Today, ten years on from his first visit to Rwanda, Paul Johnson stood at the Umabano Hotel in Kigali, waiting for the Kingdom and Secondary Vocational School’s first ever graduation ceremony to begin. One man’s vision translated from a row of graves to rows of chairs ready to celebrate the achievements of young people who are launching into life now equipped with skills to gain productive employment.
Preparation for this momentous event for the school was a typically African affair. Even yesterday, catering was still being arranged, gowns were not ordered until late last night, (apparently usual here!) and because the teacher who was in charge of the production of the final certificates had fallen off his motorbike and ended up in the hospital with an injured wrist, we spent much of Friday rushing round the city to ensure every student would have the appropriate accreditation. (A minor injury – he is now fine.) Even this morning, having been assured students would arrive by 9am to robe up and that all the teachers would be there to supervise, nothing really happened until gone 10am as they arrived, to quote the Rwandan phrase, “slowly by slowly”!
Frustrations on our part ran high. Used to rigorous time keeping and forward planning, we began to doubt that the event would ever happen. But this is Africa and things are done differently here. And we had to learn to wait!
And as the students and their parents began to arrive, so the excitement mounted. Many of them come from the poorest districts, so for them, being in the smarter part of town was an adventure. Some had travelled a fair distance to attend, walking since early this morning to be there. With the students now fully robed, great amusement set in as we discovered that they had all put their gowns on back to front! A quick rearrange sorted the problem and we were ready to celebrate.
The ceremony itself was simple affair; prayers, speeches, a brief video showcasing their work and of course, the presentation of certificates. We were honoured that not only parents and family members had joined us but also pastors from the churches that these young people represented. Each had dressed in their best clothes for such a special occasion. They listened and applauded, laughed, and took photographs on their mobile phones. In their eyes one could see their pride and thankfulness, knowing that each young person now has a better future. The teachers were equally proud, and it was lovely to have Augustine with us, looking so smart in his jacket and tie despite still being so poorly with the after effects of Malaria.
As the formal part of the day ended, we moved to take the official group, individual and family photographs. It was touching that many wanted their ‘English Mum and Dad’ to join them in the pictures but also a poignant reminder that for many their parents or family had simply not been able to afford to attend. With the event captured for posterity we enjoyed refreshments together, sodas, samosas and banana cake. To us simple fare, but for many it was a feast of rich food they would not usually have and it soon disappeared!
And then it was time for home? Not at all. We were invited to return to our seats and the students took the microphone. Rarely have we heard such eloquence as they shared how Kingdom Secondary and Vocational School has transformed their lives. They spoke of their thanks to not only their teachers but also to those in the UK who had supported their education financially and they gave glory to God for His provision. They recognised their responsibility to now go out and not only put their newly acquired skills to good use but to pass them on to others whenever possible. To show their thanks to us and to God they broke into a spontaneous time of dancing and worship. The function room at the Umabano Hotel came alive with Rwandan song and dance giving praise to God.
The staff came in to see what was happening and stayed to listen and enjoy – it’s obviously been a while since this predominantly middle class and tourist hotel has seen such a celebration!
After a tough few days, sorting out a number of issues that have needed addressing before we return home and also battling the heavy rain which has constantly altered our schedule, our spirits were lifted as we were reminded so vividly today of why we are involved here Rwanda. This generation have missed out on so much. There are those who are without parents and grandparents to raise and guide them. There are many who have experienced financial hardship and insecurity in a nation struggling to rebuild itself. They are some who have been failed by a secondary school system which is in its infancy in providing for all young people. Yet today we celebrated the achievements and success of an amazing group of young people. Your support in giving to this project has given each one the opportunity to study a vocational course at KSV and has, quite simply, changed their lives. Thank you!
Promoting opportunity and excellence in Africa
Registered Charity No: 1184890
Registered Charity No: 1184890