Snoopy’s Christmas was a small idea born during my last few days living in Rwanda. It is not a globally run Aid organisation. There are no people being paid to fundraise and no zero overhead costs. It is just a small way to directly help some children in Rwanda get a much-wanted education.
While living in the town of Ruhengeri, a young street kid of about eight years befriended me. I nicknamed him Snoopy because of the cartoon T.shirt he wore every day. Whenever I was waiting in town (usually for the power to come back on), he would appear and offer me a bread roll, or a piece of fruit which he’d bought with the tiny amount he’d earned that day from carrying people’s groceries at the market.
He never asked for anything in exchange, and I wondered what I could do to show my appreciation for his friendship. He was certainly a happy child, but like many of the kids he’d never been to school and spent his days finding enough to eat.
Throwing a kid like Snoopy into the overcrowded public school system seemed certain to fail. Being an orphan, he’d never had the daily structure that comes with a home life, and would not adapt well to being crammed into a classroom on an empty stomach and getting told what to do.
Meanwhile a musician friend of mine, Nkumbuye Frank, was becoming increasingly frustrated with daily life. Writing songs was enjoyable, but being well-known within Rwanda does not equate to earning money. Through persistently pestering a teacher-friend, he’d learned reasonable English growing up and even scored a job doing temp translation work for a hotel owner. But the job had finished, and once again he and his family were struggling to make ends meet.
I suggested he give teaching a go. Being a musician, Snoopy and the other kids already looked up to him and loved the fact he was willing to give them some attention. So we bought a few English teaching books and sourced an empty building to use for a classroom. With a cousin whose partner was lucky enough to study Teaching at University, Frank has been getting great help structuring proper lessons for the kids.
Whether we like it or not, speaking English is the next big thing in Rwanda. The Education system is currently shifting all its official teaching from French into English, and everyone is desperate to learn. They know speaking English will become their best chance to get ahead.
The initial idea of just helping Snoopy, has now become a daily hour-long classroom session for 15 enthusiastic street kids. There is no payment for the teacher yet, but the experience he gets from it, along with the respect from the children, is certainly making his days more fulfilling than they were. The main obstacle is the kids currently have no books or pens, and there is no chalk for the blackboard. These are simple and straightforward things to resolve, and the figures equate to near-nothing by Western standards:
$3 1x hardbound A4 lined book
50 cents Decent pen
$2 10x chalk sticks
Total for 15 kids + 1 teacher to have basic requirements of a book and some pens: $70
After living in Africa for a year I’m probably the most cynical of the lot when it comes to donating to foreign-run Aid companies, but apart from the money transfer fee, there are no hidden costs here. Beyond books and pens are a million other thing we could do to make the situation happier for the kids. A banana or two before class would make for 15 healthy stomachs and happy brains. So if anyone wants to contribute something towards the idea that would be ace, otherwise I’d be happy just to get any feedback, questions or suggestions about Snoopy’s Christmas.