Girls and boys speaking out together
By Shamima Yasmine
KIGALI, Rwanda, 24 July 2012 – Under the intense heat of Kigali’s midday sun, 16 year old Peninah and her friends run through their performance one last time. “We are so excited about performing in today’s closing ceremony”, says Peninah, “we have practiced all morning and not even the sun can make us tired”, she continues.
The girls are waiting to perform a traditional Rwandan dance at the closing ceremony of this year’s TUSEME festival, which has brought together more than 700 children from TUSEME clubs all over Rwanda to celebrate girls’ empowerment, achievement and participation. Today marks the end of a three day festival of singing, dancing, poetry, plays, comedy, debates and discussions around issues that concern not only girls but all children.
“It has been so much fun, to come together and support each other to be confident and free and happy about school”, continues Peninah, “I used to be shy but after I joined the Tuseme club at my school, I am confident and love to perform”, she says, as she runs to take her place on the stage for one last performance.
TUSEME which means “speak out” in Swahili is an initiative supported by UNICEF and FAWE (Forum for African Women Educationalists), both are key partners in the Ministry of Education’s Girls Education Taskforce, which plans and implements strategies to support and promote girls’ education in Rwanda. Currently there are 54 UNICEF supported child-friendly schools which run TUSEME clubs, where both girls and boys come together to encourage and support each other to learn, participate, develop and speak about the issues that concern them.
Bella is 19 years old and attends the FAWE Girls School in Gahini; she joined the TUSEME club at her school in 2010 because she was struggling to keep up with her studies and grades. “My friends in TUSEME encouraged me to talk about what was bothering me, I was not confident in a lot of things but the other students have helped me become much more confident – I’m even helping others to speak out too”. Bella is completing school soon and is excited about the future, “I want to be a journalist or work in a bank, I’m not sure yet, but I know I can choose whichever I want”.
For Fred Kamuhanba, a teacher at Rwempasha Secondary School in Rwanda’s Nyagatere District, TUSEME clubs are particularly important as they encourage both boys and girls to participate. “It is very important that boys understand the challenges that girls have traditionally faced in education. There is a tendency for girls to drop out of school, and now we are seeing that boys are supporting girls to continue with their studies and even speaking with their families and parents about the importance of education, so that girls stay in school”, he says. Although in Rwanda today, more than 96% of girls are enrolled in school, dropout rates and school completion remain a key challenge.
TUSEME clubs are a forum for boys and girls to come together, interact and support each other through the challenges that they may face while at school, particularly those issues that may prevent or disrupt their education like early pregnancy. “This year’s festival has focused on early pregnancies, it is important that boys as well as girls are aware of the risks”, says Scovia Agaba, a teacher from Gatsibo District, “it should not be just the concern of girls”.
TUSEME clubs across Rwanda have enabled boys and girls to work together, to build friendships and cooperation and to understand and respect each other. “The children have really learnt to respect each other and this is important for their future relationships as adults”, says Scovia. “Thanks to TUSEME my girls no longer fear boys; in class boys and girls sit together which was not possible before, and girls are no longer shy about expressing their views in public. I am very proud of how confident they have become, they will make great women one day”, she continues with a huge smile.
As the festival draws to a close, the children wait eagerly in anticipation for the prizes which will be awarded for the best performances. Each announcement is met with rapturous applause, laughter and excitement as children make their way to the stage beaming with pride at their achievements. “This really is a celebration of the great achievement of all of the children and the teachers here today; who have worked hard to support each other, to ensure that school is the number one priority for every girl and for every boy, so that everyone can fulfil their potential” said UNICEF’s Education Specialist, Hugh Delaney, as he congratulated all of the children for taking part not only in the festival but also for all of the hard work they have put in at their TUSEME clubs in school.