Across Rwanda, girls of all ages face barriers when it comes to getting an education. Many are forced to drop out of school due to poverty, pregnancy, violence and conflict. When they return to school, it’s a race against time to catch up. The Association des Guides du Rwanda, with the support of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, is paving the way for girls and young women across the country, to continue their studies and enjoy the education they deserve. Here, girls from across the country reveal what Girl Guiding has taught them.
Portraits by Hervé Irankunda/WAGGGS
Kevine might be only eight, but Girl Guiding has helped her find her voice and stand up to others, so she can participate in activities such as sport.
“I like doing sport, but at school, girls aren’t allowed to participate as boys are seen as stronger. Thanks to Free Being Me [a programme focused on promoting body confidence], I’ve learnt I am strong enough to do sport - or anything else I want to do. Next time, I am told I am not allowed to participate I will speak up.”
Through Girl Guiding, Kevine has become more active in class and if she misses school, she knows she can catch up with the support of her Guiding friends.
“Being a Girl Guide makes me feel so confident. I don’t feel shy. I can put my hand up in class and speak up. Being able to participate in school is very important as education means a lot to me. When I am learning, I know I will succeed in my lessons.”
When Divine was sick, she would miss school and it was hard to catch up.
“When I returned, I felt worlds apart. Other students knew things I didn’t. Missing class made me feel sad; I missed my friends. Being a Girl Guide has helped a lot. When I miss school, they form study groups so I can catch up with others.”
As well as supporting her studies, Divine has learnt the importance of confidence.
“The Girl Guides run sessions about the importance of being body confident – and it’s something I want to share with others. The Free Being Me sessions, a project from the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, takes place in school providing a comfortable space for me to share my ideas.
“Through Free Being Me, I’ve learnt about why I need to be confident within myself. After the sessions, I always feel more beautiful. It’s taught me beauty does not count more than behaviour. I would not have known this without the support of the Girl Guides.”
Keza had to skip class to look after her siblings.
“When I was younger, my mother got really sick. I had to stay home and look after my siblings. I missed my friends so much. I couldn’t wait for my mum to get better so I could go back to school. When I returned, I was bullied by my classmates - they said I wasn’t as intelligent as them. I didn’t feel confident enough to challenge them and I was too scared to raise my hand in class.
Keza discovered a Girl Guiding group at her school who told her: “There is no Girl Guide who fails in class.”
“The Girl Guides studied together and helped each other out,” says Keza. “If I didn’t understand something, they encouraged me to ask. Now, I feel much more confident and capable. I love going to school, learning new things from my teacher and I feel confident enough to raise my hand in class.”
As well as supporting girls’ return to school, Girl Guiding in Rwanda provides girls with an opportunity to learn about issues such as health, body confidence and how to tackle violence.
“We’re not taught in depth about topics such as sexual health, violence or sugar daddies at school,” says Divine. “At my weekly Girl Guiding group, we can talk about it openly. It has provided a safe space to tackle these issues and I’ve learnt what to do if I feel at risk of violence.”
Karine lost her mum when she was little and now lives with her sister. Her Girl Guiding group in rural Rwanda provides a safe space for her to play, dance and be herself. It’s not just given her hope - it’s given her another family.
“I think about my mother a lot, but Girl Guiding has helped as I get to play with other girls. It makes me smile and feel happy. We help each other and now I try and help others, too. I’ve told all my friends about Girl Guiding. I really hope they will come and join me!”
Aimée lives in a refugee camp in Rwanda. She often misses school, as her family can’t afford the fees, but she’s determined to do all she can to continue her education.
“My school lies at the bottom of the hill – and it can take anything between 20 minutes to two hours to get there. Sometimes, when my parents can’t afford the school fees, I have to skip class. When I can’t go to school, I feel so sad. I work hard to catch up and I am always revising because I want to perform well in the next test, so my marks stay stable.”
It’s often a race against time for Aimée to catch up, but Girl Guiding provides a bit of respite.
“At school, I have the opportunity to take part in Girl Guiding activities. We sing, dance and I make new friends, who help me when I miss class. The activities are making me feel much more confident within myself. In the future, I want to perform in front of a thousand people and make the most of my talents.”
When Kirezi was growing up, menstruation was a taboo subject and she suffered when she got her first period.
“Secondary school wasn’t easy if you were a girl. No one told us about menstruation and what it meant – it was a secret part of our culture. When I got my period, I was at school. I could feel something happening to me. When I went to check, I saw the blood. I felt fearful. I had heard about periods on the radio, but I didn’t know what do and I felt as though there was no one I could talk to. I was only 13.”
Kirezi was attending boarding school at the time, so there was no one for her to talk to. Now, as a Girl Guide leader, Kirezi wants to break down the myths around menstruation.
“I want to support girls going through similar situations and help them overcome any barriers they face to getting an education.”
Alice’s friend was forced to drop out of school after her dad died in the genocide. As she was the eldest girl in her family, she was tasked with fetching water and looking after her siblings.
“Before my friend dropped out of school, she had a dream. She wanted to be a doctor. My friends and I wanted to help her, but she was so busy she couldn’t come and play. We didn’t want her to miss out, so we started visiting her at house. She was reminded of the confidence and pride that comes with being a Girl Guide.”
Eventually her mother saw the power of Guiding and sent Alice’s friend back to school. Nowadays, Alice is determined to ensure girls across Rwanda are empowered!
“It’s so important for girls today to have self-confidence and the belief they can get the job they want – and deserve. As Girl Guides, it’s our duty to teach girls that they can succeed.”
Emmerence lives in a remote community in Rwanda. The nearest shop is an hour away and the journey to school involves navigating hilly terrain.
“Girls in my community face a lot of barriers to getting a safe education. Poverty is a big problem. There’s also an issue with sugar daddies – older men who seduce little girls. These girls eventually fall pregnant and drop out of school.”
For Emmerence, poverty led her to drop out of school. “Growing up, my family wasn’t rich. Sometimes they couldn’t afford my school fees, so I would miss entire terms. When I did go to school, I couldn’t afford the school materials, so it was difficult.”
Emmerence is now a Girl Guide leader in her community – and it’s thanks to this movement that she was able to continue studying.
“The Girl Guiding group at my school gave me books, pens and anything else that would help me. They told me I wasn’t alone; we were together. If I hadn’t become a Girl Guide, I would not have finished high school and I wouldn’t have met so many girls who encouraged me to keep going - even when I was struggling.”
Sandrine was a teenager when she discovered she was pregnant.
“When I was 18, I was raped by a man I was dating. I reported it to the police, but our families knew one another and begged for his release. I soon discovered I was pregnant. They told me they’d support me while I was at school, as well as after the baby was born. My family and I agreed, as we needed the financial support.”
The support stopped and Sandrine was unable to return to school. Sandrine’s story is not uncommon, with 40% of Rwandan women aged 15-49 having experienced violence. Her life took a turn for the better when she joined a Girl Guiding group in 2013.
“It was a real eye-opener,” says Sandrine. “I met other survivors of violence and I realised I wasn’t alone. I liked the way they played, laughed and inspired one another. I felt like I found a group for myself.”
Even though Sandrine is no longer able to go to school, Girl Guiding is teaching her skills she never knew she had. “I’ve learnt so many things! We have the opportunity to learn vocational skills, such as tailoring, shoe-making and hairdressing. What means the most to me, though, is that they’ve accepted me and my daughter without any judgement.”
To mark International Day of the Girl, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts is calling for 12 years of free, safe, quality education for every girl around the world.
About World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts
The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) is the world’s only movement for every girl and any girl because we believe that each of them deserves to be the best they can be. The diverse Movement represents ten million girls and young women from 150 countries. Free to make what they want from the Movement, girls learn by doing, making friends and having fun. In safe, local spaces, girls develop the skills and attitudes to change themselves, their communities and our world. WAGGGS keeps the global Movement thriving, united and growing. www.wagggs.org