«Up to seven children come seeking advice every week»

In their role as trusted adults, teachers Jesca Emmanuel and Edmund Rugabumu are the first point of contact for all the children at their primary school in the Bukoba District of Tanzania. In this interview, they talk about child rights abuses, trust and changes.

Kemondo Primary School is situated on the western bank of Lake Victoria, nestled between banana trees above a little cone-shaped bay that stretches roughly two kilometres inland. As in most schools in the Bukoba District, more than 100 students cram themselves into classrooms here, presenting a huge challenge to the mostly poorly trained teachers. Roughly 200 people have already completed targeted advanced training as part of the «Increased Participation in Lessons in a Peaceful School Environment» project. Among them were Jesca Emmanuel and Edmund Rugabumu, who advocate for the children’s concerns in their role as trusted adults.

When was the role of trusted adults introduced?

Jesca Emmanuel: A good two and a half years ago. You completed a special training course.

What did you take away from this course?

Edmund Rugabamu: The training gave me a better understanding of myself and more time to understand the children I work with. I came to the realisation that punishment is not the right way to change a child’s behaviour. In most cases, children need guidance. Jesca Emmanuel: The process started with the children choosing those teachers who they thought would be most suitable as trusted adults. During the training course I learnt how to look after and communicate with the children when they have specific concerns. When a child is in a situation that means they cannot open up to just anyone, it is important that they know how to express themselves. This can be encouraged with special methods and guidance.

«During the training course I came to the realisation that punishment is not the right way to change a child’s behaviour»

The two trusted adults, Jesca Emmanuel and Edmund Rugabamu, in the headteacher’s office at Kemonda Primary School in Bukoba near Lake Victoria.

How did you manage to establish the necessary level of trust with the children?

Jesca Emmanuel: This was far from easy and took quite some time. The children first had to learn that they could talk to us without having to fear any negative consequences. The children’s clubs also helped as they spread the message on awareness of child rights and potential abuses to the other students. Since the children’s clubs was started, the children have known where they can turn to if, for example, a parent is not looking after a child or is beating them at home.

How often do your students confide violations of their rights to you?

Edmund Rugabamu: Up to seven children seek advice from us each week. Jesca Emmanuel: I look after the girls and they have specific concerns and problems. If certain issues come up regularly, I sometimes offer a meeting place where I can talk to all the girls about that particular concern. This helps me keep my finger on the pulse and I know what tends to be on their minds.

Is the number of cases rising or falling in the long run?

Jesca Emmanuel: I think that they are increasing. However, this rise must be seen in the context of increased awareness among the children that they can confide in us.

When are you happy with your work?

Edmund Rugabamu: I am happy when I see that the children trust me. When they come by and talk to me about things that they do not have the confidence to speak about at home. I am happy when I have the opportunity to guide a child and ultimately see that they have changed for the better. Jesca Emmanuel: I am happy because I feel as though the students behave differently when they are in a class with other teachers. I am very close to the children and they trust me. I am more than a teacher for them – and that gives me great satisfaction.

How do the parents view your work?

Edmund Rugabamu: The parents are pleased because most of them have never received this kind of training. When the children misbehave, they take the traditional route and beat them. But at the same time, they can see that this does not work. Thanks to the training from the project, we can point out some new approaches. Sometimes parents come and tell me that they are tired of striking their children. Now they can see the changes we are making and they are grateful that they have someone to help them with these matters.

«The children first had to learn that they could talk to us without having to fear any negative consequences.»