When I finished my graduate studies, my wife and I decided to join the Peace Corps, so I did not immediately begin teaching as an adjunct as I had originally planned. My teaching experience in Africa is somewhat unusual, so I would like to preface it with a brief explanation.
I was assigned to Rubengera Teacher Training College, which is an upper level secondary school. Students range from 15 to 28 years old, with an average age of about 21. In January 2014, I began teaching all of the art classes. These are some of the unique challenges that I faced:
• The average class size is 60 students.
• Most students have very low English proficiency.
• There were no art supplies, not even paper and pencils, upon my arrival.
• There was no budget for purchasing supplies.
• Students had received no prior art education.
• There was no art curriculum, but art is on the Rwandan National Exam (SAT/ACT equivalent).
• Many students had never seen a pencil.
• No students had ever used a brush or paint.
• Many students were unable to name more than three colors in their native language.
The only materials I used to teach are a blackboard (a wall painted black) and chalk. I was given two years to create a sustainable art program from nothing. I began teaching art theory in the classroom, but for art practice I established an after-school student cooperative called Amahoro Art (Amahoro is Kinyarwanda for Peace.) I taught my students how to make paint out of eggs, dirt, and charcoal. I bought them a ream of paper and a few brushes, and I showed them how to paint small greeting cards. After a few weeks of earth tones, we started to crush leftover pieces of colored chalk into pigment. They began to make very colorful cards which they sell to tourists. These cards were made available for purchase at two souvenir shops in Rwanda. The cooperative was fully funded by their sales, and the surplus was used to expand the art program at the school.
Upon finishing my service they had about 50 brushes, and some students were beginning to experiment with acrylic paints. However, for the purpose of sustainability the students primarily used egg tempera. Amahoro Art was the only school art program in Rwanda which produces artwork. There is no art specific study track in Rwandan secondary schools or universities. The University of Rwanda has a College of Art and Social Sciences, but it has no fine art related classes. All of my students were studying Science, Early Childhood Development, Social Studies, or Modern Languages.
Starting in January 2015 my focus shifted to sustainability. The students ran the cooperative independently, and I only attend to observe and advise. I trained a University of Rwanda graduate to replace me in 2016. He began teaching some of the art classes and advised Amahoro Art after I left Rwanda.
Here are some of the greeting cards painted by students at Rubengera TTC: