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Mrs Jeannette Kagame’s 2015 International Women’s Day article

A Rewarding Experience

by Mrs Jeannette Kagame
First Lady of Rwanda and Chairperson of Imbuto Foundation

Rwanda is a place where we take beautiful risks. I say this because we have seen the extraordinary results that come from encouraging young people. We believe in their potential; so we prepare them to take up positions of responsibility. There is a sense that almost anything is possible, with the youth at the forefront.

My team at the Imbuto Foundation has challenged itself to think of ways in which we can engage and inspire a special segment of our society - young girls.

Ten years ago, we embarked on a journey; I would call it a labor of love. We decided to mobilize the Rwandan community to support girls’ education. We initiated an annual social mobilization campaign to motivate girls to perform well at school. When this campaign began in 2005, only 20% of girls were passing primary school examinations.

We committed ourselves to the task of changing this, and found it important to bring on board parents, teachers, inspiring role models, boys, local leaders and development partners. Together we set out to support girls’ education. For the last 10 years, we have publically recognized more than 3,800 young, smart Rwandan girls for outstanding academic performance; and hopefully also inspired many more to aspire for excellence.

At this 10-year mark, I want to pause and reflect on a few lessons we have learned:

A little appreciation goes a long way

If a girl knows there is someone who believes in her, in her abilities, this goes a long way in building confidence. The idea of holding award ceremonies in front of the entire community creates a sense of pride, for the girls and even the communities they come from. The rewards system encourages competition and motivates girls to work harder, be better students and have a goal to work towards. We at the Foundation see the campaign as a nurturing ground, where potential leaders emerge at every event.

Excellence is a habit

We have rewarded a number of girls twice or even thrice throughout the school cycle. Even when they continue to university, we see this trend continue. This has led us to believe that excellence inspires excellence. Given the right environment and encouragement girls can make excellence a habit.

Creating networks makes for continuous impact

Empowerment is an ongoing process. After the girls are rewarded, they become part of a larger network. This network consists of girls’ clubs whose members actively engage and empower their younger sisters. In this way, the girls stay connected and mentor each other. Most importantly, it has made our work easier, by spreading positive messages promoting girls education; they have taken our message further than we could have done on our own.

Mindset change is possible

In a survey conducted by Imbuto Foundation a few years ago, 97% of the respondents said that girls are no longer oppressed; they are now self-confident whether at school or in the community. In the same survey, some girls told us that because of the campaign they have developed a zeal for studying and no longer fear the subjects which they formerly regarded as difficult; namely sciences. As a country, we have witnessed good progress in girls accessing and staying in school, important contributing factors for good performance. All these demonstrate that mindset change is possible from individual to national level and inspires us to continue the campaign.

We look back on our efforts in the last 10 years and celebrate the great strides made in empowering girls. Seeing so many of our brilliant daughters grow and excel makes us proud. I can truly say that this journey has been a rewarding experience for Imbuto Foundation. We remain ever mindful of our responsibility to keep fighting for the rights of girls.

Go Girls! Make it Happen!