Oct. 14, 2011
After spending last year volunteering at an elementary school in Rwanda, Shannon Lawson, assistant professor in English and Humanities at Shawnee State University, was eager to return this summer to work with the children.
She had three objectives for this trip, to visit the teachers and students, visit colleagues at KIE, and work on establishing contacts for her dissertation research.
Her main objective was to connect with KIE, the Kigali Institute of Education, a teacher training institution. The first week, Lawson went to Kigali to guest lecture on public deliberation at KIE and to visit a public speaking class. She also was introduced to the director of the School of Communication and Journalism at the National University of Rwanda (NUR) and spoke to a class of journalism majors.
"The university students in Rwanda are eager to learn and very serious about the opportunity they have been given to study at this level," Lawson said. "The professors are an inspiration because they must often teach without the use of textbooks, a rare commodity. We don't realize how easy we have it here," Lawson said. "There are not enough books. They 'make do' by making photocopies of some books."
Lawson is applying for a Fulbright Scholarship and while she was there, she secured two letters of affiliation required for her application.
"I want to build the relationships that I started building in 2008," Lawson said. "I hope to do some collaborative research with KIE and NUR faculty."
The second week, Lawson returned to the Ntenyo school to assist with a creative writing project. She took disposable cameras for the children and encouraged them to take photos relating to family, home and school. The classroom teacher and other volunteers had prepped the students with lessons on writing and drawing.
The children took the cameras home and each one was given a notebook to write stories and they were encouraged to think about how they could use some of their photos in the stories.
"This year, with new classrooms, the teachers seemed happier and more energetic," Lawson said. "The two volunteer organizations, SANEJO and Y-GAP partnered to build three more classrooms. They also painted a mural on one of the outside walls of the school building with colorful maps of Rwanda and Africa."
She went back to Kigali the third week and met with several professors and she was able to secure the affiliation for her dissertation research. During her last week, Lawson finished the photo project with the children at Ntenyo, attended a soccer match between the builders and the volunteers, and had a tearful goodbye dinner with the teachers.
Lawson is studying traditional weddings for her dissertation. One day, she went to the library at KIE to read two student papers on the "Gusaba no Gukwa" ("Introduction and Dowry") portion of the wedding ceremony. At the library, she had to stand in line and hand a piece of paper with the titles to the librarian and he would go get the books off the shelf.
She had to give the librarian her passport, read the book in the library, and return it before she left. Students are not allowed to take books out of the library.
While she was at KIE, the director of research invited her to his niece's wedding. A Rwandese wedding consists of three ceremonies. First, the bride and groom go to the government municipality for the legal ceremony where they sign the official marriage registry and take an oath to the country.
Then, the community gathers for the traditional ceremony that may last as long as six hours. The ceremony features performances, one of which is a kind of verbal duel between a representative for the bride's family and a representative for the groom's family.
"The speaker for the bride's family tells stories making accusations about the past such as not helping when a member of the bride's family was sick. Then the groom's speaker has to explain why they did not offer help," Lawson said.
The last ceremony, which often takes place the next day or even as much as a week later, is a church ceremony where the bride and groom say their vows.
Lawson plans to return to Rwanda next year to begin her dissertation research.