Rwanda 2023 and an Introduction to JOA's Newest Programme Associate

14 August 2023 | Luke Tumelty
Our most recent volunteer trip has just come to an end and our new Programme Associate, Luke Tumelty, who went along to Rwanda with the group of Jersey teachers shares some his reflections upon returning to the JOA office.

First a quick introduction, my name is Luke Tumelty, and I am the current JOA Programme Associate. I began my 18-month role in late May this year and will be based in the Jersey office for 6 months before heading to London to work with HelpAge International for another 6 months, after this I will be posted in a developing country for another 6 months working directly on a HelpAge project in the field. This programme is the opportunity of a lifetime for Jersey residents interested in entering the international development sector, and those who are interested should be under no illusion that the adventure comes in the final 6 months, as this blog will explain.

I have recently returned from 2 weeks in Bugarama, Rwanda where I accompanied a fantastic team of Jersey Volunteers working with equally fantastic Rwandan teachers as part of an initiative organised by Hands Around the World to improve English speaking. The first project of its kind, it was a huge success and has helped to build a strong partnership, with everyone involved already eager for next year. With our mission to deliver as much as possible in the short time we were there, the days were full-on and hectic, but we still managed to fit in plenty of activities outside of the classroom and were incredibly touched at the extent of Rwandan hospitality we were shown throughout.

We spent our first full day in Kigali to break up the 9-hour flight from the 9-hour drive we had ahead. We first paid a visit to the Genocide Memorial Museum to pay our respects and learn about the devastating historical events that the people of Rwanda have suffered through in the not-so-distant past. This was an emotional and eye-opening experience which told of a dark history that starkly contrasted the joy and positivity we saw in all the Rwandan’s we had the pleasure of meeting and working alongside. During this first evening in Kigali, we were lucky enough to attend the opening ceremony and first fixture of the Women’s AfroBasket championships where we cheered on Rwanda to beat Côte d'Ivoire 64-35.

We then set off on the road to Bugurama bright and early on Saturday where we witnessed the whole country engaged in ‘Umuganda’ the government led initiative which translates to “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome”. This happens on the last Saturday of every month and, as well as building community cohesion, is credited for having achieved the building of schools, medical centres and hydro-electric plants as well as rehabilitating wetlands and creating highly productive agricultural plots. Despite the hefty distance there was never a dull moment on this journey through the land of one thousand hills. We saw all sorts of wildlife from Kingfishers and African spoonbills in the sky, to Baboons and Colobus monkeys swinging through branches as we drove through the Nyungwe Forest National Park.

On our first morning in Bugarama, we were welcomed with song, dance and praise at the Pentecostal Church, a 4-hour service which genuinely flew by quicker than the shorter, but far less lively, services I am used to back home. Following the service, we enjoyed a lunch prepared for us by the congregation where we met some of the local pastors who we would be working closely with in the upcoming days. After a busy Sunday evening spent planning for the week ahead, the real work began on Monday morning.

The two sets of teachers quickly got to know each other, and it was touching to see that any initial nerves and trepidations soon dissolved through laughter and a shared purpose. I was particularly pleased to see the group of teachers who I had spent two days getting to know as travel companions, suddenly in their element in the classroom building rapport with the students (or learners as they’re referred to in Rwanda) despite the language barrier. As someone with no educational background whatsoever, I learnt so much through this experience not only about teaching and engaging the learners but about how to respond and adapt to the needs of a project, which often requires being prepared to go right back to the drawing board. At the end of the teaching period, hearing a class of key stage 2 students sing us songs and recite poetry that they had written as a class and memorised in English really cemented for me the impact that an enthusiastic and caring teacher can have, as well as the huge amount of talent and capacity to learn that children have.

As an added bonus to the trip, JOA organised for us to spend a weekend at the Nyungwe Forest National Park Ecolodge, a facility which is part of a JOA funded international development project run by the Irish charity Trócaire, which focuses on balancing conservation with the needs of rural communities living in and around the park. We met with a variety of people all involved in the overarching project including the Community Conservation Committee who have led the conservation movement through community mapping, using their invaluable understanding of the landscape to identify assets and barriers. We met a group of youth conservation champions who have been empowered to obtain their advanced diploma in wildlife and tourism to continue to protect Rwanda’s biodiversity. We also met a group of ex-poachers who, thanks to the work of Trócaire and partners have benefitted from an education as to the negative effects of poaching as well as being offered alternative sources of income. On the second day of our visit one of the ex-poachers took us on a hike through the local landscape sharing with us his wealth of Bear Grylls style knowledge about all the medicinal uses and folklore surrounding the local flora. This was a fascinating experience made even better by the stunning scenery unlike any I had ever witnessed before. This was a particularly special experience for me as it was a chance to meet with the direct beneficiaries (both humans and wildlife) of an international development project which, coming from a conservation background, I have taken a particular interest in from my desk in the Jersey office.

The experience I had in these two weeks has been unlike anything else and as I return to Jersey I have gained a new perspective of the world and how different life is in developing countries, where people have to struggle just to meet their basic needs, things which we all too often take for granted in Jersey. I was lucky to be surrounded by a great group of people both locals and Jersey teachers who helped not only to deliver a successful educational exchange, but also to ensure an enormous amount of fun was had. I now look forward with anticipation and excitement to the 6-month placement I will be sent on as part of the JOA Programme Associate Internship where I hope to continue developing my skills and working with new people from different cultures and backgrounds.