Quaker Schools in Rwanda
Quakerism came to Rwanda in 1986. Now there are about 5.000 Rwandan Quakers in Rwanda Yearly Meeting (RYM) spread across all 5 provinces. They have accomplished a great deal already, especially through helping to rebuild Rwandan society since the 1994 genocide. The work includes peace building, trauma healing, and reconciliation activity with people of all ages. Friends Peace House in Kigali is a focus for this work. Rwandan Friends are actively combating HIV/Aids, and in this and all other work, gender equality is central.
The Quaker schools play a crucial role in all this. They try to help students come to terms with their own histories and prepare them for a peaceful and harmonious society. There are 4 secondary schools (3 boarding, 1 day), 5 primary, and 4 nursery schools, as well as 1 bible teaching school to train local church leaders. Recent figures show a total of 6496 students: 220 nursery, 3341 primary and 2935 secondary.
The first school was a secondary one - Collège George Fox Kagarama, which opened in 1993. The other schools soon followed. All the secondary schools, the nursery school and one of the primary schools are private, so are funded by fees and donations. The government supports the other primary schools, but the church foundation is strong, and the Head must be a Quaker. All the schools, whether private or not, follow the national curriculum and meet every Government requirement.
RYM schools admit students without consideration of ethnic group, region, or religious denomination. This is a very deliberate strategy, aimed at bringing together many different groups and building strong relationships and understanding between them. In addition, the schools are all mixed, so that boys and girls can learn to understand and respect each other, and gender equality can be strengthened. Because of this broad and inclusive approach, the students come from many religious backgrounds, and only 10% of them are Quakers. The same is true of the teachers, though all headteachers are Quakers. The school board consists of the headteacher (chair), Director of Studies, Parish pastor, School bursar, and one representative each of parents, government, teachers and students. Apart from the headteacher, none of the others has to be a Quaker.
RYM tries to develop a strong Quaker ethos in all the schools. Each school has a chaplain who leads on Friends values. The schools also have their own Quaker school inspector. He helps with implementing Quaker values, as well as advising on educational and administrative matters, and ensuring that government policies are followed. He does this through visiting schools and organising meetings and staff seminars. Through his office, the schools also participate in ‘Growing together in Rwanda’, where students learn about gardening and nutrition, and forge closer links in doing so.
At the beginning of term, in the teachers meeting, each Headteacher explains about Quakerism, the history of the church and Quaker values. Teachers then do the same with their students, and repeat this from time to time during the term. There is an agreed statement of the history of the church and its values, which all schools use. Friends Peace House has a peer mediation programme, which trains teachers and students to do mediation in their schools. The students have peer mediation clubs to work on this together, and up to now all Quaker schools have been peaceful places, despite their mix of students and staff.
The schools face many challenges. Many students are orphans. Many other students have parents who are serving long prison sentences, because of their involvement in genocide. Many of these students, and others too, have difficulty in paying the school fees, and the Friends Church and the schools do their best to provide bursaries. There are not enough teachers - classes often have 60 or more children. Computers, laboratories and libraries are in short supply, and some of the school buildings are old and inadequate with little in the way of playing facilities. In addition to all this, all schools in Rwanda are changing from French medium teaching to English, and need new resources. Peace House is developing a ‘Peace Library’ of English books, which will help. Some twinning with Friends schools elsewhere is also contributing.