Travels with Susan Spano

People, Places, Stuff


July 15, 2018

Tags: TEFL, Rwanda, ELF

Contest launches at the
Institut Catholique de Kabgayi, Muhanga, Rwanda

Some 75 primary and secondary school students from the Muhanga District (and beyond) will share their dreams by giving speeches in English at the first annual SPEAK UP! contest, to be held on Saturday, June 23, 2018, from 9am to 1:30pm, at the Institut Catholique de Kabgayi (ICK) in Muhanga.
The contestants will be welcomed by keynote speaker, Peter H. Vrooman, Ambassador of the United States of America to Rwanda.

The theme of the contest is “I have a dream” from the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Students will tell us their dreams for themselves, their families, their communities, and the country in 1-3-minute speeches. They have been prepared and selected by their English teachers and English club facilitators.

Sponsored by the U.S. State Department English Language Fellows (ELF) program, the contest aims to motivate English language learning and encourage high level learners. Please join us for this great event!

SPEAK UP! press release

SPEAK UP! was the brainchild of Vivens Hitiyaremye, coordinator of the English Language Resource Center (ELRC) at ICK, Susan Spano, an ELF posted at ICK from October 2017 to July 2018, and Wellars Bakina, the acting dean of ICK’s Journalism and PR program.
ICK is a Catholic university specializing in social sciences, with community outreach as an important part of its mission. Vivens had worked with former ELF’s to support English clubs at local schools. SPEAK UP! flowed from that effort, as a way to galvanize interest in English language teaching and learning in the Muhanga District.
We began on March 26, 2018, with a day-long workshop for 23 English teachers and club facilitators representing 16 schools, introducing the contest idea and offering workshops on skills needed to teach public speaking: Ethics (Vivens), Writing the Speech (Pamela Watkins, Peace Corps Response Volunteer), Pronunciation Activities (Kigali ELF Alexis Franks), and Strategies to Encourage Speaking (Susan). Below, Alexis teaches pronunciation at the workshop and a slide from the introductory PowerPoint explaining why we decided to call the contest SPEAK UP!

The teachers then had almost three months to work with students and choose contestants to send to the competition. Word spread—partly thanks to the Peace Corps grapevine—adding schools from as far away as Musanze (a four-hour bus ride from Muhanga).
Our 11-person planning committee (Vivens, Wellars, Elaine Kerry, Jean Gashirahamwe, Laurien Ikuzwe, Sonia Kamaliza, Salomon Niwenshuti, Placide Pity, Tom Sabella, Kristina Thompson, and me) went to work, ironing out details, creating a judging rubric, providing an information packet for teachers, inviting judges and speakers, and ordering snacks and materials.
We decided to accept two participants (one girl, one boy) from each school in three categories— Primary (grades 1-6), O-level (grades 7-9), and A-level (grades 10-12)—planning to choose one winner for each category. Judges also had the option of giving awards for humor, creativity, and emotional impact in each category. All contestants would get SPEAK UP! tee shirts and certificates of participation; winners would get special winner tees and certificates, as well as 5,000 Rwf each.
Contestants were given three minutes to speak, without amplification. They were identified by number, not by name or school, to avoid any suggestion of judging impartiality.
Ten students from the ICK English Club served as members of our Protocol Team, registering contestants, ushering them to their seats, giving directions, tallying scores, and helping to complete certificates. Each participating school sent one student to work with them on the Protocol Team, hopefully encouraging interest in future SPEAK UP! competitions.

We struggled with speaking topics until Peace Corps volunteer Elaine Kerry came up with the idea of having everyone speak about the same thing: their dreams. This gave us the Reverend
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech as a theme, to which the embassy added an MLK display. It was quite moving to watch the contestants tell us their dreams in front of a poster of MLK. One of Elaine’s students drew his own portrait of MLK which we turned into a poster and raffled off at the end of the contest.

When U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda, the Honorable Mr. Peter H. Vrooman, accepted our invitation to give a keynote speech, the excitement intensified. ICK Vice Chancellor Father Dr. Balthazar Ntivuguruzwa agreed to make welcoming remarks.

U.S. Ambassador Peter H Vrooman Vice Chancellor Father Dr. Balthazar Ntivuguruzwa

Finally, we filled out two judging panels (one for Primary and O level, another for A level) with
Rwandan educators Joeivan Mwesigwa Kataraia and Eugene Rusekampunzi; U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Officer Marissa Rollens; Association of Teachers of English in Rwanda (ATER) president, Richard Niyibigira; Peace Corps Assistant TEFL Program Manager Kassim Ndindabahizi; and Peace Corps Response Volunteer Pamela Watkins.

Judging Panel A Judging Panel B

Saturday, June 23, 2018 Institut Catholique de Kabgayi (ICK)
Contest Program
8:00 am Registration for participants, Protocol
Team members, and teachers begins
9:00 am Contest opening with remarks by The Honorable Mr. Peter H. Vrooman, Ambassador of the United States of America to Rwanda, and Fr.
Dr. Balthazar Ntivuguruzwa, ICK Vice Chancellor
9:30 am Primary (P1-P6) and O Level (S1-S3) competitions
11:00 am Intermission with snacks, Martin
Luther King Jr. exhibit, and art table for students
11:30 am A Level (S4-S6) competition followed by a brief pause for score tallying 1:00 pm Closing awards ceremony with raffle winner announcements
Congratulations to winners and participants

Teachers pre-registered some 50 contestants, but when the big day came we found we had 67 speakers because we accepted some last-minute arrivals. This wreaked havoc with our planning. We ran out of snacks, had to run to a copy shop to print additional certificates during the contest, and needed to order about a dozen extra tee shirts to give out after the event. Moreover, the contest ran very long, from 9:30 am to about 3 pm.
But it was pure joy to listen to the kids talk about why they wanted to be doctors, aviation engineers, mayors, presidents, peace-makers or just as good and kind as mom.



One unexpected high point came when we learned that the Bishop of Muhanga, His Excellency Smaragade Mbonyintege, had arrived to welcome the ambassador. He couldn’t stay for the contest, but the two of them had a tête-à-tête in the vice chancellor’s office before the competition began.

Ambassador Vrooman and Bishop Mbonyintege

For the contestants the high point was the announcement of winners, of course. Here’s who the judges chose:
Primary level
First Place—Irakoze Aurore, St. Augustin, Gahogo
Creativity—Nshimyumuremyi Geden, St. Andre, Gitarama
Emotional Impact—Muragijimana Liliane

O level
First Place—Agasaro Nicole, Mater Dei, Nyanza
Creativity—Ndahiro Erwin, Mater Dei, Nyanza
Emotional Impact--Mudacyahwa Bella Junior, Notre Dame de Lourdes, Byimana
Humor—Umutoniwase Dalilaa, Rubona

A level
First Place--Umwari Ineza Harriet, St. Joseph, Kabgayi
Creativity—Umurerwa Josiane, Mater Dei, Nyanza
Emotional Impact--Uwiringitimana Joselyne, Notre Dame de Lourdes, Byimama Humor--Rutayisire Boris, St. Marie Reine, Kabgayi

That’s the story of the first annual SPEAK UP! contest, a hugely happy story, which is not to say that everything went perfectly. The event was too long and we ran out of supplies, partly because we allowed students who hadn’t pre-registered to take part. It would have been beneficial to better monitor the preparation and selection of contestants. And future iterations should attract an audience from the community, as well as press coverage.

The key phrase there is future iterations. What will it take to make SPEAK UP! an annual occasion of importance in Muhanga, to spread it to other districts across Rwanda, and someday throughout Central East Africa? U.S. Embassy, Peace Corps, and ICK support, local teacher enthusiasm, and students who want to learn English (fortunately not lacking).


  1. December 18, 2018 5:01 AM EST
    we thank you SUSAN, this moment was very wonderful the we also thank you for your contribution in promoting English so, as you said earlier, contest aims to motivate English language learning and encourage high level learners I can assure that we will be working hand in hand with other student of Catholic university of Kabagyi as well as Primary and secondary students

    again Tank you
    - Camarade MUHIRE
From the first annual SPEAK UP! contest, June 23, 2018, Muhanga, Rwanda

Syracuse Archaeological Museum, Sicily

Proshyan School bathroom with water tank

Takar and Kataro are my favorite Armenia reds

School time in Armenia.

Garni Temple, Armenia

Big Sur from Soberanes Point


Artichoke Pickers by Henriette Shore

On the way to the beach

Jalama Beach, CA

Hello, little sea urchin!

Famous Jalama Beach Burger

Three by Peter Hessler

Spring time on the Big Sur Coast


Jalama Beach, CA

Motya Charioteer. Image from

Laboratory for Atmospheres, NASA

Homesick for Rome

Therme Vals in Switzerland

At Vogelsgang

National Socialist Party poster from Vogelsgang

Palm Springs

Image courtesy of Tylas at English Wikipedia

Vintage Naples Historic District

From Palm Cottage

Borobudur frieze; Buddha's life

Borobudur at sunrise

Shikellamy State Park in Pennsylvania

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Image courtesy of Politics and Prose

Image courtesy of John Wehrheim.

Lotusland in Montecito, CA

Ganna Walska of Lotusland

Image courtesy of Flickr user ViaMoi.

Conques Church. Image courtesy of Flickr user Seligr.

Weiming Lake, Peking University. Image courtesy of Flickr user ImGump.

The Coral Casino at the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel near Santa Barbara

Agrodome, Rotorua, New Zealand. Image courtesy of Flickr user _gem_.

Vandalized images at Painted Rock

Painted Rock, Carrizo Plain National Monument

Mesa Verde National Park. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons user BenFrantzDale.

A map of Chicago, Illinois, imprinted in 1913 from the United States Geographical Survey’s historical topographic map collection. Image courtesy of the USGS.

Image courtesy of Flickr user hattiesburgmemory.

Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro. Image courtesy of Flickr user alobos flickr.

Image courtesy of Flickr user joiseyshowaa.

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Selected Works

Nonfiction, Travel, Human Interest
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Tracking Colette in Paris and Burgundy
A draught sinks Lake Powell, revealing lost wonders of Glen Canyon
Rome's Most Roman Neighborhood
Studying Mandarin in Beijing
Around the world and back to New York
Nonfiction Book
Divorce. Why do we do it? And what does it do to us? fourteen prominent writers have pondered these questions and have set down heir thoughts and personal stories, in this gathering of sometimes irreverent and always intelligent essays. "A disarmingly candid, invaluable collection." --Publishers Weekly
"Anyone who doubts that men, too, suffer in divorce should be required to read this." --Glamour Magazine "A rare, unusually focused anthology of original essays that both entertains and instructs." --Publishers Weekly

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