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  • Catherine Norrie

Hellos and Handshakes: My First Visit to UPS

Having started at APIE at the beginning of the month (in a behind-the-scenes strategic role), I knew how important it was to get a good look at Umubano Primary School first-hand. Cue my first ever trip to Rwanda, to visit UPS and meet the key players who keep the school running – and who are committed to making it a centre of real excellence.

On arriving at the school, the first thing that struck me was how keen the children were to say hello, and to shake hands. This turned out to be an on-going theme during my visit; the children are friendly, outgoing and confident, and always ready to throw out a peace sign! They have a great rapport with the teachers, and in the classroom you can hardly see for all the raised hands. These are children who are eager to learn, and it was great seeing them have the opportunity to do so in a warm, engaging environment.

The teachers at the school are a huge part of why the children are so enthusiastic; their lessons are engaging, and they make sure to celebrate the success of their pupils. I spent time in a nursery class, and ended up part of a ceremony where children are awarded certificates for good behaviour. It turned out this happens weekly, and demonstrates perfectly the ethos of the school: the focus of UPS isn’t to punish its pupils, but to reward their achievement.

The emphasis on positive affirmation is part of APIE and UPS’s commitment to peace education, an initiative that seeps into all facets of school life. From its beautiful peace mural – painted by the students, and pictured in the first photo of this blog – to its inclusive teaching model, UPS is dedicated to fostering a culture of collaboration and cooperation within its walls.

A moment that stuck with me in particular – small as it was – happened while I was observing a library class. The children had been given ‘free time’, where they could settle in and read whichever book they wanted – and across the room, my eyes landed on two students who decided to work together, with one teaching the other. I snapped a quick picture and left the room with a massive smile.

Speaking of massive smiles, no one can compete with the famous kilowatt grin of Jean de Dieu, UPS’s charismatic Head Teacher (below). Under his guidance – in partnership with APIE and the school’s staff – the school has become a real beacon for peace and model for quality, inclusive education.

Seeing UPS first hand, spending time with the children and talking to teachers, has helped me better understand why APIE’s work is so important. But it’s not finished yet – and now it’s time for me to get stuck in, and do my part!

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