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Rwanda, 11 May 2015: Celebrating academic excellence and lifelong mentorship for girls

© UNICEF Rwanda/2015/Park
Henriette Muangampundu, 24, received a computer as her award for academic excellence at the 2009 Best Performing Girls’ Initiative, in Kigali, Rwanda.

By Arpana Pandey

11 May 2015, KIGALI, Rwanda – At 24, Henriette Muangampundu is a role model for many girls. As an employment and empowerment officer for Digital Opportunities Rwanda, an organization that seeks to empower communities to reach their full potential, Henriette trains youth on ICT, business and employment readiness. “I’m passionate about serving my community and strongly believe in the importance of education and raising the level of skills of youth, especially girls.”

“To educate a girl is to educate the whole nation,” she says. The youngest of 4 children, she attributes her success to hard work and also unwavering support from her siblings. Her hard work did not go unnoticed and in 2009, Henriette was among 15 secondary school girls in the country recognized for academic excellence by the First Lady of Rwanda. “Girls face extra challenges at school and sometimes lack self-confidence. These awards encourage us to obtain higher goals,” she reiterates.

This year marks a significant milestone in this partnership, as it is the 10th anniversary of the best performing girls’ initiative. Since 2005, UNICEF has been working in partnership with the Imbuto Foundation to encourage high performance and retention of girls in school with awareness raising initiatives at the community and family level and in awarding the best-performing girls with prizes annually.

A total of 3,836 girls have been recognised for their achievements since the inauguration of the programme.

Ten years ago, the initiative was developed to address the low attendance of girls in schools. Today, gender parity exists at both the primary and secondary level, however boys continue to outperform girls in national examinations, which is the entry point for further studies and job opportunities. The campaign has therefore shifted its focus on reducing the disparities in learning. There are many reasons why girls are outperformed by boys, including the relative importance - which families and communities place on girls’ education and limited role models.

© UNICEF Rwanda/2015/Park
The First Lady of Rwanda and UNICEF Rwanda Country Representative Noala Skinner with Best Performing Girls.

The initiative is organised on International Women’s Day, taking place in March every year. Events in each province draw large crowds and media attention. National and local leaders attend the events and speak out about the importance of girls’ education and achievement, leading to resolutions for action to achieve gender equality in education.

The support to high achievers doesn’t end with the events themselves. The partnership also includes training workshops and mentoring to the best performing girls to act as role models, providing inspiration to other young girls to follow their dreams. Many of the girls, like Henriette, who have been recognised for their achievements at primary and secondary have gone on to University and found professional employment, demonstrating the sustainable approach and continued support provided to girls through this initiative.

In her spare time, Henriette mentors secondary school girls through Imbuto Foundation’s mentorship programme. As a mentor Henriette has been assigned to two schools, which she visits twice a term, and engages in different activities with the girls. “I try to pass on what others have told me. The path to success is not straight and we have to work hard to reach our goals,” she emphasizes.



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