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23.03.2021

Covid-19: Longing for School Reopening

The fully loaded car with sanitary equipment. (photo: Hannah Borowski)

Hand washing facilities in the school yard (photo: Principal Prosper Karasira)

On the 16th of March 2020 all schools in Rwanda were closed due to increasing COVID-19 numbers within the country. For Hanika Anglican Integrated Polytechnic this came as a shock. Luckily at least the government had organized the students’ transport back to their respective homes. And so from one day to the next Hanika AIP went from being an interactive and vibrant place to being silent and empty. This meant that the school could no longer work on implementing its mission in technical and vocational education for youth. However in pragmatic terms this status also caused major financial concerns.

Longing for reopening

As a privately run school the institution mainly covers its costs through the income of school fees. Therefore the administration continued working hard to plan for the future, bearing in mind that it might be a different. Over the entire summer months we started speculating when schools may be allowed to reopen. Would it be June, July, August? Unfortunately no. However in July we did receive a message from WDA, the government agency in charge of technical and vocational education, to start preparing for a possible reopening. Hence we became very excited that school might soon be allowed to reopen.

Long list of requirements

This message however was accompanied by a long list of requirements that needed to be fulfilled in order to be among the schools that were to be given permission to start operating again when the time came.

In this list were different items and facilities such as hand sanitizers, disinfectant for the entire school premises, newly built hand washing stations at the school entrance, soaps, thermometers, to name just a few. After reading this paper our excitement rapidly disappeared again. How were we going to organize all these facilities in times of financial hardship for the institution due to the school closure? We started thinking about what our possibilities could be. As the UEM co-worker I offered to talk to UEM and see whether this could potentially be an effort that UEM might be able to support. After an initial inquiry in which we were in fact encouraged by UEM to write a project proposal for the matter, we immediately started working on the document. Fortunately for Hanika AIP the proposal was processed very quickly. By August the project was approved with the funds being available to Hanika AIP by September.

Activity plan

The next step was the detailed planning of how to go about in conducting our planned activities. There were two main taskforces to do so. The first taskforce planned the construction of the hand washing stations while the second taskforce was concerned with buying the hygiene materials needed. Together with the principal and the accountant, I was part of the taskforce in charge of buying hygiene materials. In a first step we discussed the exact amounts of what we were going to buy initially. As we wanted to leave some room to monitor how much things were being used we didn’t want to buy the full quantities immediately. After deciding on amounts and products, I headed to multiple pharmacies in Kigali to discuss prices and request pro-forma invoices. Finally we chose a pharmacy to work with and ordered multiple different hygiene products in large quantities. On the morning of the 5th of October, I drove to the pharmacy in Kigali to pick up the products. The car was entirely full with 5 large boxes of soap, 5 large boxes of hand sanitizers, multiple jerry cans of disinfectant, big pumps for distributing disinfectant and safety gowns. The only space left in the car was my seat to get in and drive the car to Nyanza. Once I arrived, there was already a large group of volunteers ready to unpack the car and bring the materials to the designated stock.

Inspection by the government

3 days later, on October 8th 2020, WDA were coming to inspect Nyanza for school readiness. The next two days I spent drafting policy documents such as evacuation plans, disinfection plans and social distancing plans that were also required for the inspection.

On October 8th a delegation of 3 WDA officers came to analyze our readiness for reopening. We designated a team to host the delegation made up of 4 people, including the principal, the vice-principal, the Head of ICT and myself. We took the delegation to visit the school facilities, they checked our inventory and checked our policies. After that we had a discussion and were required to answer specific questions targeting to evaluate our readiness. Yet, the delegation also gave us specific recommendations on the spot. One recommendation included buying mobile hand washing stations to position in front of classrooms. In the following days I conducted research in Kigali, while the logistics officer scrutinized Nyanza’s market for hand washing stations. After research and negotiations, we decided that the most competitive offer was to be found in Kigali. However, not being a local my negotiation skills are not yet at the level of a Rwandan. Therefore, to secure the deal a colleague from Nyanza accompanied me to Kigali and renegotiated the prices I had already negotiated. Needless to say he was successful! At the end of the day, we loaded a truck that would take the hand washing stations back to Nyanza.

Some few days later we were informed that the inspection had been successful and that we were going to be allowed to reopen for regular schooling on the 2nd of November 2020. This came as an immense relief to all of the school and diocese administrations. Finally we would be allowed to start operating again even if the new normal would be a very different one!

Hannah Borowksi (UEM exchange co-worker at Hanika school)

* Hanika Anglican Integrated Polytechnic is an education project in Rwanda supported by UEM

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