Keep Girls in School
This new program started in 2015 has caught on like wildfire. We have already produced and distributed over 1500 kits in the remote village of Itombwe and have received orders from other parts of our province and beyond. We are so happy that this simple solution is changing the paradigm for girls now, and as a consequence, sending them off into a new future!
Education for girls is the key to equality and self-confidence, but in Congo, adolescent girls begin missing 4-5 days of school every month once they start menstruating. They stay home those days and end up falling behind their peers. This is just one aspect of inequality inherent in a system that prepares these isolated women to stay trapped and uneducated in a cycle of oppression.
With this program we are educating children and challenging an under-served community to nurture kindness, compassion, and hope.
The majority of parents in Rwenena cannot afford to send children to school. There is almost no local economy in the village. Vulnerable children need extra support because many of them are rejected, abandoned, or stigmatized due to life circumstances.
Among these children are ethnic minorities and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), people born as a result of gender-based violence, people with disabilities, people with albinism, orphans, people with chronic illness, and former child soldiers. In DRC, 1 in 4 children never attends primary school. Only 60% complete this level – 30% for girls because educating boys takes priority.
Rwenena has long experienced ethnic-based strife and other prejudices. Conflicts create a great need for healing and reconciliation.
Each year we support a new class of 30 first-grade students to join sponsored colleagues in grades 2 – 6. Previously limited to serving primary school children, we have recently begun a scholarship program for high-performing students to enter middle school. Provisions of direct support for all our students include school fees, uniforms, book bags, and supplies.
Sport For peace
Besides classroom instruction, our school-wide Sport for Peace component is a hallmark of Rwenena Kids. Specially trained coaches teach soccer techniques as well as skill building in conflict resolution through dialog and compromise. Children on both teams are taught to mediate and determine soccer match outcomes themselves, evaluating not only points scored but also fair play. The program also offers education through sport of health and hygiene.
In Rwenena, it is mothers and other women—most of them single and vulnerable—who care for children. In early 2017, Hero Women Rising’s Girl Ambassadors for Peace spent about a week providing literacy training for these women, leadership training for 10 promising teenage women, and community awareness-raising focused on the importance of including women and girls in all aspects of life. During the assessment period, we learned that 90% of Rwenena’s women and girls (ages 17 and up) are illiterate. The mothers clamored for more literacy training, but we were unable to pay costs for return visits.
Now, thanks to availability of new funds from donors like you, we are pleased to report that Rwenena mothers are getting their wish. The literacy training begins in January and will include components of health and hygiene, human rights, and small business. Earlier this month, the community welcomed back Girl Ambassador extraordinaire Ariane Moza as she worked with them to lay the groundwork for a 3 month visit. The mothers were comfortable enough with her to speak up and convince her to provide 2 literacy class instead of just one: one for women who have had at least some primary school education; and the other, for women who have never been inside a classroom. Said one mother: “Men used to say that girls don’t deserve education, that girls must work on a farm waiting for their marriage age. That is not true. We must end this misunderstanding by allowing girls as well as boys to access education.”
We are integrating these components into our program in hopes of improving overall success of our young students. We strive to bridge the generational divide between educated and illiterate family members. Through newfound literacy, mothers look forward to playing a more active role in supporting their children’s education.
Moza with Rwenena family
A mother's literacy training
The collaboration with our Girl Ambassadors for Peace program goes beyond working with the moms. At times joined by other Girl Ambassadors, Moza will also conduct leadership training for promising young women and community theater on the critical importance of girls’ education and mothers’ roles in their children’s education. As important, Moza will be well situated to collaborate extensively with other villagers and school authorities for maximum impact on student learning.
Not only will moms be able to support their children's learning outside of the classroom; older students will begin to inspire and even mentor those who would follow in their footsteps.
Most children and adults realize that education is the key to a better life. We have chosen to serve a representative sample of students from all backgrounds of this already marginalized village. Taking this step prevents ill will and rivalry among parents. It increases the chance of peaceful coexistence while supporting the peace literacy we provide. We strive to create a new, literate generation that values and practices peace and tolerance.
The children practice sport for peace principles not only on the soccer field but also in the classroom and in the wider community. Our program fosters a safe place to play, heal, gain confidence, and learn mutual acceptance. We hope this will result in a new generation of peace practitioners.
After seven years of running this program, we have learned a lot about the specific dynamics and challenges of this village. In an effort to empower women not only within their own families but also at a community level, we envision holding a "parents' retreat." We will prioritize mothers' participation in this workshop on parents' rights, advocacy, and economic opportunities. In this way we hope to foster a more equitable gender balance in the parents' committee that makes many important decisions regarding the school.