Many people associate the country of Rwanda with atrocities of 1994 and the internal agreements that led to them. But today, Rwanda is focused on moving from humanitarian assistance associated with conflict into a future of sustainable development. A major aspiration by the year 2020 is to become a "middle income country" (per capita income of about $900 USD vs. $220 in the year 2000). This requires transforming from subsistence agriculture to a knowledge-based society and an annual growth rate of 7%. The challenge is daunting when you consider the circumstances of villages and schools in the most rural areas, where hunger, poverty and weak schools are widespread.
Jerri Hatch at Mwiko Primary
In 2009, original project catalyst Jerri Hatch visited Mwiko Primary School while gorilla-trekking in among volcanoes in Rwanda. She discovered a remote location lacking books, materials, running water, working latrines, playground equipment or trained teachers. Of the 750 children at the school, only 40 were in the 6th grade, and of those five were passing annual national exams to qualify for secondary school. With support from Mothering Across Continents, she returned in 2010 with five teachers and advisors to help teachers and students craft a vision for the future. From the effort emerged a 20-foot mural and 50 paintings called "This is Our Dream." Nearly 1,000 parents attended a festival displaying the work. Canadian teacher Frances Badjik Bova (now Klinck) stayed and delivered English language and teacher skills training, concentrating on improvements in the 5th and 6th grades.
After one year of our teacher training and support to Mwiko Primary, 35 of the 40 sixth graders passed national exams. The community was inspired about the potential of education. New partners emerged, repairing latrines, building some new desks, providing a large shipment of shoes, constructing a hardscape play area that was formerly dirt and a tattered volleyball net, and sending shipments of books for a room converted to a library. New opportunities meant new aspirations for continuing to secondary school, but most families could never dream of providing for secondary school tuition, uniforms and other fees. According to UNICEF, school-related costs even for basic school materials pose serious challenges for successful school attendance, performance; accordingly only 31 percent of students go on to secondary school. Mwiko also lacked a system for selecting the best candidates for secondary school scholarships. So, we launched the first and only Mentoring Mwiko merit-based scholarship fund and support program.
Many of the girls' studies focus on
math, science and technology
Rwanda's Vision 2020 includes
a commitment to education
The number of students in Mwiko's sixth grade has grown to more than 60 (from 40 when the program started), with more than 50 passing national exams (vs. 5 when the program started), one sign of a shift in aspirations prompted by the merit program. In 2014, there are 18 scholars in their first, second and third years of secondary school. Many of the girls attend an institute focused on math, science and technology classes. Everyone's progress is monitored to ensure pursuit of grades and exam scores to increase odds of entrance to prestigious high schools. Mentors meet with parents and education officials on a quarterly basis. Donors receive several updates a year with photos, grades, and general performance evaluations. We have compared school performance of the merit scholars receiving guidance and support with students from other programs without such an evaluation process and mentoring framework and concluded that this program has significant positive effects on achievement. Our next goal is to begin college and career counseling to help students envision futures in high school and beyond, including paths that nurture and drawn on entrepreneurial skills. We are also seeking information communications technology partners with whom we can collaborate to bring online learning technology and tools to our scholars and schools.
Local project manager Jackson Vugayabagabo is a graduate of prestigious Generation Rwanda and the Kepler university program that provides online university courses combined with in-person seminars and intensive education to employment. He is also an experienced youth mentor. Simon Mvunabandi, also a graduate of Generation Rwanda, was promoted to senior project advisor in May 2014 and continues to serve as a project co-catalyst. Funds are provided by individual sponsors through Mothering Across Continents and partner Dreike Scholarship Fund. Original teacher Frances Klinck and her husband Daniel Klinck stayed in Rwanda and continue to have a wonderful impact on education, community development and social enterprise projects. We also benefit from collaboration with Tom Allen, country director of nonprofit Bridge2Rwanda.