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Rwanda schools still struggling to recover from 1994 genocide

© UNICEF Rwanda / 2006 / Tarneden
Jeanette, 14, says many of her fellow students at Rubingo Primary School near Kigali, Rwanda are orphans.

By Rudi Tarneden

KIGALI, Rwanda, 13 March 2006 – Rwanda’s school system is still struggling to get back on its feet almost 12 years after the 1994 genocide, during which more than 600 primary schools were destroyed and 3,000 teachers were killed or forced to flee.

Many of the schools that survived are in poor condition, and teachers are often inadequately trained. Every fifth child has to repeat a class. Orphans and children from impoverished families in the countryside frequently drop out of school early.

"If a child stops coming to school, the reason is usually that there is nothing to eat at home and the child feels too weak,” says Alice, 16. “If you are hungry, it's difficult to learn."

Children without parents

Alice attends Rubingo Primary School about 20 km from the Rwandan capital, Kigali. The red brick classrooms stand on the top of a hill reached by steep, uneven paths.

© UNICEF Rwanda / 2006 / Tarneden
A girl holds up a poster during a youth club meeting at Rubingo Primary School. The club encourages students to discuss their problems and talk about subjects like HIV/AIDS.

Many of the school’s 1,100 students walk long distances every morning to get to their lessons. It takes Alice almost an hour each way. In the afternoons she has to help at home, fetching water and looking after her brothers and sisters. UNICEF regards more than half the children at the Rubingo school as vulnerable and particularly in need of help.

Many of the students’ fathers and mothers were killed in the genocide or died because of the collapse of the country’s health system. Large numbers of parents have died of AIDS, which spread rapidly following the chaos of the civil war. Others are in prison, accused of genocide and still awaiting trial.

"At our school there are so many children who have no parents. We try to help each other, but we can't manage it alone," says Jeanette, 14.

‘Say what you think’

Rubingo Primary School was neglected for years because of its inaccessibility. But last year, with donations from the Schools for Africa campaign, UNICEF built and equipped six new classrooms, supplied learning materials and organized training courses for teachers. By the end of 2005, 17 other schools were also under construction or completed in Rwanda.

At Rubingo and other schools, UNICEF supports Tuseme (‘Say what you think’) youth clubs where children talk about friendship, love, AIDS and other topics. Among the nearly 60 children in the Tuseme club at Rubingo, fewer than 15 have both parents at home; countrywide, about one in three children is growing up without one parent.

UNICEF has also helped set up a parents' association at Rubingo to take care of school maintenance. The parents have put up a fence around the school site, built terraces for a garden and planted flowerbeds.

"When I was able to start school here, I was glad," says Hirwa, 12. "We're very happy about the new classrooms. And the teachers are OK here too."



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