Sophie Blackall Illustration

Drawings and Snippets and Breaking News, (but more snippets than breaking news).

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Visiting schools in Rwanda

I am back home in Brooklyn, after my brief but intense time in Rwanda, Land of a Thousand Hills. It has taken a bit of time to digest all that I saw there, not to mention the home-brewed banana beer which had, shall we say, a lasting effect.
To back track: I was visiting Rwanda as a guest of Save the Children, UK, to learn about their International Children's Book Initiative, and to produce some illustrations for them on my return. The Rwandan Children's Book Initiative is introducing books into schools where few, if any exist. They have designed sweet little wooden cupboards to hold the classroom library, and will provide mats for children to sit on while they read. They are encouraging local writers and artists and publishers to create books, and are holding workshops to help them get started.

I grew up surrounded by books. Every spare moment of my childhood was spent up a tree, reading. My father is a publisher, and I too have chosen a career making books. It's impossible to imagine my life without them. And therefore thrilling to be involved in this project which allows children to hold their first book and open the pages to new world.

My first few days were spent in Burera, up near the Ugandan border, visiting schools.
 This school was at the foot of a volcano, home to Dian Fossey's gorillas in the mist.
This is a typical classroom...
...which can get pretty crowded when everyone is present.
Girls wear blue and boys wear beige in government schools. 
And they have uniformly cropped hair.
This is one of the stocked book cupboards provided by Save the Children.

and children...
have embraced them enthusiastically.

 I took a stack of books to share, books with lots of pictures and few words, and universal-ish themes. (Thank you for your suggestions!) 

Here I am reading Sergio Ruzzier's Bear and Bee.

Teachers had left lovely ghosty drawings on blackboards.

But paper was scarce and pens and pencils even scarcer. 
I had packed accordingly: few clothes, lots and lots of art supplies.
I was itching to draw with the kids.

And so we did.

Class sizes were huge, often 60 or more kids and there was not a whole lot of room to spread out, or surfaces on which to draw, but we didn't care.

These guys at desks, I set up with a letter or number to illustrate.

We found some wall space for this bunch.

These girls and boys took to the floor...

And I moved outside with this lot.
 Others came to join in.
We were concentrating so hard, we almost didn't notice the scene growing behind us...

Back inside everyone was still busy, and I realized something incredible.

The world over...
Whether kids have drawn for years or are holding a marker for the first time...
Girls will draw girls and boys will draw cars.



 They also drew animals...

 And houses.

And they used every inch of the paper.

Some were very proud of their work.

Some were a bit shy.

But most of us were giddy with joy.

Rwanda’s brutal history lies just beneath the surface. Twenty years ago in April, an estimated 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, men women and children, were brutally murdered.
These are some of the thousands of children who died.

 I can’t stop dwelling on details of the massacre. And I find myself going back to read more and more about those six bloody weeks, trying to make sense of it... and failing. And then I seek out this photograph from the last day in Burera. And feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to spend a few hours with these children, and hope that they will live long, happy lives without fear.

And also, perhaps, lives filled with books.