The following was written by Maranyundo Initiative Intern and Tufts University Senior: Lauren Hawkes
The Maranyundo Girls School is a boarding school for girls in Nyamata, Rwanda comprised of a middle school and a newly completed STEM high school. The school began as the dream of Aloisea Inyumba, who worked as Rwanda’s Minister for Gender and Family Promotion. At a conference at Harvard’s Kennedy School, she connected with Sister Ann Fox of the Paraclete Center in Boston and later Rwandan First Lady, Madame Jeannette Kagame. In partnership with a group of women in Boston, they decided to build a school in a rural part of the country in order to provide excellent educational opportunities for Rwandan girls. On February 28, 2008, the school opened; it now serves 400 students who are pursuing interest in the STEM fields. MGS remains true to its mission – providing education with a focus on Respect, Responsibility and Leadership for a generation of girls who will continue the leadership and legacy of those women who have worked to rebuild the nation after the Genocide. The Maranyundo Girls School is an excellent model of how education can inspire young women to make a difference in various sectors of society.
In 2010, the Maranyundo Initiative gifted the school to The Benebikira Congregation, an order of Catholic Nuns who are dedicated to education and well being of youth and the poor in Rwanda. The Benebikira Sisters engage in post conflict work in Rwanda by developing and supporting grassroots initiatives in education and healing. The Benebikira Sisters are currently administrators of 22 schools in Rwanda, including 14 secondary boarding schools, 6 primary, and 2 vocational schools.
The Rwandan government states that the education sector should provide accessibility to higher levels of education and encourage school environments that foster positive values. The mission of the Maranyundo Girls School aligns with these objectives, as it provides excellent STEM education to girls in S1 to S6 (7th to 12th grade) from all socioeconomic backgrounds. The school is contributing to the progress of Rwanda towards development and sustainability and is working to end generations of inequality and exclusion, an accomplishment recognized by President and Madame Kagame, as well as members of Parliament and local public officials.
The Maranyundo Girls School campus is located on land with a tragic past as an encampment for oppressed Tutsis. Brother Straton, headmaster of St. Joseph School for Boys, explains “Nyamata was a place of horror and the new government wanted to make it a better place, to show that it could also become a place of hope…and that’s one of the reasons why many projects which came to life in Rwanda were sent to Nyamata, to give people and survivors hope that something could change their lives, not to stay always in situation as victims.” During one of her visits to the Maranyundo School, Board Member for the Maranyundo Initiative, Linda Beardsley watched as a bridal party gathered at the school to take photos on the green, flowering campus. She realized in this moment that Rwandans saw the campus, the site of a girls school as an actual representation of hope for the future of Rwanda. They wanted to celebrate their special day in this place.
The community’s engagement in the construction of the site aligns with the school’s mission of inclusiveness and support of all Rwandans. The exterior face of orange clay bricks, a defining feature of the school, were locally handmade in Rwanda. During the construction period around 100 workers, men and women from the local community, were hired to work for on-site construction. The community and the school have developed a reciprocal relationship. Sister Juvenal, the school’s headmistress, ensures that the community who welcomed and built the school is not forgotten. The Maranyundo School seeks to admit qualified daughters of parents who contributed to the construction. The school also shares the Multi-Purpose Hall with community members and the library and STEM labs with other schools. The Maranyundo school facilities are not exclusive to Maranyundo girls, but rather are available for use to others, offering educational opportunities to all.
“The architecture and design of the campus reflects may symbols of traditional Rwandan culture.,” explains Rwandan architect Straton Uwizeyimana. The entrance of the Library and STEM Learning Center includes a fountain, the Fountain of Knowledge, with a circling brick seating space. Traditionally, students would sit around water in the evenings to share stories. In a similar way, a brand new Library and Science Center with a brick courtyard was constructed for students and staff to gather for school events. Large trees provide comfortable spaces around the campus for the students to study and read. It is common for Rwandans to sit under the canopy of trees for ventilation and shade. The buildings are placed in a circular formation on the campus, to create a sense of community, harmony and unity.
An important feature of the school is sustainability. Its functioning relies on the responsibility of students to participate in chores. The school’s impressive garden is run by the students who are responsible to water, weed and harvest. As one of the students expressed, you can “learn everything in the garden, how plants grow, how we plant them, learn how to work at home. When you go back home you help your parents in the garden because you learned it at school.” Students cook and eat the produce from the garden, including soybeans, nuts, green beans, greens, avocado, mango, banana and papaya. In addition, the school uses its own water system, because city water is quite expensive. Rainwater is collected from the roofs, travels through troughs to a tank, and is pumped from the tank to the garden. They also use this water system for washing and cleaning. Likewise, the students are also held accountable for maintaining the campus grounds during their Saturday Umuganda – cleaning the classrooms, dormitories, dining hall and libraries. Brother Stratton explains that the students feel a sense of pride and the school is theirs and they must work to take of it. Recently, the school added solar panels for an efficient, sustainable clean energy source.
In terms of academics, teachers are encouraged to develop lessons that reflect student-centered teaching practices, class discussions and inquiry-based instruction. Faculty are evaluated through a Collaborative Peer Support Teaching Model in which teachers provide feedback to each other and meet to discuss how they can improve as educators. Students are offered STEM combinations in MPC (Math, Physics, Computer Science), PCB (Physics, Chemistry, Biology), and PCM (Physics, Chemistry, Math). Students join student-led activities including Debate, Public Speaking, Bright Rwanda, Traditional Dance, Music and Dance, Choir, Peace and Unity, Maranyundo Charity Team, Environment Club, Peace and Love Proclaimers, Art Club and the Anti-Drug and Crime Club. Due to the clear dedication and commitment by students and educators, the Maranyundo Girls School has ranked #1 in the country based on the National O-level Exam. Students continue to pass and receive the merit of ‘with distinction’ on exams and in 2014, three Maranyundo students were named among the “Top Ten” performing students in the country.
In many respects, the Maranyundo Girls School is a model of success in education. Educators hold high expectations of their students and students see their identity reflected in the space. Students are supported by a caring community, and are invested in their own personal and academic growth. While schools in the United States have a very different history, there is much to learn from the work of the Maranyundo Girls School. It can serve as model of how a school can contribute to combating inequalities in society. Schools should foster a space of common identity and shared community, work towards providing a range of educational opportunities and encourage students to optimize their potential. In her address at the school’s first high school graduation in November 2017, Daphne Petri, Chair of the Maranyundo Board noted, “Rwanda and the world are waiting for Maranyundo Girls to build the world we all want to live in.” Through the efforts and support of the community, parents, students, staff, and Sister Juvenal, the Maranyundo Girls are preparing to do just that.