I have been in Rwanda for the last ten days, participating in the Umubano (friendship) international development project started 10 years ago by David Cameron and Andrew Mitchell.
Over the last decade, for two weeks every summer we have, with the co-operation and assistance of Rwandan government ministries and other organisations, brought from UK leading professors, surgeons, doctors, dentists and nurses, to practice and to teach. We’ve brought a whole range of experienced business people to help Rwandan entrepreneurs with their business plans. We’ve brought football and cricket coaches out to help train local coaches in a nation obsessed with sport.
All are volunteers and pay their own way, whilst the organisational costs have been met by many generous donors. The annual number of volunteers has ranged from under 50 when we first started, to over a hundred. Over the decade over 40 Conservative MPs have volunteered: One might say that this Umubano Party is now the third largest in Parliament.
The main effort has been in education: Annually we have run a teacher training course. The education ministry has fed and accommodated teachers at centres during what would otherwise be their summer break, and we have run a professional development course for them.
The requirement was initially driven by the decision to promote economic growth by moving Rwanda from the francophone zone into the English speaking world. Consequently, the language of instruction in Schools changed from French to English, so teachers needed to learn to speak it. I recall that ten years ago, our course was very much just basic English. Over the decade however, as English has developed, we have focused more on methods and approaches to teaching as a professional skill.
This year we had 700 teachers to train, 300 secondary teachers in Kigali, and 400 primary teachers with me in Rwamagana to the east. The teachers had been selected because they are the ‘mentors’ for the staff in their own schools. I had a class of 45, which I thought would be unmanageable, but actually it worked very well, not least because I was assisted by a Rwandan teacher from the ‘beacon’ Umubano School in Kigali (founded and opened just 5 years ago by Brooks Newmark, then an Essex MP and one of our volunteers). Frankly, I was bowled over by the commitment, enthusiasm and professionalism of our trainees.
Equally, given that I visit so many UK classrooms with every electronic gizmo, I was relieved to be reminded what can be achieved with only a bit of chalk and a painted black space on a wall.
We closed the project with a moving ceremony at the Genocide Memorial, the largest grave in the world, where 250,000 of the one million victims of the 1994 genocide are buried. We were addressed by a survivor of that genocide now in her twenties, together with a survivor of Auschwitz now in her nineties. When I first started coming here the nation was still traumatised, but now Rwanda is transformed and outward looking, it has joined the Commonwealth, and Rwanda’s Army is deployed on more UN peace – keeping missions than any other.
We leave a legacy of friendship and goodwill but, as a Member of Parliament, it is still difficult for me to explain to Rwandans, why – as a nation, having stood by and watched as the genocide unfolded, some of those same génocidaires now live comfortably in the UK, protected by our absurd human rights laws.