Peace Corps has a wonderful program called the Coverdell World Wise Schools, which pairs Volunteers in the field with classrooms in America in order to promote Peace Corps Goal #2: help Americans understand other cultures from around the world. I am fortunate to be paired with a great fourth grade class back home in South Carolina. The teacher is a longtime family friend and my elementary school computer teacher! So far I’ve just been writing notes for her students and answering their questions about what it’s like to live in Rwanda. This week, we took this correspondence to the next level.
At my school, the headmaster asked me to start an English club for interested students. It’s been a rocky start- the meeting times changed a lot, the number of students fluctuates, and the activities didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped, but buhoro buhoro, little by little, things are falling into place. Now that a rhythm is finally established, I asked my English club to also participate in my correspondence! My students were so excited to learn they could write and talk to students in America; they could not wait to get started.
The English Club decided to make a series of videos over the course of the year to share with our American counterparts. Students have thrown around all sorts of video ideas: traditional Rwandan dances, Kinyarwanda lessons, self-composed songs in English, etc. This week we shot the video for part one, a tour of our school.
Several brave students volunteered to make a small speech to introduce different elements of our school, such as the cafeteria, classrooms, the chapel, etc. The speeches are very typically Rwandan. Each student starts by introducing him/herself and says that they’re a student at this school. Then he or she thanks the American students for agreeing to correspond with this club. Then they finally describe their particular room. It’s not exactly what I would have written, but nonetheless I am very proud of what they wrote!
During the filming, I also tried to explain to students how to use my camera to take video. Most of my students have never used a camera before, so they were all eager to try their hand at cinematography! The camera is almost always crooked, the shots pan across the scene at dizzying speeds, but it’s awesome! It took some time for students to get the hang of it, so much time that the battery died half-way through the shoot and we had to put everything on hold for a while.
After we finished shooting today’s round of videos, I got my laptop so the students could see their work. At the front of a classroom 32 students crowded around my laptop, haphazardly standing on stools and desks in order to get a better view. I sat back and gazed at their faces as they watched themselves on videos. They were enthralled! Even though the sound quality was poor and we could barely hear the dialogue, they sat there drinking in every detail. It was really great to watch them light up every time they saw their face and to listen to them giggle.
One very shy student, Vedaste, who surprised me by volunteering for a speaking role, came up to me after we were finished and sheepishly asked me to redo his video because “there are so, so many mistakes!” I tried to assure him that we were all very proud of his effort and that when speaking in a foreign language, it’s most important to be understood not to say every detail perfectly. I hope that this encourages him to continue speaking in the future and to not be intimidated by wanting to speak fluently.
This project has made me really excited! I want the effort to be mostly student-driven. I want the students to submit their own ideas, write the scripts, use the camera, and help me edit the video. For each video, different students are in charge of writing the script and then performing on camera. During filming, a different student has the opportunity to use the camera to video one scene. Finally three students will help me to edit the videos on my laptop afterschool. I want students to be actively involved in each step of the process so that they learn as much as possible!
Seeing how much they enjoyed learning about technology and making the videos makes me look forward to creating even more in the future. Even though the videos will not be great quality because they are made on my digital camera without a good microphone, I’m still optimistic about how things will turn out in the end. When we finish this video, I’ll have to find a fast internet connection so I can upload it. Then you can see my students’ work for yourself!