Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I learned something in Swahili although the people here speak Kurundi and French. “Sawa” means “good,” and yes, today was sawa.

We left early this morning to go to the northern province of Ngozi to check out a couple primary and one secondary school. The road to Ngozi is like traveling up San Marcos Pass (for those of you that know this road) for 2 hours. The road winds back and forth with people walking, cycling, and trucks trying to pass one another. Along the way you pass little villages and other provinces with people lining the street holding out bags of fruit and whole branches of bananas to be sold. The countryside of Burundi is beautiful. The forests are dense and green but many were cut down to prevent enemy forces from hiding out during the war. As we drove, our companion Nazir who was born and raised in Burundi told us amazing stories of the people and their courage. There seems to be no sign of unrest between the Tutsi’s and the Hutu’s for there is representatives within the government for all people…even the Twa who are the pygmy people.

After two hours of dodging trucks (literally running us off the road) watching young men hanging on to the backs of trucks on their bikes to take them up the mountain at speeds upwards of 70mph, we arrived at the private university in Ngozi. This university was established during the war in order to give people a safe place to study. Students who would attend classes at the University of Burundi (in the capital of Bujumbura) would be shot while sitting in their desks. Other students would arrive and just openly shoot one another. The university in Ngozi is working on a shoestring budget and a heavy debt. They have been in operation for 10 years and do hope to continue. We met faculty with one being from Spain and another…from Tennessee! When she walked in and started talking I was blown out of the water for there was a familiar accent in the room. From here we were escorted to the Buhiga primary school located within a barrio (for lack of a better word) within Ngozi. Again, there were kids running to meet us as we climbed out of our cars. The kids surrounded my colleague and started to touch his skin and his arms. Turns out there are not many “muzungu” (white person) in this area. The kid’s smiles, again, enveloped me. Again, as my colleagues and those from the university entered the classroom, I was still outside trying to talk to and play with the kids. The classroom was a whicker sided room about 15x15 feet with a thin blackboard hanging on the thatched wall. Kids were learning math as the teacher engaged them. After watching the lesson, we spoke with some teachers and they stated they do not have the necessary materials to teach the children. Books are needed. Just regular, reading books.

The second school was St. John Bosco, a secondary school. This school is in the town of Ngozi about a mile from Buhiga. This is a beautiful campus. As I walked, I heard beautiful singing coming from a hall. It turns out a mass was being held but the singing drew me in. I recorded these students singing and clapping. I guess I stayed a bit long for my colleagues needed to come and get me. Notice a theme here? Some of the students were watching me as I recorded. To them, I was probably just another person stopping by, but their reverence in the manner of their singing put something on my heart. After, I spoke to a student who spoke English very well (better than my couple words of French) and he shared that he wanted to go to the university. Bosco has a library, but not many books. They desire literature in English and French.

The last school was another primary school. This parched school with clay dirt (the entire country seems to be in clay) had kids interested once again in my camera. In one classroom I was allowed to take pictures and I noticed one kid who seemed disinterested. So, I did what I naturally do in these situations. As I left, I put my shoulder on this young man and shook him a bit. Immediately I got a huge smile as his friends started laughing. This school needs books (surprise), but water. The director stated he wishes he could receive tanks to place on the rooftops of the school to catch rainwater.

The drive back down the mountain was wonderful. We spoke of the schools, the kids, and stopped off at a little hotel tucked in the mountain. The meal was excellent. I always enjoy fresh chicken when I can get it! The scenery was beautiful as we looked over a deck and saw the tea and banana fields along the slopes.

Tomorrow we leave for Nairobi, Kenya where we will visit a friend of my colleagues and visit his orphanage. I will do more touristy things like sample game animals (sorry to your vegetarians…but as Andrew Zimmern says, “If it looks good, eat it!”), try to do a walking safari, and see as much of the culture as I can. As I do this I hope to reflect on the kids, the directors, the teachers, the Ministers of education as this nation tries to do what is best for their people through their schools. This morning I read Isaiah 58 for I am going through a personal study on justice. In the chapter it reads that people often say, but don't do. My understanding of this visit is much needs to be done here and elsewhere. Hopefully much will be done.

As I sit on a balcony far from home I see trees and a man cleaning the hotel pool. But then I look at the pictures on my camer and see the faces…it’s all, sawa sawa.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kids, Kids, everywhere there are kids!

I am reminded of a song by Five Man Electric Band entitled “Signs” as I am writing today’s blog for there have been plenty of signs around me throughout the day. You could find the song here:
For some of you this song will take you back a few years, for others who never heard it, enjoy.
Today my colleague and I met again with the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education along with the Minister of Vocational Education and Literacy. At one time the Minister of Education was in charge of everything regarding education and just recently this past January, three new Ministers were appointed to take over the duties of the Minister of Education, by the Minister is still in charge. You can imagine being in charge of a new ministry and feeling overwhelmed. Dr. Rose who is in charge of vocational education feels the weight of the world on her shoulders as she tries to develop opportunities for students to be trained in areas that will assist in their development to gain employment for if a child at the age of 12 or 13 does not pass the standardized test for secondary education, they are asked to leave the school. So, you have many people unable to continue with their education. We may think this is strange but our educational system is built pretty much the same way. For one, our K-12 schools are focused on kids going to college. We believe this is great, but only 30% of our graduating seniors actually go on and graduate from a university or college. Meaning, we have a great number of people who would benefit from quality vocational education training where a student can earn their high school diploma and certificates in specific trades. The school district of Placentia-Yorba Linda is doing this and seeing great results. Students are graduating from high school but with certificates in plumbing, general construction, and electrical as well. The superintendent understands not everyone wishes to go to college. Dr. Rose, “gets it” as well, but is overwhelmed for any given afternoon in Bujumbura, you can see hundreds of young adults on the streets just “hanging out.” Literally, hundreds.
Today we went to a school on the outskirts of Bujumbura. We were attacked…attacked by…..KIDS! As I climbed out of the truck, kids were all around. The noise was deafening. The roar of the kids laughter and shouting was a delight. As I took my cameras out…well, I couldn’t walk straight for the kids just started to surround me. “Photo me!” “No, photo me, yes!” the kids yelled. What was funny was I was being told to come with the people whom I went to the school with to meet the Director of the school. My colleagues kept waiting as I was taking in the moment with the kids. My colleague from Biola University turned to me and said, “No Fred, you can’t take any home.”
The school has 3,000 students and 50 teachers. Yes, that is 60 students per classroom. This is a good size for schools in Burundi. About 50% of the kids are passing the test to go on to secondary education. While this is above the national norm of 30%, still, 50% or 1,500 students will be told to leave due to a test.
We also met a representative from Macmillan Publishers who will be making English texts for Burundi. The cost to give each kid a class set of the books they need for primary education would be $500,000.00. Anyone have contacts with foundations just waiting to assist a poor country? When I asked the Director what her one goal for the school was, she answered, “Quality teacher training.” Since the teachers are paid so poorly, they have jobs afterschool. The Director stated the teachers are more concerned with their other jobs than the role of the teacher. One agenda item is we have informally agreed to have a conference/seminar for best teaching practices next summer for the teachers throughout the country.
So, today was great. Seeing the kids gave me the opportunity to look into the eyes of these youthful children and understand the role we are undertaking. Tomorrow we are heading north to the more rural areas to see the kids. I promise I won’t bring any home.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The old adage is true

"What a difference a day makes." So true. I was set to go out to outlining schools so I dressed for the occasion. Lightweight hiking pants, with lightweight long sleeve shirt, a tan hat, and insect repellent. When I met our partner who was going to take us, he was dressed in a sport coat and tie. He told me we were going to meet a director of a teacher education program and the Minister of Education for the country of Burundi. So I asked, "should I change?" If you know me, you know I rarely wear ties...let along a sport coat....and it was hot! So I put on my monkey suit. We not only met with the Director and Minister, but we then met with the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education. These meetings really put into perspective what the country is going through. In a word, it is sad. The students in the capital may have 1 textbook for every 10 students. In the outlining areas in the rural schools, the teacher MAY be the only one with a book for a classroom of 100-115 students in a room that is about 40x40.
The one item that was learned was that the Burundian people went through 10 extra years of civil war after the Rwandan war was over. A question I have is why did I only hear about the Rwandan genocide and not the Burundian genocide? In Rwanda the Hutu's were staging war on the Tutsi's. In Burundi it was the other way around.
The Minister of Primary and Secondary education really has a heart for the educational system.
The first problem he stated was not having enough teachers,
The second? The teachers that they do have most are not properly trained in pedagogy.
Another issue are the number of students whom are unable to pass standardized tests in French cannot go on through their formal education; so, Bilingual education is an issue.
Do these items sound familiar? What is exciting about the people that we met, all are interested in trying new things in order to get the children to a point where they can become productive citizens. They are open to technical training (or voc ed) for the students that do not pass their standardized tests. They are open to try new ways of developing children who are functionally literate in two languages! The problem? As always, money and time. However, the people are confident that it will take time, but somehow it will get done.
A colleague shared with me that when people are called to do something for others, God works on that particular person as well. I believe this is true. In just a day I've learned something about myself and the opportunities I have been given through my education and experiences to assist others.
Tomorrow is another day with meeting a person who is very dedicated in developing voc ed programs and/or schools, and hopefully, meeting with teachers and students.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


My colleague Tim and I are now in Bujumbura, Burundi. It's different from Nairobi but I am not quite sure how. After a couple days I hope to have learned more about the people and the community. Here most people speak French. I was asked by the person who picked us up if I spoke French. The only French I do know comprises of telling someone that I love them, hello, and the lyrics to an old song. Maybe I'll just say "Hi" to everyone.
We will be trying to get into some schools in the capital, some rural schools, along with speaking to teachers. We are still a little unsure as to how we will be going about our work for we do not have an "agenda" for our time in Burundi. I do appreciate the openness and laid-back atmosphere of the people, but I would also like to make sure we use our time wisely for this country.
It is funny how the little things in life makes being able to Skype.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Day 1

To be on three continents in one day is, well, tiring. Going across the equator for the first time is also something to imagine. As we past through the continent of Africa and seeing the landscape for the first time, I was reminded of the many documentaries, movies, and shows about Africa. Since I was a young boy, images of this country have been in my mind, though I never would have thought I would be seeing it first hand.
The flights went ok, except for some jiggling going to Detroit. One piece of luggage we were carrying for a person in Nairobi got lost, so we were unable to get to our hotel until 12am last night. We were then the victims of the old bait and switch by the taxi driver who quoted us one price then told us another price when we arrived at the hotel. Oh well. What were we going to do except to be more careful.
As we go to Burundi today I am reminded of the landscape once again. However, now I see faces and not just the animals that were shown on Wild Kingdom. There are young people we are going to assist with this venture. I pray for the wisdom to assist.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


You know how you felt as a child the night before your birthday, or some major event in your life? As a kid I anticipated Christmas to the point that I couldn't fall asleep until late at night. My parents were probably concerned for they had to get the gifts under the tree! However, I also remember my wife going through labor and feeling helpless, concerned, anxious, scared, etc. This entire week although I should be feeling like the kid before Christmas, I feel more like I did before my children were born. There is the unexpected and unknown that I am experiencing. My thoughts turn to my feeling of whether my educational and life experiences can assist an entire country. Then, thoughts turn to my faith and knowing I wouldn't be asked to be part of this endeavor unless I was ready.
The only items I know I am not looking forward to are the flights! It takes about 1 1/2 days to get to Burundi. If you know anything about me, you know I get impatient. So, keep us in your thoughts and prayers!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Well, I received my visa yesterday for Burundi! Since that is all done, I can focus on what I am to do over in Burundi, which is...I don't know! I am praying that I will be lead as to what our mission and goals are for this project. Only spending a couple days in Burundi will not give me everything that I need to know, but I pray that I come away with a better understanding of the country and what is needed. Now I need to figure out what to pack!