A Search for Community
When Burch Ford moved from Farmington, CT to Concord, MA in 2008, having recently stepped down from a 15-year tenure as the Head of Miss Porter’s School, a girls’ secondary boarding/day school, she was open to a change and looking for a welcoming community. This community took the shape of Trinity Episcopal Church. The appeal of Trinity was its leadership and congregation, the mission of which was not only to focus on the gospel of Christ and his teachings, but also on putting those lessons into mindful action in the service of others.
On Sunday mornings before the 10 am service the congregation held a weekly Forum – a talk given by a member of the church – covering any number of topics of importance to the speaker and of interest to church members. One of those speakers was Burch Ford, and her topic was her involvement with a small girls school in Rwanda, called Maranyundo Girls School, which she found to be an inspiring and a life-changing opportunity for girls, run by an order of Catholic nuns, the Benebikira Sisters.
The talk sparked the enthusiasm of a newly-formed small group of Trinity women, called the Beijing Circle, who were seeking ways to get involved in projects that had a focus on girls and education throughout the world. They decided that Maranyundo Girls School was the cause they were seeking, and Burch would be the liaison between the Trinity Beijing Circle and the Maranyundo Girls School. Burch had recently become a board member of the Maranyundo Initiative, the US-based nonprofit that supported the Rwandan school. A friend and former colleague, Ann Pollina, also head of a girls’ boarding/day school in Connecticut (Westover School) and member of the Maranyundo Initiative board, first introduced Burch to the school.
A Trip of a Lifetime
In early 2010, Ann, knew that Burch had lived in Senegal for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer and, as a school administrator had also taken volunteer groups of students to Haiti to do basic public health work. It was evident to Ann from these experiences that Burch was comfortable living and working in the developing world, and thought she might be open to spending some time at Maranyundo as a liaison between the Maranyundo Initiative and the school’s administration. Burch accepted gladly and ended up spending a total of four months at the school. Upon her return, she was asked to join the Maranyundo Initiative as a board member and has been a passionate and active member of the board ever since.
When Burch decided to share her experiences in Rwanda at Trinity Church at a Sunday Forum, not only the Beijing Circle, but also other parishioners quickly showed interest in supporting the school in a variety of ways. The Beijing Circle leaders, with the generous idealism of the Trinity clergy leadership, decided to structure their international outreach and financial support of Maranyundo girls School in two ways that aligned with the church calendar: providing school books during Advent and funding for scholarships during Lent.
Along with the adults and parent parishioners, the Church School leadership also fully committed to teaching the Sunday School children about Rwanda, starting with a big map of the world, which was displayed at the school with Rwanda proudly highlighted. Classes included learning about Maranyundo Girls School, its students and their needs as many come from very impoverished families, and our duties to share what we have with those who have so little. For the church children, mite boxes – with pictures of Maranyundo girls and the school’s motto: Respect, Responsibility, Leadership – were created and distributed. The lesson was shared that during the Lenten fast, sweets and treats should be given up and the money that was saved would go into the mite boxes and be donated to Maranyundo Girls School. A 40-day Lenten calendar was also created. Each day of the calendar included a fact about Rwanda, a Kinyarwanda word (the national language of Rwanda), or a detail about Maranyundo classes. Each church school child was given a Rwandan name to show support for the children who were less fortunate and far away.
The children’s generous spirits inspired their parents at Trinity as well. One mother, who could not make a monetary donation, gave of her time. A professional chef, for the past three years she has led a delicious dinner demonstration in a church member’s home. The proceeds from this popular event go to support the school. Another parishioner was so moved by the story of the school that she made a significant contribution, which enabled the school to purchase a generator, an incredible asset in a region where power outages are common and prevent students from studying in the evenings. Below is a picture of Burch and the school’s Headmistress, Sister Juvenal Mukamurama, when the generator was installed.
The partnership of Trinity Church and Maranyundo Girls School is a strong one. Sister Juvenal has come to Trinity several times and will return in December. Since 2010, Trinity has given over $31,000 to the school. This year, in addition to the fundraising that they have done in the past, Burch and members of the church applied for a grant from the diocese. They are happy to announce that this year, when Sister Juvenal comes to visit them again in December, they will be giving the Maranyudo Girls School $10,000 for scholarships, raised through a grant from the Episcopal Diocese, revenue from the delicious demonstration dinner, and donations from the congregation.
Other groups will be making donations to support the school’s expansion to become a high school (to include upper secondary grades 10, 11, and 12). The Maranyundo Initiative and Maranyundo Girls School are thankful for and proud of the dedicated and growing partnership with Trinity Church. A hope is that this partnership, a church and a school, may be a model, one that will be copied by other partnerships of churches with clubs, businesses, and communities, in the interests of girls’ education in the developing world and the leadership it will generate for the future.
Learn more how you can support Maranyundo Girls School. If you are interested in getting an organization or community group that you belong to involved in supporting Maranyundo Girls School, you can send an email to Kim Boucher. Also you can “Like” our Facebook page or Sign Up for our Newsletter to get more updates from the Maranyundo Initiative about what is going on at Maranyundo Girls School.