Girls in Rwanda were rewarded for working hard at high school this week when the central African country’s first lady handed out bags of books, calculators, pens, watches and pocket money to help with their studies. The central African country has good attendance rates of about 94 per cent at primary school, with slightly more girls enrolled than boys. But by they time they get to secondary school age, less than 20 per cent of children – and even fewer girls – go on to enrol.
Backed by the United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef, the first lady and founder of the Imbuto Foundation for education and welfare, presents awards to hundreds of girls across Rwanda. Speaking at the 2010 awards ceremony, she noted that girls find it particularly hard to stay in school because they are often called on to do the time-consuming job of fetching water for the family. “When I started going to school, I had to go against a culture that didn’t promote girls’ education, where poverty was a barrier,” said Nyirasafari Rwanda’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Espérance Nyirasafari. “But you are so lucky that you now have a government who cares about your education. Work hard like me, succeed, and become the good citizens our nation needs,” she told the girls.
Parents who had adopted orphaned children were also praised by the first lady, who also awarded 65 adoptive parents with a cow to help them support their families.“I am thrilled, said Charles, a 47-year-old parent from Ngororero. “I adopted four children after the genocide,” he told UNICEF. “They were my neighbour’s children and I have always treated them as my own and sent them all to school.”
Sixteen year-old schoolgirl prize winner, Olive Nishimine, said that her family’s support was vital to her success in school. “I am so excited to have been able to hold the first lady’s hand and have my country know that I have worked so hard,” she said. “My mother died when I was six and my father could not take care of my younger sister and me, so he left us with my grandparents. I'm lucky that I have an aunt who has always encouraged us to study.” While her aunt is a teacher, Olive says she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. Rwanda experienced Africa's worst genocide in modern times and the country has struggled to recover.