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"The single greatest experience of my life"

Ruairi O’Hehir from Dublin is a secondary school teacher from Rathdown School in South Dublin. Ruairi first volunteered with VSO in 2008 when he was placed in a VSO education programme. He is currently volunteerings as an Education Management Adviser in Rwanda. Ruairi’s role involves training local Rwandan teachers. Here he describes a typical day in Rwanda.

Morning routine

I wake up at 5.30am just before my phone alarm goes off. The army camp down the road has started sending the men out road running early in the mornings, so I get woken up bright and early every morning by the sound of running feet. Breakfast is coffee, bread and a hard-boiled egg I cooked yesterday, plus my anti-malaria tablet.

I leave the house at 6.45am and head to work. There should be a lot more children on the roads on their way to school but most will still be at home doing household chores and will arrive to school late. The 15-minute walk to work is the usual procession of greetings and the occasional giggling handshake.

Improving education

The morning is spent updating the staff returns from the local primary. All schools are short of teachers, some have only two-thirds of the staff they need and many don’t have a principal. This is a major problem here – teaching is the absolute last refuge for anyone with an education, especially primary teaching. In January, the government completely changed the primary school system. This means that teachers who were already underpaid and poorly respected are now expected to start work earlier, finish later and have only a 30-minute break in the middle of the day, which isn’t long enough for them to go home and eat.

I also spent the morning helping my two colleagues with their computers. The District is helping their employees to buy laptops but is providing absolutely no training whatsoever, so I am trying to help them with the basics of Excel and Word.

The afternoon is spent teaching the district staff English. This wasn’t part of my original job description but, as work has been slow to develop, I am happy to be doing this.

Unwinding in Rwanda

This evening I have a drink at a local pub with Enock, a Ugandan teacher who also teaches English to the district staff. I asked him what brought him here to Rwanda. He said he was working as a tourist guide in a park on the Uganda/Congo/Rwanda border when the group he was with was attacked by the Interahamwe. He ran 30 kilometres to the Ugandan army base to raise the alarm.

To relax, I usually log on to Facebook and catch up with family and friends (it is a bit weird working a computer by candlelight – there is no electricity where I live).

No regrets

I've been in Rwanda since September 2008 and it has been the single greatest experience of my life. Yes there have been problems and there continue to be problems: frustrating bureaucracy, incredible inefficiency, a culture that can seem impenetrable at times. But there is warmth and friendliness... and safety. I have made some great new friends and hope to make even more!

There have been difficult moments, difficult days and there will be more – but never for even one second have I regretted coming here.

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