After completing her degree in communication, Patrice Dorrall searched for employment, and her first job was to teach – something she had little to no experience in. What she didn’t know, however, was that the experience would prepare her for even greater things. She started her own school in Minnesota, USA, and intends to set up another one in Rwanda. She is currently the head of White Dove Girls School. She spoke to Women Today’s Sharon Kantengwa about her role in girl child empowerment.
Tell us about yourself
I am a 45-year-old African American and currently single. I love my goddaughter so much and want to give her the very best. My school in Minnesota is called LoveWorks Academy, and it serves around 485 students from nursery to secondary. I have been a school developer, leader and teacher for 21 years. I studied communication and I’m currently pursuing a post graduate certificate in Educational Leadership and Administration at WellSpring Abundant Leadership Institute.
How did you end up in Rwanda and White Doves in particular?
When I came to Rwanda in 2012, I wanted to start another LoveWorks school here with nursery all the way to S6, with emphasis on cultural aspects, academics and also sports and arts. When I came, I began working with different schools in Rwanda by volunteering, training teachers, writing a curriculum, helping with reading, English and administration. But then in 2014, just by chance, my best friend in the United States was singing for fundraising for the school when she heard the guest of honour talk about Rwanda. She went up to them and told them that I was in Rwanda trying to put up another school. My school is in Minnesota and so is the White Dove Foundation but I had never heard of it, and they too had never heard of me. When the board members of this school came to Rwanda, they got my information and contacted me and we met, but truthfully I wasn’t excited about the meeting. I had my own agenda, because I wanted to start my own school but when we met and they told me about their school I decided to give it a try.
I started working in Africa in 2009. I worked in Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda but when I came to Rwanda, I just fell in love with it. I like Rwanda for its cleanliness, the order, the President, and the people. Rwanda is a country that is advancing. It’s not just in words, but you see it all around you. I came in 2012 and I never left. I spend more time here than I do in America. I just love it. I feel more Rwandan than American.
How are you transforming this school?
I’m taking aspects of LoveWorks. I’m taking the academics to a higher level and that is a challenge but I will make sure that they make it to university. The other aspect is arts and sports. LoveWorks is registered here so we are partnering and we are also in a process of partnering with the Federation of Volleyball and we hope to be a training centre for volleyball. The federation is trying to recruit members for their national team and eventually White Doves will be a school they can come to. The girls will be good in their computer skills, fulfil their high school responsibilities and get professional training in volleyball. I’m also interested in talking to the federation of taekwondo because I need my girls to understand that they need to protect themselves and learn self-defence just like the schools in America. We also want to have a full dance programme like ballet, jazz, traditional dance, so that girls who are interested in that also get professional training. Those are the ways I can mesh LoveWorks’ vision with the White Dove vision.
Why do you think sports and arts are important?
I always thought to myself “why not create girls that are triple talented?” They can have the academics, the arts and sports. Just like in America, these three could take them places. Most of the students are talented but they don’t know that because they don’t have the avenues to expose them.
What are some of your achievements?
The founders of the school are American but they are not educators. Their original vision was to make the school a computer science hub for girls and I was given the mandate to create it and make it a reality, but now we are truly training them to be leaders. That’s the most gratifying thing about this school. There is a remarkable difference in this school from January 2015 to now. We are on our way to becoming one of the best Workforce Development Authority (WDA) schools in this country. Most of my students did not even have dreams of going to university, but now they have dreams and can make decisions. We first dealt with the academic side on the Rwandan scale, because 50 per cent is passing, but I tell my students that in the greater world, when they see 50 per cent, they see average. Now we strive for 70 per cent or even higher. The majority have improved. I had to do a lot because it starts with character, building self esteem, teaching study skills, the importance of education, and dreaming. I have also changed the staff because when I first came here, there was no true leadership. Now I’m sticking to policy and procedure and being accountable for the students that they teach. Our teachers know that in the end, you get results because it is not always about passing your national exams but also passing work every term - that’s what most universities consider. That is what our students are getting used to - being a good student all through and they are becoming more confident. I started She Leads Student Council and My Sister’s Keeper programmes at White Doves that are boosting these girls’ self-esteem. A group of girls also attended the 100 Women Who Will Impact Rwanda (100WWW-IR) which made an amazing impact on them as they now dream big.
What challenges did you face?
White Dove Girls School is only three years old so I had a lot of struggles in the beginning. I came on as the Director of Studies where I was only supposed to help the principle where he needed help and also with English, but then I saw a school with great potential. There were a lot of issues and so later on, I was asked if I could be the head of the school. I had to think hard about it because sometimes you have your own dreams. I thought about how I came in 2012 and tried to build a school but then another school was asking me to help them. But even with all this, it is probably one of the best decisions I have ever made.
You are putting a lot of effort in this school. What about your own school?
I believe God gave me the task to “lead where I land” and that I should “bloom where I’m planted”. I struggled with the thought of leaving because after I was here, I started loving the girls, and it was hard to walk away. It’s not that I am irreplaceable, but if I walked away from them now, I would be letting them down because I have been with them this whole time trying to build them. One thing about my personality is that if I’m committed to doing something, I will give 100 per cent of my time. White Dove is made for Rwanda and East Africa. I want to make a difference in the lives of girls from East Africa.
Who are your role models?
I look up to the late Nelson Mandela because he has an extraordinary story. I also love Oprah Winfrey for her giving spirit. I also look up to the First Lady of Rwanda and President Paul Kagame.
What is your philosophy in life?
First of all, when people show you who they are, believe them. Secondly, I don’t want to win alone, but I want everyone else to win. I also believe in Marianne Williamson’s quote that says “We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?”
Any inspiration to pass on?
Embrace failure and success because those are the two things that make us who we are. Sometimes we hate to have hard times but it is trials and tribulations that make us strong. Be happy for yourselves and don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t lose focus because there is a bigger goal at the end. You’ve got to figure out who you are.