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Teacher takes sabbatical to teach in Rwanda

By By Ida Brown/The Meridian Star
July 28, 2001
Not long after earning her National Board Certified Teacher designation, Sharon Chatham decided to take a sabbatical from her position at Northeast Elementary School to teach in Rwanda, Africa.
One year later, Chatham has resigned after 14 years with the Lauderdale County School District to return to the East Central Africa school as administrator.
Located in Ruhengeri, the facility, Sonrise Boarding School, is part of the Episcopalian Diocese of Shyira (which is in Rwanda). According to Chatham, the school is a primary first through sixth boarding school for orphans of Rwanda. In 1994, one million Rwandans were killed in 100 days during a genocide. The school's orphans are a result of the massacre.
So how did a Mississippi teacher become associated with a side of the world she knew nothing about?
Upon her return home, Chatham took a one-year sabbatical from the Lauderdale County schools to teach in Rwanda.
The school is located in Ruhengeri, which is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Shyira. Construction of the facility was completed in two years, however the school was not ready to open upon Chatham's arrival to teach.
Although she intended to teach, Chatham was asked to serve as the school's administrator.
Chatham has resigned from the county school district and plans to return to the boarding school to serve as administrator for three years.
The school's objective is to provide for the educational, physical and spiritual needs of the children. The facility, which will open in September, will accommodate 480 students in 12 classrooms with 40 students each.
Chatham will oversee a staff that includes 16 teachers, support personnel (matrons to care for the kids) and others (kitchen and cleaning staff).
The Rwanda's national curriculum will be applied, but it will be enhanced.
Although the facility is an English-speaking school, Chatham is trying to learn the language known as "kyirawandan." However, it has been more difficult to learn than she anticipated.
The language has not been Chatham's only adjustment. Although the changes have not been as traumatic as she expected, they have required some effort.
But the pluses make up for the minuses. Chatham describes the weather as "like our best spring day, everyday." There is much rainfall, but a nice one, she said, and rich fertile farmland that produces much of the country's crop.
Because there is no television, Chatham has had to find ways to occupy her free time. She does needlework and has taught quilting classes to 14 to 21-year-olds. She also has taught English to adults.
Since her return home, the Northpoint Presbyterian Church member has made several presentations at churches throughout the Meridian area. Because she is a missionary in the country, she is not paid a salary. Thus, she must secure funds to cover her expenses.
To contact Chatham for a speaking engagement, call her at 681-8212. A sponsorship program for the students is available.
For more information about the Sonrise Boarding School, visit the Web sites mustardseedproject.org or sonriseorphasministry.org
Ida Brown is special sections editor for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at ibrown@themeridianstar.com or call her at 693-1551, ext. 3224.