Life Skills Clubs in Rwandan school promote universal values and leadership skills
by Anjan Sundaram
July 2011; Eastern Rwanda: Twice a week, students at the Murama Child Friendly School in Rwanda’s Bugesera district, participate in Life Skills Clubs, learning and discussing topics that are difficult to broach in their homes, yet are essential for their future.
In the Tuseme club, which teaches gender equality, boys learn to sweep the floor just like girls. And girls learn that they can play football just like the boys – and even be better.
The anti-AIDS club teaches children about the dangers of HIV and how to avoid its transmission.
The journalism club helps children speak out and express themselves – improving their English skills while also conveying messages on abstaining from drugs, and the importance of coming to school.
Many of the children at this school come from homes where AIDS and sex are taboo subjects and rarely discussed. Few of their households have educated women. And alcoholism can often be a problem in the countryside.
This is why the Life Skills Clubs make such a powerful impact on these children.
UNICEF considers life skills necessary for children to deal positively and effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. The agency helped model an ideal school environment for children – known today as the Child Friendly School, which has been adopted by the Rwandan Government as the minimum standard for all schools in the country. However, while many schools have the outer hardware of the model – the bigger brighter classrooms, separated latrines, water and playgrounds, UNICEF is working closely with the Ministry of Education to ensure that the software – teacher training, child centered learning methodology and life skills clubs – like the ones in Murama – are mainstreamed in all schools around the country.
At Murama, particular attention is given to ensure children are actively engaged in life skills clubs to learn interpersonal skills that will help them to make informed decisions, solve problems, think critically and creatively, communicate effectively, build healthy relationships, identify with others, and cope with and manage their lives in a healthy and productive manner.
In addition, students at the Murama School learn essential aspects of leadership and responsibility through Peer Support Groups.
‘I don’t run this school alone,’ said Jean-Pierre Sinibagiwe, the headmaster. ‘The student body has learned to manage important issues.’
Students are organized in Peer Support Groups, with leaders at the classroom and school level, who help fellow students with many personal problems, such as dealing with changes at puberty, as well as stolen stationary.
Mr Sinibagiwe described how the peer support group helped to make one of the school’s football teams stop drinking Kanyanga, a potent intoxicant, before football matches. The students believed it gave them energy and strength.
‘We found the students drinking the Kanyanga, and we asked them to discuss it with the Peer Support Group,’ Mr. Sinibagiwe said. ‘The students, through the discussion, realized that the drink was no good and had to be avoided.’ At the next match it was clear that no Kanyanga had been drunk.
Thus the student Peer Support Groups were able to resolve a serious problem – and the solution, coming from the students, was bound to have lasting impact.
Students say the Life Skills Clubs and Peer Support Groups have made a deep impression on their lives.
‘It helps us to know how we may be equal,’ said Cadette Donata, a 15-year-old Senior 3 student at Murama, and a deputy class monitor. ‘My mother did not go to school. I feel lucky to be here.’
‘If I didn’t have the journalism club at school, I would never have learnt English properly,’ said Marie-Jose Akayesu, a 16-year-old senior student at Murama. ‘Neither of my parents speak English and before the clubs I was too scared to speak out.’
Donata cited the importance of English now that Rwanda has joined the Commonwealth and the East African Community – news she learned about during Life Skills Clubs debates.
‘These clubs are very important,’ Donata said. ‘They help us to fight against the shame and fear of speaking out, and to feel that we are equal in society.’