Fishing for letters in a Rwandan classroom

Karlijn van der Meer

I am writing this blog on the last day of our really impressive IWitness-trip to Rwanda. Together with Carine Munting from our partner UNICEF Netherlands and other global ambassadors from IKEA stores, we visited different projects supported by UNICEF Rwanda. I will try to describe what I have seen, experienced and felt in Rwanda and specifically when visiting the Kanyinya child-friendly school.

In Rwanda enrolment in schools is not the biggest problem. The quality of the classrooms, sanitation, learning materials and education needs to be improved. When we arrived at Kanyinya school in typical Dutch weather (it was raining cats and dogs) we were welcomed by many children singing.

A warm welcome – by Karlijn van der Meer

A warm welcome – by Karlijn van der Meer

We were welcomed by the deputy director general of the Ministry of Education, the head of the school, teachers and mentors. The mentoring programme, sponsored by UNICEF, supports teachers’ professional development by supporting them in teaching skills, English language proficiency and lesson planning.

Welcome by Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Education – by Karlijn van der Meer

Welcome by deputy director general of the Ministry of Education – by Karlijn van der Meer

The next step in our visit was to attend a lesson. What a good example of child-friendly education! I was observing a preschool class which offers a preparatory ‘school readiness’ year. The children are engaged in activity play areas. And yes, the children in ‘my’ classroom were engaged. About 30 kids were sitting on the ground while the teacher pointed at a letter.

A classroom with happy kids – by Karlijn van der Meer

A classroom with happy kids – by Karlijn van der Meer

The kids had to raise their hands if they knew which letter the teacher was pointing at. Then they had to pick the correct letter (cut out of cardboard) from another board and throw it into a ‘fish pond’. After throwing a few letters into the fish pond, the teacher would ask for a letter again and they had to fish for this letter. And then they had to put it back in the right place on the board. This is a really child-friendly way of teaching! The first thing I thought was: “Wow, I would have liked to have lessons like this when I was that age.”

Fishing letters – by Karlijn van der Meer

Fishing for letters – by Karlijn van der Meer

The other thing I experienced in that classroom was the happiness and confidence of the children. Although we ‘important’ visitors where in the classroom, the kids had the courage to stand up and give answers, even when they were not sure. In case of a wrong answer, children supported each other and, after each correct answer, all the children applauded. This is how you stimulate kids and make them feel confident! I could see the children liked it a lot.

After seeing the new sanitation block, with water, soap and separate sections for girls and boys, we ended the visit with dancing and singing again. By using their traditional culture, they teach children on topics such as HIV-prevention, life skills and female empowerment.

Good bye Kanyinya School – by Karlijn van der Meer

Goodbye Kanyinya School – by Karlijn van der Meer


Karlijn van der Meer

Karlijn van der Meer

I have worked for IKEA in the Netherlands for more than 15 years. During that time, I took two long breaks to volunteer in schools in India and Kenya. As a volunteer I have experienced how little you can do as an individual and how much help is needed. IKEA is a large global organization that is making a difference. Being an IWitness, I will see with my own eyes how money raised by the Soft Toys for Education campaign makes a difference in Rwanda. Hopefully I can also give you an idea by telling my stories and showing my pictures. And I am sure that you will then also be proud of IKEA helping millions of children receive a better education!

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