Professor Creates International Bridges with Burundi Schools Project

Posted: June 4, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

students in Burundi
Mason professor Elavie Ndura, a Burundi native, has undertaken a project to provide educational supplies to youths — like these secondary school students — in her home country.

By Jennifer Halpin

In Burundi, a landlocked country in the Great Lakes region of Africa, a lack of basic necessities is common. Emerging from more than 12 years of civil war, the country also lacks educational resources.

It is not unusual to see one elementary school with one teacher for 103 students or one bilingual dictionary for 600 students. French is the national language, but children begin learning English in the eighth grade.

When Elavie Ndura visited several secondary schools during a research trip to Burundi last summer, the seed for the Gift of Knowledge Burundi Schools Project was planted.

Elavie Ndura in Burundi
Elavie Ndura in Burundi
Photos courtesy Elavie Ndura

Ndura, a native of Burundi, is an associate professor in the Initiatives in Educational Transformation program at Mason. She returned to Burundi after 17 years in exile to study educators’ perceptions of the role of education in the quest for sustainable peace.

During the trip, she became aware of the conditions of the schools. None of the schools had computers or a copy machine. Teachers had to travel miles to make copies of the national exams for their students. Copies of daily assignments or research materials were cost-prohibitive and sometimes nonexistent, putting the students’ learning at a great disadvantage.

Yet, in all the conversations that took place during Ndura’s visits, teachers and students asked her to help them acquire teaching and learning materials, never something personal for themselves. “I was captivated by the students’ motivation and desire to learn,” says Ndura. “This never wavered in spite of their impoverished environment.”

The schools in Burundi were not always in such dire straits. “When I was a student in Burundi, the schools were good and had resources. The war has taken its toll on the educational system, teachers and students,” she says.

Fulfilling a Mission

Since her visit to Burundi last summer, Ndura has made it her mission to seek educational materials and financial donations to send to Burundi schools. She partnered with the nonprofit Prevention Program Trust Inc. to form the Gift of Knowledge Burundi Schools Project so that all donations would be tax deductible. One hundred percent of all donations go directly to the Burundi Schools Project.

Ndura returned to Burundi in May to personally deliver 15 of the 20 containers filled with donated dictionaries and school supplies to the project coordinator in Burundi. She will be working with the local coordinator and the Ministry of Education to distribute the books and materials directly to the schools. Without this hands-on approach, Ndura explains, delivery to the selected schools would be at risk because of prevalent corruption and crime.

Ethiopia Airlines allowed Ndura to bring two of the containers free of charge, but the program is seeking additional donations to help cover the transportation costs for the rest of the supplies.

Various Northern Virginia organizations have supported the project. Kerrie Sheaffer, a former student of Ndura’s, coordinated collecting donations of basic school supplies from Fox Mill Elementary School in Herndon, Va., where she currently teaches. Hayden Elementary School in Prince William County donated 260 used English dictionaries when new ones were purchased for its classrooms.

Members of the Mason community collected $250 and more than 300 French–English dictionaries. And several Burundi community members in the United States also made monetary donations.

The World Bank Family Network Book Project (WBFNBP) is working with Ndura to assist in shipping future donations of books and supplies to Burundi. Ndura hopes to become more involved with WBFNBP as the project grows.

Cascading Benefits

In addition to her work with the Burundi Schools Project, Ndura was also instrumental in securing a memorandum of understanding between Mason and the Burundi Ministry of National Education and Culture, which Mason Provost Peter Stearns signed on May 5.

The memorandum provides for the possibility of exchange of faculty and students, as well as scientific and reference materials between Burundi and Mason. Both institutions also agree to explore possibilities of collaboration on joint research activities, conferences and participation in seminars and academic meetings.

The schools project has been well received in Burundi. Last year while visiting the United States, the Burundi minister of education requested a meeting with Ndura after hearing about the Burundi project. She took him to Signal Hill Elementary School, a French immersion school in Prince William County.

She reports that the minister was extremely interested in the school’s computer lab, something never seen in a school in Burundi. As a direct result of his visit, a twinship is being formed between Signal Hill and Rumonge Elementary School in southern Burundi.

While coordinating this project, Ndura is also continuing her research. She is currently working on a pilot study on professional development needs and management. Ndura will also conduct a workshop for 500 Burundi teachers on teaching and evaluation.

“I believe if you take something from someone, you always give something in return,” Ndura says. “If I’m going to use the data I collect from the students and teachers in Burundi, I need to do it in a culturally supportive way. That is why I am so passionate about helping the schools in Burundi become a positive environment in which to learn.”

Tax-deductible donations to the schools project can be made through the Prevention Program Trust Inc. and sent to Ndura at her address: College of Education and Human Development, George Mason University, 10900 University Boulevard, MS 4E4, Manassas, VA 20110.

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