A long route
I had begun the steps to
leave abroad at the beginning of my last year at teaching school (the ISCaP, in
Brussels) with different NGOs, but I especially dedicated myself to my candidature
with Délipro, an NGO which seemed really serious and welcoming to me, and
which offered additional services such as a preselection of the candidates and
an interesting pre-departure training.
During the holidays of Easter 1990,
I also went to the AGCD training, in its residential formula, in the castle of
? It's during this training that I received my first job offer : Principal, teacher
and supervisor for the other teachers (yep, all that !) at Gitega's small Belgian
school, in Burundi. But I was not "enthousiast" for this exceptional
post : I did not really see myself as Principal and supervisor, at once after
my diploma and for my first departure abroad ; what's more the conditions were...
Er... little compelling : 6000 BEF (+/-150 USD) salary on the spot, 15 000 BEF
extra in Belgium, and lodging.
So I waited, and it seems I did well...
Belge de Goma
In May (?) I received another job offer through
Delipro : schoolteacher's position at the Belgian School of Goma, in Zaire. I
met the representative of the school during her passage in Belgium, and we signed
my contract ! You cannot imagine what I felt with this contract in hand, my first
employment contract, my passport for Africa... Furthermore it was good : 25 000
BEF plus the extra in Belgium, lodging, visas and plane ticket, and volunteer's
status which would allow me to avoid the military service (compulsory in Belgium
at the time).
Ooops... Private School with Belgian
Curriculum of Goma
This bliss will have been of short duration.
Three days later, Lumbumbashi's university (where my godmother taught for her
last year in Africa) was the theater of a bloody slaughter, masked by certain
local authorities. It was a new crisis between Belgium and Zaire, and any cooperation
was stopped at once. What, modestly, concerned me : my contract had no value anymore
and I would not have the volunteer's status, so I would have had, as a rule, to
do my military service at once...
But (because there is always a "but")
I had had the "good strange idea" to ask, at the beginning of the year,
for the last respite of military service to which I was entitled to, just in case
I would have needed a supplementary year to get my diploma ;) And here's what
I was told by the army in May : "You got a respite, boy, so don't you come
here before next year or then it's heaps of papers for us to do, got it ?"
Well, since I've to wait anyway...
The Belgian School was reorganized in
a private school, financed by the parents... Who had already had to do so previously
because of the "good" relations Belgium - Zaire at the time. Its representative
contacted me again, still wanting to hire me, with a new contract... No volunteer's
status and no extra in Belgium... Well, let's go, I sign : if the cooperation
starts again, I shall have "lost" only little, otherwise I would come
back at the end of the year to do my service, but I shall have lived something.
I shall not have made all these efforts for nothing !
None of these two
scenarios came true : at the end of the year I avoided the evacuation by leaving
right after the end of the school year, and for my military service I was evaluated
"physically unable" to do it... Thanks to the malaria I had had in Africa
! OK, enough, let's talk about the school...
Entrance of the Belgian school, on the road towards Rwanda
We never used the main entrance :
The "vehicles" entrance on the
side was more practical !
I had arrived
on Saturday in Goma (see "My house"),
and on Monday morning I began to settle down in my apartment, knowing that the
school re-opening was for the following Monday.
been a "glitch" somewhere... Because at about 7:30, in boxer shorts
on the step of my door, I listened to one of the school representatives explaining
to me that the school was reopening today, and that everybody waited for me there
Quick, let's find trousers and a shirt...
drove me to the school, where I passed by a row of smiling but apparently impatient
Impressed, I joined my future colleagues
and the committee (which managed the school) for an "emergency meeting"
while the parents and the children waited in the corridor.
"Hello Pierre. We have a small
problem : Monique hasn't any experience in 1st grade
teaching, whereas you have a few weeks experience
at this level : would you leave to her the third
grade we promised you and take the first grade class
But... Er.. It's just... I brought a whole trunk of materials for 3rd grade, and
nothing for the 1st !" Did I stupidly answered...
! That's great ! Can you give me these ?" answered very intelligently
the other teacher...
Monique and her third grade class
And that's how they got me... For my best.
I'll tell you about my 1st grade class on another
page (it certainly deserves one), but I have to mention here one of the elements
of this unexpected success...
This meeting ended, just before taking care
of the classes, a very dynamic Quebecois parent came to me and confided :
I am wel' happy that it's you who's my son's first grade teacher"
I answered :
"I hope that I'll up to the task ! I have almost no
And he said to me, with a big smile:
the point : you have the motivation, the idealism and the coolness of the youth
I'm confident ! You are going to do a formidable work !"
Christian collects his pupils after recess.
We had a typically
Belgian timetable and calendar,
except for the break from noon till 2:00 pm.
! Saint Denis !
Would I have shouted if I had had
some blue blood (and especially Jean Reno's stature).
I went to face, for the first time, my 18 first grade smurfs, under the humid
eyes of their parents.
Before closing temporarily this chapter,
waiting for the "my class" page, let's mention that they quickly were
only 16, my requirement being that they at least know how to write their first
name and say some words in French : so a pupil returned to Kindergarten, and the
other one went to the Zairean school.
who held one of both Goma's small Pre-K and K schools, was an extraordinary co-worker,
helping me and asking for my help.
made of several bizarre buildings scattered in a big piece of land with uneven
sides, a magnificent playground for the children. The main building sheltered
the 2nd, 3rd and 5th + 6th classes, as well as a secretariat and a reserve / teachers'
lounge (we never used it, preferring to stay outside).
the field were two small building for the 4th and 1st grade, as well as the "small
consulate", former Belgian consulate, remnant of the "beautiful era".
The main building, seen from the small consulate
The teachers staff was :
Béatrice and her second graders
Myself for 1st grade ;
- Béatrice for the 2nd grade
(on this picture, she lived on the other side of the border, in Rwanda, which
caused many problems of course) ;
- Monique and then Suzanne
for the 3rd grade ;
Jos for the 4th grade ;
- Christian for 5th + 6th and as
We were all new in the school, so you can imagine
that it was not easy.
Add to this all the troubles of this
For example, several times we heard rumours
of riots for the day just minutes before going to class, so we had to close the
school, then drive the already present children back to their houses with our
cars, before quickly going home ourselves to shelter...
There was also the
unexpected departure of the 3rd grade teacher in December, replaced by the happiest
of the fates by a Belgian schoolteacher (Suzanne) who... Passed there and stayed
As for the tornado and for the earthquake, I'll tell you about it on the
"my class" page.
All this did not prevent us from teaching
all year long and from giving to our pupils (a hundred) the whole Belgian curriculum.
Of course that means that we were schoolteachers in the widest sense, also teaching
gym, religion, morality, artistic activities, Dutch for the Belgians...
whole to pupils of at least fifteen different nationalities, for whom French was
not always the mother tongue, by teachers from different horizons also, and who
did not always agree on everything ;)
What a treasure
! I keep extraordinary recollections from it and would exchange this experience
for nothing in the world in spite of the difficulties, in spite of the errors
we all commited.
Christian and his 5th and 6th grades class
Geoffrey : "Hakuna Matata"
("no problem !")
Next page : My class