Ecole Notre Dame de la Providence was founded in 1957 by the Soeurs Auxiliatrices des Ames du Purgatoire (helpers of souls in purgatory) in the current Gisagara District. It moved to its present location in 1959, becoming the first girl’s school for social workers in Rwanda and Burundi.
Josepha Musabyemaria, an old girl of the school in the years 1961-66, says the opening of the school was a defining moment for the emancipation of women.
“Women were like ‘souls in purgatory’, their fate was pending,” she says.
“The opening of the school signaled the start of a long crusade on gender equality. People woke up to the reality that women can also achieve like their male counter parts,” said the retired social worker.
The alumni of the school have Monsignor Deprimoz of Kabyayi Diocese to thank for his efforts in starting the school.
In a letter dated October 10, 1951, monsignor Deprimoz wrote to the Soeurs Auxiliatrices des Ames du Purgatoire, in France and Belgium informing them of the need to start a girl’s school for social workers.
This request was finally honored in 1957.
At the school, girls studied sociology, psychology, languages and hand-work among other things in order to prepare them for their future tasks.
“We had committed teachers, both European and Rwandese. We were given undivided attention because the classes were relatively small,” recalled Felicite Karomba, an old girl of the school in the years 1977-1980.
“Selection to join the school was very competitive, only the crème de la crème joined the school and those who completed were much sought after,” recalled Karomba.
For Musabyemaria, life at school was very comfortable. “We paid Rwf300 as school fees for the whole year.
We were provided with school uniforms from Belgium, the teachers were friendly, it was an ideal environment to study from,” she said.
She added: “We had time to study but also engage in extra curricula activities like singing. The experience of singing along with Cecil Kayirebwa (celebrated Rwandan Musician) is unforgettable.”
Girls at the school were empowered and encouraged to stand out from the crowd. They were groomed in special skills, such as; public speaking, debate and leadership.
“Our eyes were opened to the fact that we were not meant only to lay beds for our husbands but to participate equally in all aspects of life,” Musabyemaria said.
The academic programmes at the school have since changed. In 1999, the school changed its name from Ecole Sociale to Ecole Notre Dame de la Providence de Karubanda.
In a bid to promote science education among girls, in 2005, the school opened Biology and Chemistry sections, an addition to the already existing humanities.
The quest for academic success has remained. The school has continued to produce top students in the country’s national examinations. Last year, all students who sat for Advanced level examinations passed, while 80 percent of them received government scholarships.
But how do the alumni see the school 50 years down the road?
For Karomba, the participation of parents in the education of their children is commendable.
“There was little participation of parents during our time. We were left to the school administration but today parents are actively involved in the running of the school.
I have been told parents in this school have enrolled a school nurse and are paying for teachers to learn English,” she says.
“Students are now more open minded, thanks to the evolution of information technology. In our years, we only relied on what was given by teachers.”
Musabyemaria, added that change in the education programme at the school was good but at a cost.
“Doing away with handwork was a big mistake. We are now producing girls who cannot knit a hem of a dress, girls who cannot knit a button on a shirt. This is an area that has to be revisited,” she said.
The Ecole Notre Dame de la Providence de Karubanda has produced some notable figures in politics and entertainment.
Notable among them include; Zainabu Kayitesi, the president of the Rwanda Human Rights Commission, MP Christine Mukarubuga and the celebrated Belgium based Rwandan Musician Cecil Kayirebwa.