Sunday, February 27, 2011

Gashora Girls Academy: Educate a girl. Inspire a community. Transform a country.

Those who work in and around “nation building” and “development” quickly differentiate between dreamers and talkers vs. actual “doers”. If “Faith without works is dead,” then even more so, “Vision and good ideas without works are dead,”… all for naught, simply self-indulgence. An actual doer is a standout inspiration to all the rest who may still be talking, and I write to tell you about two "doer" superstars, and what they have achieved:

Three years ago Maggie Ritchie introduced me to Soozi Sinegal McGill and Shal Foster at Bourbon Coffee in Rwanda. What were we all doing? Talking, of course. What were Soozi and Shal talking about? They thought that they should build a high school for girls in Rwanda, one that would be known for excellence in education, resources, and leadership training of young women, for they believed that such opportunity, training, and leadership of young women would transform their lives, their communities and their nation. “Cool idea. How’s your latte?”

Before I go on about Soozi’s and Shal’s vision and great work, let me first confess how shamefully slow I was to appreciate the issue,… issues of gender, particularly the plight of girls born into poverty, and the obvious benefits of facing into and addressing these issues. In Rwanda, more than 50% of Members of Parliament are now women, the only country in the world that can make such a claim. Who cares? Why should it matter? Because women are fiercely focused upon feeding, educating, and otherwise providing for their families. Boys and men, on the other hand, have a tendency to gravitate towards sticks and stones and guns and other things that go “BOOM!” and… well, in the former Rwanda, genocide. So I now see that it is very important to have a large representation of women seated at the table of the body politic, not so much because “it is fair,” but rather because it is best for the community and the nation, for women are more likely to bring certain essential values, insights, and concerns that men are less likely to contribute. (Obviously I am not fully reformed, for I am not propounding unisex sameness.)

When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man.

When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children.

In Africa, children of mothers who receive five years of primary education are 40 per cent more likely to live beyond age five.

The return on investment for girls’ education is, on average, higher than for boys.  One extra year of secondary school boosts a girl’s future wages by 15-25%. 
The plight of girls born into poverty is very artfully depicted in  This simple but informative piece is directed to your mind more than your heart. Please treat yourself and have a look.

Back to Soozi and Shal and talk converted to action: This week (three years after our coffee together) I attended the Dedication Ceremony of Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology. It is not located in the finest neighborhood of Kigali, but rather in a very remote region, almost on the border of Rwanda and Burundi.  Gashora Girls Academy (GGA) is a state-of-the-art upper-secondary boarding school which will greatly increase educational opportunities for girls in Rwanda, where 97% of girls go to primary school, but less than 13% attend upper secondary school.

It is far better that I simply commend to you the website of Gashora Girls Academy:   But I do want to offer two observations by which I was so struck at the GGA Dedication Ceremony:
Soozi (blue), Shal (purple), H.E. Mdme. Jeannette Kagame, Head of School Peter Thorpe, a cadre of GGA students and Presidential Guard, approaching the auditorium
So I walked into the new auditorium of GGA, took a seat, and observed chairs set up on the stage for more than 50 VIPs. I knew that the First Lady was anticipated, but "UGH! 50+ VIPs? ...this is going to be painful." Was I ever mistaken! No, I was not mistaken about 50+ (actually 85 VIPs) on stage, I had simply underestimated Soozi’s and Shal’s wisdom, values and discernment in definitions. I was greatly moved by the symbolism of 85 young women, the freshman class of GGA, being seated “onstage” to fully honor THEM and the hope and the bright future that is theirs.
H.E. Mdme. Jeannette Kagame and Soozi Sinegal McGill focused upon the honored students
I was also moved by a speaker who noted the great hope, inspiration, and challenge that Soozi and Shal have provided to these young students, as the speaker stated: “Just look at what two committed, focused, determined women can do!"... and I thought back to first meeting them three years ago at Bourbon Coffee, and further thought: "Damn. Yes, just look at what two committed, focused, determined women can do!" Soozi and Shal are a great inspiration to all of us, and I feel privileged to count them as friends.
GGA new students celebrate by traditional dance, in traditional dress,
.... their very nontraditional future