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In the face of challenges, award honors Rwandan girls

© UNICEF/2010/Sheikh
At an awards ceremony in Karongi, UNICEF Representative in Rwanda Dr. Joseph Foumbi congratulates students who received awards for scholarship from the UNICEF-supported Imbuto Foundation.

In the run-up to the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative (UNGEI) and the global conference titled "E4 - Engendering Empowerment: Education and Equality" to be held in Dakar, Senegal from 17-20 May, UNICEF is featuring a series of stories on girls’ education and gender equality. Here is one of those stories.

By Misbah Sheikh

KARONGI, Rwanda, 12 May 2010 – Among grazing cows in the heart of western Rwanda, three hours away from the nation’s capital, Kigali, First Lady Jeannette Kagame recently helped celebrate some of Rwanda’s most talented young students.

On 7 May, the First Lady and founder of the renowned Imbuto Foundation presented awards to 46 primary and lower-secondary school girls for excellence in their studies. With support from UNICEF, the girls received books, calculators, pens and pocket money, among other items to support their studies.

Awards for girls

While Rwanda has a high net primary school enrollment rates of about 94 per cent, with slightly more girls enrolled than boys, less that 20 per cent of children – and even fewer girls – go on to enrol in secondary school. To help girls continue their education, UNICEF has supported the First Lady’s Imbuto Foundation in recognizing over Rwandan 2,000 school girls.

“The UN, through UNICEF, is committed to continuing our support for quality education in Rwanda,” UNICEF Representative in Rwanda Dr. Joseph Foumbi said during the awards ceremony. “The government here has instituted key reforms to improve quality schooling, including abolishing school fees, training teachers, building more classrooms and beginning to bring schools up to minimum quality standards.

“We will continue to support these efforts to ensure that every child in Rwanda receives a quality education,” he added.

© UNICEF/2010/Sheikh
Olive, 16, recipient of one of the 2010 Imbuto Foundation awards honouring Rwanda's best girl students.

Overcoming barriers

First Lady Kagame launched the Imbuto Foundation in 2007 to support projects for education and welfare. Each year, she helps to present awards to hundreds of girls across Rwanda.

Speaking at the ceremony this month, the young award recipients for 2010 noted that girls have difficulty staying in school because they are often called upon to do the time-consuming task of fetching water for the family. A parent also stood up to say how hard it was for orphans – who have no means even to eat – to attend school.

But despite these obstacles, girls’ education is an essential element in Rwanda’s future success.

Rwanda’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Espérance Nyirasafari, attended the awards ceremony and told girls they could accomplish anything they set their minds to do.

“When I started going to school, I had to go against a culture that didn’t promote girls’ education, where poverty was a barrier,” said Ms. Nyirasafari. “But you are so lucky that you now have a government who cares about your education. Work hard like me, succeed, and become the good citizens our nation needs.”

© UNICEF/2010/Sheikh
At the Imbuto Foundation awards ceremony in Karongi, Rwanda , school girls receive reward bags containing books, calculators, pens, watches and pocket money to support their studies.

Hard work and support

The First Lady thanked all the girls at the ceremony for doing their best in the face of many challenges. She also congratulated parents who had adopted orphaned children and treated them as their own.

These guardian angels, as they are known – 65 of whom were singled out during the ceremony – all received a cow as an award to help them support their families.

“I am thrilled, said Charles, a 47-year-old parent from Ngororero. “I adopted four children after the genocide. They were my neighbour’s children and I have always treated them as my own and sent them all to school.”

Olive Nishimine, 16, said that her family’s support was integral to her success in school.
“I am so excited to have been able to hold the First Lady’s hand and have my country know that I have worked so hard,” she said. “My mother died when I was six and my father could not take care of my younger sister and me, so he left us with my grandparents. I'm lucky that I have an aunt who has always encouraged us to study.”

While her aunt is a teacher, Olive would like to use her talents in a different way. “When I grow up, I will be a doctor,” she smiled.



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