Shaftesbury Treasure Hunt Will Change African Lives

Dozens of people will be putting their Shaftesbury knowledge to the test on Sunday, 18th May, when a local charity that changes lives in Africa is hosting a three-hour long treasure hunt from St James.

ThisIsAlfred’s Keri Jones spoke with Mike Hayes of the Amakuru Trust about this event and why the fundraising is important.

In Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda, the greeting ‘Amakuru’ means ‘How are you?’ That is the name of the trust set up in 2012 by Mike Hayes, a familiar voice to many former pupils of Shaftesbury School, where he taught economics. “I started in 1991. I was there for around 20 years. I suspect some people out here might remember my dulcet tones,” said Mike.

Mike first learned about the landlocked East African country of Rwanda when he was working in our school. “A charity that worked in Rwanda came to Shaftesbury School and some of my students got very highly involved in raising funds for them over a number of years,” said Mike.

Mike Hayes

When the charity stopped working with students, Mike decided to set up his own fundraising trust. “I could have forgotten about Rwanda altogether, but of course, I’d made many friends out there by that time, and so I decided to start my own charity to support some of the students that had been supported by the previous charity. I had some good friends around me that became trustees. We worked together,” said Mike.

Today, Rwanda is developing a tourism industry, attracting visitors who want to glimpse its mountain gorillas and the expansive landscapes. “It is nicknamed ‘The Land of One Thousand Hills’. Wherever you go in Rwanda, the countryside is magnificent. It’s a very fertile country as well, and they grow coffee and tea of high quality. I think the first thing you’ll notice is the scenery. The second thing you notice is the people, when you meet them, they have massive smiles on their faces. I suppose it should be the land of the thousand smiles. Great warmth comes from those people,” said Mike.

In the mid-1990s, the situation was very different. Rwanda made the headlines for a bloody conflict and genocide that saw the loss of over 800,000 lives. Mike says the nation doesn’t ignore the atrocity, but they have moved on. “They had a choice – either reconciliation or retribution after the genocide. Fortunately, the country and the people chose reconciliation. That means that you don’t hear the word Tutsi or Hutu, the tribal groups reinvented by the Belgian colonists. Now they say, ‘we are all Rwandans’. I don’t find conflict. Of course, working in Africa is difficult. They have different cultures, but I don’t think that’s a particularly Rwandan thing. I think it’s an African thing more than that,” said Mike.

Mike’s Shaftesbury-based trust, which is arranging Sunday’s treasure hunt, helps in three ways – with education, health and humanitarian projects. “We’ve put water collection facilities into schools, we’ve provided a construction school with cement mixers and theodolites. We’ve helped widows who lost everything in the genocide. We’ve rebuilt a lot of their houses. We also work with the street children on a project where they are taken off the streets, given a framework to live and then put back into the community, either by being fostered or adopted. It’s not like an orphanage. It’s a halfway house or shelter,” explained Mike.

As a former teacher, you might expect Mike to understand the benefits of education. He says that it can make a real difference in Rwanda, by providing the means of escape from poverty. “You’ll see children running to school, wanting desperately to learn. I was teaching once in a primary school. There were children that couldn’t really afford to go to school lining up outside, just to get a little bit of education, which I thought was really touching,” said Mike.

There are huge differences between teaching Shaftesbury students and children in Rwanda. “It’s their method of attracting the teacher’s attention, which is to stand up and wildly shake their hands and click their fingers. The second is the enthusiasm to learn because I think sometimes we take education for granted in the UK. I certainly did when I was at school. When you have that impetus of wanting to get good qualifications, to get a good job, to raise money and then to support your extended family, that’s a real push towards wanting to do well.”

Ye Olde Two Brewers Pub

Over the past seven years, Mike says Amakuru’s funding has been appreciated in Rwanda. “We supplied schools with materials. We’ve repaired buildings in schools that have 1,000 children in. They have all benefited in some way. It’s in the thousands I would imagine,” said Mike.

Mike doesn’t get paid for his work. “They’re trying to help themselves. All they need is a small leg up. So, when we’re supporting education, we’re just helping children achieve their goals, achieve their dreams, and that’s good. And just recently, the first street child that we helped got a place in university. So that’s enough really, for me.”

Sunday’s event will mix fun, fundraising and great food. “We have a walking treasure hunt, which starts off at The Two Brewers at one o’clock and should finish around four o’clock. It’s £10 a head with teams of four. Lynne at the Two Brewers is kindly supplying a wonderful Greek buffet which everybody can take part in after the event. And there’s a few prizes along the way.” Children can enter for half price.

Mike says that when entrants arrive, they will be presented with a set of clues. “You might have to collect a few things along the way as well,” said Mike. He’s keeping the star prize under wraps, but he says that there will be something made in Rwanda for the winner.

You can book by calling Mike on 07968 876143. “Anybody that wants to come along can do so by all means. You can find out a little bit more about our work as well. It’s interesting to learn a little bit more about a country and what their needs are,” said Mike.