Engels opgesteld. Uiteraard wilden we het graag met u delen. En als er leerlingen zijn die volgend jaar graag deel uitmaken van dit enthousiaste team: jullie zijn van harte welkom!

In 2009 our school, GO! atheneum Mariakerke – then by the name of Koninklijk Atheneum Mariakerke – established a SchoolLink with Saint Mary’s High School in Kiruhura, Rwanda. Since then, there have been several exchanges between either school of both teachers and students. In 2014 two of our teachers went to Kiruhura to share teaching methods, in fall 2016 some visitors came to our school, and in august 2017 two teachers and two students took another visit to Rwanda. Both pupils and Werner Kinds, our student counsellor, described their impressions on that visit in a log book. The logbooks of Loïs, ‘Pri’ & Werner are being duplicated. We hope that it will be an inspiration for some lessons on international education, culture & philosophy, language classes, gender issues… in our school and in other schools. It is also shared with the province of Flanders’ international library as they have projects with Huye Province. Accordingly, in September 2019 the new principal of Saint Mary’s, Sister Liberata Mukambayire and geography teacher Aimable Niyonshuti came over to Belgium once more to compare teaching and pedagogical methods and tackle cultural issues. They stayed from Thursday September 26th till October 10th with host families, so a big shout out goes to those families for their hospitality. Of course they attended quite a few classes, though that was sometimes a bit of a challenge due to language issues and mainly the way of pronunciation as the r & l are not really used in Kinyarwanda. But, as both guests spoke English as well as French, it usually didn’t pose much of a problem. Beside attending classes, Aimable taught a few lessons as well on Friday October 4th, that being the International Education Day, also known as ‘Saved by the bell’. He and Liberata met students from all grades to explain how education is organised in Rwanda in general and more specifically in Kiruhura.

Aimable also explained his interest in creating an environmental awareness group in both schools as he had already been involved in working together on those topics the year before during the world environment day held in June in both schools. Furthermore, pupils were given the opportunity to ask questions and Liberata even succeeded in making them move to the traditional Intore style dances. The International Teacher’s day has become one of the recurring school activities organised in both schools. In Mariakerke, it has been ‘formalised’ by the work group Internationalisation with the help of the SchoolLink teachers, Yn Christiaens, Joke Van Bossche & Lisa Neirings. By doing so, pupils become more aware of the project and it is also hoped to enthuse more teachers in both schools to take up a more active role in the relationship and/or to use the existing link as part of teaching materials. But naturally they didn’t stick to the daily teaching activities: Aimable accompanied the senior students on a trip to the Planetarium in Brussels, but also went to see a soccer game of the city’s main club AA Gent with teacher Gladys Vanlommel, who is the main coordinator of the School Link. He also spent an evening with his host family playing a game of bowling, participated in a game of basketball and watched the soccer game of the students, while sister Liberata spent the weekend in Namur with acquaintances there. He also used a school bike to travel back and forth between some of his host families and school. Furthermore, pupils actively involved in the SchoolLink had various meetings with Aimable during which the working at both schools was compared and possible future plans were exchanged.
In the second weekend the host families took them on a tour to see Bruges, which pleased them a lot. Of course there were a lot of meetings concerning the future plans of the project, the differences and similarities between Rwandese and Belgian education. There was also a very interesting meeting with both Silvia Tavernier and Werner Kinds, student counsellors, to discuss emotional support of the pupils and how it is organised in both schools. A visit to our beautiful city of Ghent couldn’t be omitted, and by then most of the visiting days had flown by.
And last but not least, there was a very nice get together with all the host families at our school and with the visit of Emeline Lemmens, SchoolLink coordinator from VVOB, where a typical Flemish dish ‘Gentse stoverij met frietjes’ was appreciated by all involved.

Since the schoolLink has evolved to a sustainable level of partnership, VVOB financing is being cut as it is up to both partners to look into further funding and in finding other external partners. That is why, for example, Rwandese coffee has been imported from the Huye region and is being sold here by the schoolLink pupils, as well as Rwandese art and craft brought to Belgium after visits to Rwanda. Important to mention concerning the use of the schoolLink budget in light of the common purpose which was agreed upon in this project, is that part of the financial income is consistently used to provide funding for pupils with additional social needs in both schools. Aside from this goal, focus has been put on trying to improve sport facilities in Kiruhura as those activities are an important aspect of boarding students and are beneficial to the Kiruhura community in general. In this regard, possible future funding through the province of Flanders is being looked into as well. At the educational level, the University of Ghent (Department of Movement & Sport Sciences) tries to send internships in PE (Physical Education) to Kiruhura on a regular basis. Being partly involved in the PE Department at UGent, Gladys Vanlommel is linking those students to the school in Rwanda. It is considered a win-win situation as the students gain teaching and living experience in a foreign setting and at the same time it is helping the SchoolLink Project to stay ‘alive’. It is even hoped that the University, under guidance of Prof. Frederik Deconinck (responsible for International Education at the PE department) will establish a cooperation with the PE Department of the University of Rwanda in the future. Unfortunately, the corona crisis is pushing those meetings ahead in time. To sum up, we think we can be proud of this sustainable cooperation and we are happy that it might even become an extended partnership having links that are not limited between the two secondary schools but even further between universities in both countries as well! By doing so, we hope being part of the important chain of forming pupils and teachers in an international way of thinking.

The SchoolLink Team

Our thanks also to the following host families:
– Family Dobbelaere: (Tessa, Lian 3LW)
– Family Meuleman (Lucca 1st grade)
– Family Pottrain (Isaak 1st grade)
– Family D’Haenens (Sarah 6deHUT)
– Family Dejaeger (Bavo 3ecwi)
– Family Claeys (Lara 6 WEWI)
– Family Christiaens (Kas 4wewo en zus 1st grade)

Interesting links:
Saved by the bell day 2019
Tips to make a visit successfull
September 2019: Kiruhura Newsflash
June 2019

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