Beat goes on for Burundi project
The drum beat, preceded by a tribal yell, sounded off-stage before audience members saw five men clad in colourful swaths of fabric charge onto the raised platformatWestwood Sr. High School lastWednesday night.
The show was part of the curriculum night where students involved in theWestwood Bridge to Burundi Project also had a chance to updated the school community on their progress. And there was a lot to report. The ongoing effort helped fund the opening last September of two classrooms.
As many as 95 grade-one children are being taught at the new schoolhouse, called L’école primaire RwogaWestwood.
The school is located in Rwoga, a village in Burundi, on the African continent.
Westwood teacher Jean-Claude Manirakiza, whocomes fromRwoga andwhoinitiated the project, returned last month froma five month stay in his formerhomevillage.
"We have hired two teachers from the ministry of education (in Burudi)," he said, adding, "We’ve just finished two other classrooms so next year we’ll have four classes."
Westwood’s fundraising efforts must still amass enoughmoney this year to buy roofing materials for the new rooms, which will be used next year for grade-two classes.
And high school students in Rwoga are now able to study in lighted classrooms during the evening thanks to solar panels Manirakiza packed in his suitcase before leaving Canada.
"I didn’t know how hard it would be to get solar panels (in Burundi), so I took them with me instead of a lot of clothing," he explained with a laugh.
During his trip, Manirakiza helped install at the school a 1,000 litre water basin used to collect rain water.
A sink and faucets were installed below the basin so sanitized rainwater can be used by students for hand washing.
And the project has added a "medical health aspect" to its mandate.
"Originally, it was supposed to just be an educational project but we have had some partnerswho want to teach things in the village like basic hygiene, balanced nutrition and basic health," Manirakiza explained.
The beat goes on
The five drummers who took to the stage following the project update were members of Rhythm Umurisho.
Though each now calls Montreal home, the men were born in Burundi where drumming is an art form passed from generation to generation.
Audience members were treated to a unique, lively show that included choreographed drum routines and dancing.
Rhythm Umurisho derived its name from the umurisho tree, which is indigenous to Burundi and is used to make the distinctive drums.
The name means "trees that make drums speak."
The tops of the drums, made from ox or cow skin, are fastened with wooden pegs, while drummers play the solid (and very heavy) drums with sticks called imirisho.
Michel Mbonimpa, a member of Rhythm Umurisho, said while the group plays at cultural or special occasions, it supports Westwood’s Bridge to Burundi Project whenever possible.
"It’s a good thing to build a school in the village," Mbonimpa said, recalling how he had to walk 20 kilometres each day for his own schooling in Burundi.
"It is easier when the school is right there so more children can learn," he said.
History of project
Westwood students adopted the Bridge to Burundi Project last year after hearing Manirakiza’s story during a student leadership camp.
The youngest of six children, Manirakiza, who now lives in Pincourt, spoke of his life in Rwoga where he was born.
His childhood included witnessing civil war and genocide between Hutu and Tutsi groups.
And the day his father, a local merchant, was dragged from the home when Manirakiza was eight years old.
"My father was killed because (the Tutsi’s) said he was involved in Hutu politics," Manirakiza said.
The family was unable to bury the patriarch because his body was never returned.
Manirakiza and his fiancé left Burundi for Belgium in 1993, after his mother was killed.
Though he has made a life in Quebec with his wife and daughters, Manirakiza said he never forgot his village.
BeforeWestwood students adopted the project as their own, students from Beurling Academy in Verdun, where Manirakiza formerly taught, also contributed to the effort.
Members of Rhythm Umurisho, who come from Burudi, performed at Westwood Sr. High School last week.