Attached to Africa

26th March 2004 at 00:00
As the 10th anniversary of Rwanda's genocide (April 7) approaches, schools across the UK are being invited to set up twinning programmes with the country's schools. The project is being run by the Aegis Trust, a charity which commemorates and aims to prevent genocide, in collaboration with the Department for Education and Skills.

At least one British school is already benefiting from links with Rwanda.

Six students from the Henry Box school in Witney, Oxfordshire, spent four weeks in the country last summer and set up a link with one of the schools they visited.

Graeme Riddell, a geography teacher who led the expedition, says he hopes it will contribute to several areas of study. In citizenship, the school already studies the Holocaust and this year the pupils who went to Rwanda took part in a Genocide Awareness Week involving Years 7 to 11. They also talked about their experiences at an event organised by Oxfordshire county council for Holocaust Memorial Day.

As the school is a language college and Rwanda is Francophone, the link aids the teaching of French. Pupils send letters in English to their link school, the Muhura, and receive replies in French. They are hoping to help the Muhura to get email so pupils can communicate more easily.

In geography, pupils will take part in a "mapping my locality" exercise, in which they will exchange details of the area they live in with their counterparts in Rwanda.

Rhian Dare-Edwards, 18, was among the pupils who went on the expedition.

"I'd learned about the Holocaust, but this happened in my lifetime," she says. "I think what surprised me was the positive things. Genocide was the past. Actually when it came to it, it wasn't such a big part of the trip."

James Smith, joint director of the Aegis Trust, hopes more British schools will share such benefits in the future. "It's a fantastic way for Rwanda to send a message that it isn't just a backward country in the middle of Africa but somewhere whose people are connected to the world. And it's an opportunity for kids in the UK to really appreciate globalisation," he says.

The Aegis Trust hopes to host a live webcast from the School of the Assumption in Birambo on April 7.

The Aegis Trust: www.aegistrust.org. If you are interested in setting up a twinning programme with a developing country, contact the British Council on 0207 930 8466, or see its website: www.britishcouncil.org. For information about setting up a link with a Rwandan school through Voluntary Service Overseas, email gas@vsoint.org. VSO teachers in Rwanda have published an education resource, Coffee, Fair trade and Rwanda. More details at www.vso. org.ukthecoffeeproject. VSO is also compiling a register of returned volunteers who can offer advice on citizenship teaching in the UK.

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