Rwanda: nothing disappeared

December 7, 2010 in General, News

rwanda_01The picture regularly topping the front page of AMDG Express shows Gerry Clarke SJ officiating in priestly garb at a JRS camp in Congo. He is in Rwanda now, and his worries are not all spiritual. In his JRS school he awaits the arrival next month of over 3600 children, and the classrooms to accommodate them have been destroyed by rain. Gerry has not merely to secure the help of a contractor to build in a hurry. As the old buildings are dismantled, he cannot afford to lose any of the precious materials that survive the demolition. But how to secure them (“stuff disappears”), and where to store them till they are recycled, and whose arms will do the lifting and carrying? Here is Gerry’s story with its happy ending.

“He’s here.”

“Who’s here?”

“The contractor.”

“What contractor?”

“The contractor who’s going to rebuild 11 of your classrooms.”

“Brilliant. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“You’d better be because we’re starting demolition straight away, and you know how stuff disappears in the camp.”

This was Wednesday morning last. The UNHCR Field Officer for Gihembe Refugee Camp, a Tanzanian, Richard Ndaula, had finally got hold of the builder to start construction of 11 new classrooms for the JRS Primary School. Heavy rain has destroyed many of our wattle and daub buildings and at the start of term in January we expect at least 3,679 children.

The challenge for JRS was to keep track of the corrugated iron sheeting and the thick wooden poles that make up the classrooms that we were going to demolish. The teachers were on holidays and we couldn’t think how we would carry and store all that material safely. Then a brainwave: why not call Sr Anne-Marie and see if the two Jesuit novices and her “Vulnerables” team could help out.

“Bring the children,” I said.

And so, for three days the team laboured to carry and store hundreds of sheets of corrugated iron and dozens of long wooden poles. And the children were fantastic. In 15 minutes flat they could load a pile of sheeting on to the pick-up truck and even more quickly unload and store them. It was for me something of a miracle because we didn’t lose one iron sheet. And I suppose I was very satisfied that we saved a lot of money by keeping the old materials for other constructions. But I suppose, most of all was the feeling that people really wanted to help out, and help us; community effort at its best and most useful.