RATs in Rwanda!news1_Nov08

Who are the RATs?

As you will have noticed, this newsletter looks different from the ones you usually receive from Meg. That's because Meg hasn't written it. The RATs have! Who are the RATs? Well we are 4 teenagers all from the Barrow area that all went to Dowdales school: Matthew Hillman, Sam Addenbrook, Chris Fitzpatrick and James Flynn.

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Our hats went down well

 Through Meg, Dowdales became involved in fundraising for the Kinamba nursery project, and raised just over £1,500. Last year however, Mrs Moffatt managed to get us to run the entire thing! So, with massive amounts of support from everyone in the school and in the local community we managed to raise £15,000, in just under 10 months.

We ran various and varied events to make this possible, everything from air guitar competitions at school right through to concerts at a local media and arts centre, The Canteen.

The original RATs have now left Dowdales, and all moved to Barrow 6th form College, but rest assured we have not moved on from the appeal! We will keep raising money and keep working to further this fantastic project!

Dowdales now have a much bigger RAT team, already branded "RAT pack 2" 15 members will work at school to try and beat the

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Two local children in the
doorway of their house.

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target of £15 000 that was raised last year, and we will work at college and in the wider community to widen the appeal and try and make more than last year, luck and the credit crunch permitting!

The rest of this newsletter will concentrate on our amazing visit to Rwanda in July this year! The four of us were invited to spend 12 days in the country with Meg, looking at the effect our money had, the project in general and the country itself. This has allowed us to gain lots of knowledge and passion for the appeal making our position easier with brilliant eyewitness accounts!

"The project is remarkable, the people are astonishing. They really deserve our continued help"

Visiting the Nursery

After a long journey, and lots of physical exercise lugging all the bags of clothes and equipment for the school, we arrived in the country. Obviously the most important thing we visited in our time there was the nursery and the school! We know it's a cliché and something said so often about things like this, but it's true. Words cannot describe the feeling we all got when we walked up the driveway to be mobbed by excited curious youngsters eager to learn and so pleased to see us.

They managed to tackle the driveway much better than wecould. When we went the driveway hadn't been completed and it's testament to everyone that now it has.

The first day we visited the nursery the children weren't there as we arrived later on due to several jobs having to be done first, but we did manage to see some of the women's projects.

The second day was Rwandan National Liberation Day. A cause for great celebration across the country, we were lucky enough to be invited, a real privilege. We were made very welcome, welcome enough to lose our inhibitions and get up dancing at the end!

The other days that we visited the school were spent in the classes, working with the children and observing the classes.

It was amazing to watch the children pouring their porridge into the cups of the thinnest children. In a place where there is so little, there is still enough to share. A lesson in life we could all do with.

The enthusiasm and drive to learn could be seen in the children. They were always excited and ever ready for the next task and challenge. A phenomenal place!

The Mountain Gorillas & Akagera

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"Big Ben" Brushing past our legs.

The terrain and flora and fauna of Rwanda were much different from how we all envisaged them. It was much greener than any of us anticipated and nothing demonstrates the wildlife and plants of Rwanda better than our trip to see the mountain gorillas and to Akagera National Park.

We were all excited about visiting the Gorillas; it was an early morning to get breakfast, but more than worth it! We visited the Sabinyo group of gorillas; this group was of particular interest as it contained both the biggest mountain gorilla in the world and the gorilla named "Big Ben" by the British Ambassador. Seeing the gorillas in the wild was just amazing! The feeling was unbelievable and the views were stunning, definitely something we will never forget.

We also visited the Akagera National Park. An even earlier morning 5am! But an equally fantastic experience. Dalton, where we live, has a zoo but nothing can compare though to seeing giraffes, zebras and hippos in the wild. The elephants managed to evade us mind... a perfect excuse to go back!

The Genocide Memorial Centre

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We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to visit the Rwandan national Genocide Memorial Centre, a fantastically powerful and very moving place of commemoration and remembrance.

It was shocking to see many pictures of people killed in the events of 1994, and to find that was only a fraction of the estimated 1 million victims.

The stories were incredible, the atrocities appalling, we still find it hard to understand how Rwandans today can be so "normal" after seeing what many of them have.

Visiting the children's Homes

We had mixed feelings originally about being invited into the homes of some of the children to see the conditions they live in.

We felt like in some ways that it would be very useful and interesting to take some pictures of living conditions to allow us to better explain the situation in Rwanda to people at home.

In other ways we felt like we were intruding, imagine the reaction of people here in the UK if we asked if we could go in to and take pictures of their houses.

The Rwandans were really welcoming and made us feel at ease. It became immediately obvious that people are very proud of what they have and did the best to make the most of it.

As we were coming into the houses the people were doing their best to tidy up and make things look as presentable as they could.

Meg summed this up in the best way: "Just because people are living in abject poverty does not mean they are living in squalor".

Thank You's

We had the most fantastic time in Rwanda. Thanks are due to many people: Firstly, Mrs. Moffatt for getting us involved in the project and helping and supporting us in organizing and getting out to Rwanda.

Secondly, everyone at Dowdales, staff pupils and visitors alike, in one way or another you have all made a contribution and all had an impact on this appeal!

We even managed to scrounge £20 off the Ofsted Inspectors!

The local community have also had a large part to play supporting our appeal from the start and holding all sorts of events, and supporting these events. They also publicised our appeal with posters in shop windows and articles in the paper.

Last but certainly not least thanks are due to Meg, thanks for putting up with us, thanks for getting us involved, thanks for developing the whole project.

Thanks for everything!

The RATs

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