Guest Writer Jamie Van Horne recently traveled to Rwanda on behalf of SeeYourImpact.org, a technology platform that aims to supply unique revenue streams to small organizations around the world. As the Manager of Global Projects and Community Engagement, her mission was to develop relationships and understand the needs of the Rwandan people. SeeYourImpact currently has two partner organizations in Rwanda: The Rwanda Girls’ Initiative, which provides quality secondary education for young women and Gardens for Health International, which provides sustainable solutions to malnutrition. In addition to spending time with these organizations, Jamie met with other individuals who run schools and organizations working towards improving the quality of life for all Rwandans.
Please describe the current role and importance of education in Rwanda.
Education has been a huge part of the recovery process since the genocide in 1994. Education has helped to bring peace and understanding between people and erase the perceived differences that led to war. Women’s education is especially important, as clearly the path to development is defined by the active participation of women in society.
That being said, the genocide completely wiped out the whole country, forcing it to start from nothing. While huge strides have been made to create a public education system, the level is still very low. Many private schools are challenging the level of education here, but in order for equity to be created, the public system needs to step up.
A huge challenge is that the government changed the official language in the schools from French to English just three years ago. This has been very difficult for teachers and students alike.
Finally, efforts to educate about agriculture, business, science, entrepreneurship, and family planning have greatly aided the significant strides that this country continues to make every year.
How do you address and promote gender equality in education?
Government initiatives have urged gender equality and have been successful in doing so. The main issue with gender equality in education is that girls are often made to stay home to do chores and help take care of younger family members. This is combated by offering scholarships for girls in addition to special educational opportunities, such as the Gashora Girls’ Academy.
While 97% of girls in Rwanda attend primary school, less than 13% attend upper-secondary school. How do you approach this issue?
This is an issue prevalent in any developing society. It’s not just girls that do not get to attend secondary school; it’s boys too. Students take a national exam to pass into secondary school, but even if they pass, there are far more qualifying students than slots in schools.
Efforts are made to provide scholarships so that more girls can attend school. Additionally, a huge push for family planning is helping to reduce the responsibilities of girls at home and also increase the disposable income of their families so that they can send them to school.
Rwanda has made impressive efforts to overcome setbacks of the devastating genocide and civil war of 1994, what has been the greatest challenge in developing the education system?
First of all, after the genocide, many head-of-households were young orphans who lost their parents and were forced to start caring for their younger siblings. These young girls and boys were not able to attend school, fulfilling petty jobs to pay for their families to eat. This level of poverty has subsequently trickled down, as the family cannot afford school. Breaking this cycle has been extremely difficult with such an incredibly young population.
Additionally, rape was used as a weapon during the genocide, meaning that many, many young girls now of school age are HIV positive and must receive special treatment or not be strong enough to attend school. Many young girls and boys suffer from mental instability due to the trauma they experienced. Mental health services have not been sufficient to help these people due to other more “dire” needs.
Finally, educational challenges exist in rural areas where there are not sufficient buildings for schools and where poverty is rampant. Finding ways to provide these very poor people with quality education is a huge challenge. Many other young people are helping out to do what they can, but there is still a long way to go to provide the necessary level of education.
What are Rwandan people most proud of?
Rwandan people are proud of their country and of their leader, President Kagame. The reconstruction that has taken place here since 1994 has been truly a miracle. Each year the country takes huge strides toward becoming more developed. Poverty numbers, HIV numbers, and health statistics have all improved in record levels. The people here are proud of the security they have, the hard work they do, and the beautiful country they inhabit.
What is the vision of Rwanda? What is the “Rwandan dream”?
I think that the Rwandan dream is to maintain lasting peace and become a nation that the international community looks highly upon.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years as a nation?
In the next 10 years, Rwandans hope to reduce poverty levels and decrease malnutrition. They want to continue bettering their health infrastructure, so that needless deaths are prevented. Rwandans hope to maintain political security and peace while developing a nation very rich in resources and wonderful people. They want people to recognize their country for what it is and speak highly of the incredible recovery they have made.
How can we help?
You can help by caring and by educating yourself to be aware of the great strides being made here. You can help by visiting Rwanda and seeing for yourself this beautiful country and demonstrating your recognition of the hard work being done here. Finally, you can help by supporting many of the wonderful NGO’s working hard on the ground to improve life for the Rwandan people.