Last week,over 50 girls graduated from Aspire Rwanda. These are girls who dropped out of school due to financial constraints and unwanted pregnancies, among other causes.
VIDEO: Aspiring Rwandan Vulnerables by empowering them. Source: TheNewTimes/Youtube
One of the graduates, 23-year-old Oliver Uwizeyimana, dropped out of school in senior 3. For a year, Uwizeyimana lived a hard knock life. But hope came her way when Aspire Rwanda, a non-governmental organisation came to her rescue. Located in Gisozi the organisation helps disadvantaged girls and women.
“I dropped out of school in senior three and had to stay home for a year, later, I heard about Aspire Rwanda and immediately sought refuge there. I was enrolled for a six-month training and now I have skills in culinary, child care and housekeeping,” Uwizeyimana narrates.
“It’s a great feeling knowing that I can actually be productive in society and I was lucky that immediately after my training, I got a job,” she adds.
Her dream is to take care of her family and save some money so that she can start a business of her own in future.
“If you want to do something, do it and try not to discuss it with other people because some will only discourage you. I decided to do this on my own and I believe that the future is always bright for those who lookout for themselves,” she advises.
The girls that once felt hopeless are now dependable citizens equipped with skills for survival.
This year, over 100 girls who dropped out of school were taken in by Aspire Rwanda and at the end of the year, they will graduate with skills in different areas.
Aspire Rwanda has been helping disadvantaged women and girls for seven years now, it not only helps school drop outs but also, single mothers, widows and families living in absolute poverty.
Peace Ruzage, the CEO and founder of the organisation, says that the need she saw in society inspired her to start something that would help unfortunate young women work towards better lives.
“Before, I used to work with an NGO that was also helping women but I wanted to do it differently. The life the women were leading wasn’t fulfilling and I had to do more. I wanted something that would help equip them with skills to secure a brighter life,” she says.
The young women are trained in catering, housekeeping, hairdressing, handcraft making and child care. And as they go on with their duties, their kids are also catered for at the centre where they too get an education with a feeding programme.
Ruzage says that taking care of their children helps them focus knowing that their children are safe.
The graduate pioneers went into handicraft making and are now under a big cooperative called Tujyembere.
After their training, the young women are helped to secure internships while some manage to secure jobs where as those who don’t are given loans to start up a business and the loan is paid back with no interest.
“We want women to strive regardless of their education background because what I discovered is that they actually have potential only that they lacked someone to encourage them and let them know that they can make it,” Ruzage observes.
Beyond the skills availed to the girls
Apart from trainings, young women are sensitised on health, civic education, human rights and counseling is offered for the married ones through partnerships with in-charge organisations like Haguruka, Kacyiru Police Hospital and Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (Rwamrec).
Ruzage says that the organisation hopes to do more on supporting cooperatives in agriculture and would like to have boys on the sponsorship programme for school drop outs.
Moses Kyomukama, the head trainer at the organisation, says that the girls have a chance to not only access theory but also, hands-on skills; classes are conducted in both English and Kinyarwanda.
“Our students are taught in English and this serves as a bonus too and for those who have trouble with the language, they are helped with translation though tests and exams are strictly done in English,” he says.
Octave Shyaka, the programme’s coordinator, explains that they so far have four projects. 450 women, most of whom are widows, are supported by the agricultural project in Kinyinya and Rutunga.
Shyaka points out that apart from school dropouts; their most crucial project is Early Childhood Development (ECD) where they impart their students with the necessary skills on issues like hygiene and first aid.
“These skills that are given to our students not only help them get out of poverty but contribute to society’s development as well,” Shyaka adds.
The organisation plans to open up a website that will connect their graduates to the people who need them as employees.
What the beneficiaries say
22-year-old Violet Nyirandikubwimana was lucky to complete her senior six, however, all walls closed in when she didn’t get a scholarship and as she was still struggling with what to do next, she got pregnant and gave birth. Life had never been so hard for her. Joining Aspire Rwanda, she says, has given her another chance at life.
“When I gave birth, life became so hard that I could barely feed my baby but later, when I joined Aspire, things turned for the better. Now that I am a graduate, I have hope for a job and that way, I will help my baby and my family too,” Nyirandikubwimana says.
19-year-old Usher Ndayizeye shares a similar story; she dropped out of S.3 after getting pregnant but instead of burying herself in self pity, she decided to go for a short course at Aspire Rwanda.
“After I gave birth, I didn’t go back to school but later, I came to learn of this organisation and joined it. Right now, I am confident I will get a job and I am certain that I will be of help towards my family,” Ndayizeye says.
35-year-old Sarah Uwamahoro has three kids; she had no job and her husband only tried out temporary jobs. Life was harsh and she says that they mostly survived by God’s grace. But one day, Uwamahoro decided to take a step. Her need to see her family live a better life pushed her to do more.
“I joined Aspire and was trained in catering. Now that I have graduated, I am hoping to get a job and soon, my family’s wellbeing will improve for the better. Women should know that they have a big role to play in their families and should help out their husbands,” she says.
How can girls be encouraged to stay in school?
The important thing is to look into such cases and find out the root cause behind students dropping out of school before the end of their studies. For instance, some students drop out of school because they lost interest in their studies, or when they find what they are studying is not connected to what they want to do in the future. Teachers need to identify such cases and take the lead in encouraging their learners to keep interest in their academics.
Sharon Kagaga, student
I look at career guidance as an ultimate solution towards this issue. Career counseling helps students realise true aptitude, and helps them grow up with preconceived notions and academic purpose. Also, parents and teachers should work hand in hand to help students keep focus on academics and be passionate about books.
Fiona Ntaringwa, model
I believe the majority of students who drop out of school are most likely academically weak or exposed to negative peer pressure. Such influence makes some students consider dropping out. In my opinion, schools should endeavor to help such students catch up with their studies, and guide them positively to avoid their peers’ adverse influence. A passionate student who is doing well academically can never consider dropping out of school.
Zuba Chantal, event planner
I think the government should take the initiative and introduce campaigns educating students on the importance of education, and also, advise them to avoid leaving school before they are done since that will only create problems. The government should ensure that dropouts are helped to get back into school or are at least engaged in productive activities like vocational training as a way of equipping them with other important life skills and knowledge.
Francoise Mukasanga, entrepreneurFollow https://twitter.com/DonahMbabazi