School system in Rwanda
In Rwanda, the school year starts in January and ends in November, with two breaks consisting of two weeks each during the year. At the elementary level, which is grade one to grade six, each child has the right to attend public school; an institution administered by the state. It costs between 6,000 and 8,000 Rwandan francs (between 15 and 20 Canadian dollars) to cover the cost of scholarship. Families that cannot afford to pay this amount can still send their children to school, but the children are not allowed to write exams and don't receive a report card. There are also a number of private schools, but they are usually substantially more expensive and most certainly out of reach for the widows. At the end of the sixth grade, the children must write a State exam to determine if they will be accepted into secondary school. Only the children who pass the exam are admitted into public secondary school. School fees for children whose families were victims of the genocide is covered by the government. In Rwanda, once a student has passed the state exam to graduate from elementary to secondary school, the government places the student in a boarding school anywhere in the country.
Our sponsorship program
Ever since it’s beginning, one of the things Ubuntu has done to help make the lives of the widows who are victims of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda a little bit easier, is running a children sponsorship program. The main goal of the program is to give the widows an opportunity to improve their lives by attending various workshops at the Centre César or to have more time to go out and look for work while their children are receiving free education thanks to their sponsors. The program has proven to be extremely successful benefiting both the widows and their orphaned children.
From its humble beginnings in 2005 when 5 children were sponsored, the program grew to see 26 children sponsored in 2006 to 154 in 2007 and 206 in 2008. In 2009, we now have over 280 children being sponsored.
Along the way, we have learned more about the basic needs of each student and realized that it varies from child to child depending on various factors such as his grade, school attended, etc. With that in mind and also considering the economic crisis that we all find ourselves in, we felt the need to adjust to the situation by making some substantial changes to the program; mostly to the cost of yearly sponsorship. Starting in 2010, as opposed to the current fee of $110/year per child at the elementary school level and $250/year per child at the high school level; it will now cost $150/year per child regardless of their school level. We found that the increase of $140 from elementary to secondary was too much for many sponsors who wished to follow the progress of the child or children they had been sponsoring for a few years already. We made the necessary adjustments, again based on the need of each individual child to make sure
that each one receives what he/she needs to go to school for the year. In the end, more children will get the opportunity to go to school therefore helping more widows.
In Rwanda, kids really want to go to school and they love it. In February and March 2007, I took it upon myself to go to Rwanda in order to learn more about their culture, the school system and the needs of the children. While there, I also worked at transforming a small building that was originally intended to be a chicken coop into a beautiful daycare center.
We inaugurated the daycare center in early March 2007. It is the first and still the only free daycare in the whole district of Gasebo. We look after 30 little ones ages 2 to 6. We have 5 qualified caregivers working so well at providing for the kids and preparing them to enter elementary school with a wealth of knowledge and great social skills. The children receive similar care to what we provide our own young children here in Canada. They are also being served a hearty meal every day.
In January 2009, we had our first twelve young ones graduating from daycare to elementary school. Those kids have only spent about 1 ½ year at the daycare but we have seen an unbelievable improvement in their development. They did better than most kids in the registration exam of first grade. The daycare center being in constant need of funding for the day to day operation, we are now introducing sponsorship of children as young as 2 years old. When you sponsor a child in daycare, the funds are used to benefit everyone equally and to assure the continuation of the operation. This will assure that you will be able to follow the progress of a child from as early as two years old as he/she moves on to elementary school and so on.
The Sponsorship Renewal Campaign will now take place between September 1st and December 1st of each year. This will give us more time to organize everything before the beginning of the new school year in January, as every year; we lose some sponsors and gain new ones.
The sponsorship program, much like the food bank, is a program instituted to assist the widows of the village to regain self sufficiency. By sending their children to the daycare or to school, the mothers have the opportunity to return to the work force. By sponsoring a child, you are also helping his/her mother.
When sponsoring a child, he /she will receive everything necessary to attend school for a year; regardless of their grade, they all receive a new school bag filled with school supplies that is renewed for 2nd and 3rd trimester, along with two new school uniforms. Depending on personal needs, they also receive a sport uniform, running shoes, rain gear, etc.
Given that the high school students are all in boarding schools, we also provide them with a new mattress, sheets, personal hygienic products and transportation money. In return, you will receive a thank you letter on behalf of the mothers, as well as a photo of the child, his/her name, age and school grade.
It is also possible for us to send the final report card if requested by the sponsor. If the sponsor wishes, they are also welcome to write to their sponsored child. Because the children only speak Kinyarwanda, the letters need to be translated, which is a time consuming task, therefore they should be kept short. Letters should be sent to our local Edmonton address, where they will be opened, translated, and sent to the Centre César to be distributed to the sponsored children. Ubuntu Edmonton discourages sending gifts. We reserve $5 of your sponsorship donation to purchase a small gift for a special occasion; "foster parent day". At Christmas time, we gather all sponsored kids to give them a small present on your behalf.