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Life skills clubs teach Rwandan students universal values and leadership skills

© UNICEF Rwanda/2011/Sundaram
Cadette Donata, 15, (left), and an assistant class monitor, shares a laugh with Marie-Jose Akayesu, 16, at the Murama Inclusive School in Bugesera district, Rwanda.

by Anjan Sundaram

BUGESERA, Rwanda, 26 September 2011 – Twice a week, students at the Murama Child Friendly School, in Rwanda’s Bugesera district, participate in Life Skills Clubs where they are taught to think creatively, problem-solve and build healthy relationships, while discussing topics that are often too difficult to broach in their homes.

In the Tuseme club, which teaches gender equality, boys learn to sweep the floor just like the girls, and girls are taught that they can play football just like the boys – and in some cases even better. Other groups like the anti-AIDS club teach children about the dangers of HIV and how to avoid its transmission.

Powerful impact

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 essential for children and helped to model the 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.

Still, though many schools have the outer ‘hardware’ of this model - bigger brighter classrooms, separated latrines, water and playgrounds - UNICEF is currently 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.

© UNICEF Rwanda/2011/Sundaram
Marie-Jose Akayesu, 16, is a student at the Murama Inclusive School in Bugesera district, Rwanda, where children are learning the critical interpersonal skills that will help better prepare them for the future.

Peer to peer

At Murama, particular attention is given to ensure children are actively engaged in Life Skills Clubs to learn the critical interpersonal skills that will help better prepare them for the future.

“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, where class leaders help their peers deal with many personal problems, including alcohol abuse and concerns over puberty.

Mr. Sinibagiwe described how the peer support group helped stop one of the school’s football teams from drinking Kanyanga - a poisonous intoxicant made from ethanol - before their 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.

‘We are equal in society’

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, 15, and a student at Murama. ”My mother did not go to school. I feel lucky to be here.”

Donata cited the importance of English now that Rwanda has joined the Commonwealth and the East African Community. ”These clubs help us to fight against the shame and fear of speaking out, and to feel that we are equal in society,” she stressed.



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