Jeanne Mukaruhogo is familiar with many cultures. She was born in Burundi where she lived in the SOS Children’s Village before moving to the Children’s Village in Imst, Austria. After finishing her studies, she worked for Children’s Villages in different locations throughout Africa. Today, she is the Africa expert for SOS Children’s Villages in Germany. Encouraging Germans to embrace other cultures is important to her. In her school programme “With Jeanne across Africa”, she takes school children, companies or donators on an exciting journey across the African continent.
90 promising minutes on Africa are scheduled for a third year class at the primary school Grundschule Schenefelder Landstraße in Iserbrook, Hamburg this morning. The 27 girls and boys participating in this programme are eagerly observing Jeanne Mukaruhogo as she enters the room. She is still carrying the map of the continent as a roll of paper under her arm. Colourful countries can be seen as she rolls out the poster and sticks it to the black board. Jeanne will be writing and illustrating much of the information she is giving the children today on the poster because in this way, their knowledge of Africa will grow and the poster can be hung up in the class room afterwards. Jeanne greets all participants of the school programme, briefly speaks about her African background and then starts conversing with the children: “Who of you has ever been to Africa?” The girls and boys think for a minute, they look at each other. No one raises their hand. They have never travelled that far before, even if some of them have vacationed on the Canary Islands (which are fairly close to West Africa but belong to Spain). To most children, Africa is a large and unknown continent with lots of sun, desert and wild animals. In order for them to learn more about Africa, Jeanne takes the children on a journey across its landscapes and climates and manages to turn the daily routine of schools and families into an excursion. “What’s the highest mountain in Africa?” Jeanne asks them. Most of the children have heard of Kilimanjaro which is nearly 6,000 meters high. Madagascar is also well known, and simply mentioning it creates excitement amongst them. “How many languages are spoken in Africa?” When Jeanne reveals that there are more than 2,000 languages spoken in Africa, the children are amazed. A quick question round shows that barely anyone in the class speaks more than three languages. Some even include their dialects as well. After fifteen minutes it is quite clear already that Africa is more than the sum of its clichés. When Jeanne tells them a story about a bird that was swallowed by a crocodile and then somehow miraculously survived in the giant reptile’s stomach, the room is completely silent. It livens up again when talking about school. “How long do you need to get to school in the morning?” Jeanne asks them. “Ten minutes on my bike“, “It’s a five-minute walk”; all girls and boys want to tell Jeanne how long they need. “Can you imagine that many children in Africa have to walk nearly two hours to get to school?” No, this surprises them.
Reactions to the school programme
To keep the daily school routine from being abstract, Jeanne breaks up the rhythm of the lesson by showing them how children sit at tables in Africa. She asks Lukas in the third row to come to Lara and Paul’s table. The three of them have to move close enough together so that they are all able to sit at the table with their exercise books and pencil cases. ”It’s really tight”, “Gosh…”, “It’s impossible” are some of the comments. Then Jeanne takes two school uniforms out of her bag. One is from Ethiopia, the other from Senegal. A girl and a boy try these on. In the process, a lively discussion for or against school uniforms develops. The children learn that uniforms are especially useful in regions where families are poor. “When wearing school uniforms you can’t see who is poor or rich”, Carla says. Jeanne illustrates the struggle of having access to clean water by showing pictures of wells, tank trucks and water buckets. Even though the bell rings, the children still listen closely for the last few minutes before heading to the school playground.