How Ruth Helps Her Peers Return to School
Going Back to School
In rural Rwanda, a girl is stepping out of her front door. She’s in her school uniform, and it’s going to be her first day going back since she dropped out. As she hesitates for a moment, Ruth steps forward and offers her a hand to walk with her to school. Ruth knows the challenges that led to the girl dropping out, and the anxieties she feels about returning, because she had to overcome them herself.
Since COVID-19 first struck Rwanda, schools have been closed for a total of 41 weeks of instruction. While schools were closed, many children started working to support their families. They hauled water, sold food, worked on farms, and some were engaged in dangerous work that’s illegal for children, like mining or construction. But when schools reopened, many children who were working didn’t return. Ruth was one of them.
Ruth was 12 when COVID-19 first closed schools. Her mother had always struggled to cover school costs for uniforms, a bag, notebooks, and other supplies. With schools shut down and no money for a tutor, Ruth dropped out of school to work with her mother.
“It was painful to stay at home, but when I was at home, I kept myself busy. I would help my mother to grind cassava and go with her to sell flour in the market. I watched how she did it and started selling doughnuts and making my own money,” Ruth says.
“When other children started returning to school, I had no interest in going back.”
“At the time schools reopened, Ruth was making money and bringing in a significant part of our income. I couldn’t see the importance of her going back to school, so I didn’t encourage her to,” says Ruth’s mother, Nimuragire.
Ruth’s situation wasn’t unusual in her community. Dozens of other children in her community who had dropped out and taken jobs during the school closures were in similar positions.
“When other children returned to school, I had no interest in going back.” – Ruth, Junior Leader, 14
Finding a Way Back
Ruth’s journey back to school began when she and her mother were visited at home by members of her school’s local Junior Leader club. The club was reaching out to students who had dropped out and their families to help them return. Junior Leaders spoke with Ruth’s mother about the importance of Ruth finishing her education, and they invited Ruth to join their play activities once she was back.
“I was touched by how the children at the club support each other and help others." – Ruth
The biggest obstacle to Ruth’s return was simply the cost of school supplies. If she stopped working and started going to school, the family would lose income at the same time as they needed money for school. So after the club members had convinced Ruth to return, they fundraised the money she needed for a new uniform. Junior Leaders do craft activities together after school. They sell the crafts to help support members (many of whose families are facing similar issues with poverty to Ruth’s) while allowing them to attend school.
Ruth was ecstatic about going back and the support the other Junior Leaders had provided.
“I was touched by how the children at the club support each other and help others,” she says, “You can reach out the club when you have any challenges.”
Teaching the Future
Ruth returned to school with new excitement, and she was so inspired by the support from the club that she joined it. She joined the club’s activities and became especially passionate about helping other children who had dropped out to return.
Within a few months of returning to school, she had been elected to be the Junior Leader club’s secretary for her efforts helping 14 other children who had dropped out to return.
“Ruth is an example to them because she was out of school, but she received encouragement and returned to school,” Agnes, Ruth’s teacher and the club’s patron at the school, says about Ruth’s efforts.
“When I see other children that I used to work with, I feel so happy to be back in school with them, especially when we are playing and studying together.” – Ruth
“When I see other children that I used to work with, I feel so happy to be back in school with them, especially when we are playing and studying together,” Ruth says, “I really believe education is so important.”
Ruth’s dream after she finishes her education is to become a teacher, so she can continue to help children gain an education and access the opportunities it offers.
“I can become a teacher after I finish school, which I could never be without an education. That profession could enable me to support my family and give back to my country. By educating Rwandan children, I would be teaching the future.”
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The leadership club that Ruth attends is part of the Gender Responsive Education and Transformation (GREAT) program, which is made possible thanks to the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada. Active in Ghana, Mozambique and Rwanda since 2018, the GREAT program uses Right To Play's play-based learning approach to remove barriers to education, especially for girls, and to build teacher capacity to improve learning outcomes.