Our COVID-19 Response
Keeping Rwandan education alive amid the COVID-19 crisis
How are you in these strange days? Our team is praying for our wider community each morning and we want you to know that we are here for you in any and every way possible. We are just a phone call, email, or direct message away.
I also wanted to update you on the situation in Rwanda. While our home countries face huge issues in the face of this pandemic, the challenges have rapidly accelerated in the majority world due to the already fragile state of many countries.
Rwanda continues to be on a very strict lockdown, which has had a major impact on society. Income has been greatly reduced and social hubs, such as schools, have been closed down. This has disproportionately affected those living in poverty and we are now seeing very serious crises, including hunger and food insecurity, as families try to cope without the support of school communities and feeding programs.
As a result, Wellspring is taking the following actions as we help coordinate the response of the Rwandan education sector to the COVID-19 lockdown:
- We are playing a leading role in the support of the Rwandan government’s ‘Keeping the Doors Open for Learning‘ plan to provide ongoing educational opportunities for Rwanda’s children. This plan centres around radio lessons for all grades. Over the past two weeks, Wellspring has helped coordinate many education partners in support of this plan. Our trainers are also hard at work preparing lesson scripts for P1-6 Social and Religious Studies, as well as P4-6 Kinyarwanda and Math. We are aiming to have these lessons ready to broadcast shortly.
- Our team is connecting personally with hundreds of key program participants in each of the 138 schools we work in, including leaders, key teachers, parent committee leaders, and community connectors, to offer encouragement and words of wisdom, and to find out more about current community needs. We are seeking to show that we are here and that we are not abandoning them. Our team has compiled a report, which we will also share with our district and government partners to feed into their planning.
- We are preparing support for school leaders, to help them as they respond to the situation as a leader of a ‘school’ that is spread out over many hills and valleys, and support for parents, to encourage them as they deal with the challenges of having children at home for prolonged periods of time, some of whom have special needs or disabilities that require extra care.
- We are also exploring the most appropriate way for Wellspring to support local efforts to respond to the problem of hunger in our partner communities. It is near impossible for a child to learn when they are hungry, so we do not feel it is realistic to roll out any school over the airwaves program without this being addressed.
Here in North America, our team is also working from home, and we are doing all that we can to support the Rwandan team, including late night zoom calls and trying to organize key emergency response provision and funding. This task has been made more difficult due to the cancelation of key fundraising events, including our Vancouver Gala, which leaves us with a nearly $400,000 hole in our budget. To help address this and to hopefully bring a little hope to all our lives, from April 22nd to 25th, we will be hosting our virtual “Stay Home Gala: Turikumwe!”. This is a Kinyarwanda word meaning “we are together,” an expression that is profound in our socially distanced time. We will be sharing more details next week, so stay tuned! We will also be hosting a Facebook Live on Tuesday, April 7th at 11:30 A.M. PT / 2:30 P.M. ET / 7:30 P.M. BST to check in with you and share further updates about the situation in Rwanda.
As I prayed this week, I was reminded by God to give thanks in a time of darkness. In doing so, I realized that thankfulness opens the door to trust, as it teaches us that God has been faithful even in the toughest of times. As we reflect on God in our past, we can trust Him with our future and believe in the hope of brighter days to come. So, if it feels right, I invite you too to express your thanks, find your trust, and renew your hope.
Peace and grace to you wherever you are, friends.
What does social distancing look like in Rwanda?
Before I give an update on Wellspring’s response to the current COVID-19 situation, both in North America and in Rwanda, I want to check in with you all. How are you? It has been wonderful to hear so many of your voices on the phone, chat with you over email and direct messages, and see your comments on social media. We’re here for you and we pray for our partner community daily. If you need some support, prayer, or just to hear a friendly voice, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We know this is a tough time, but we are all in this together.
As you may have seen on the news, Rwanda is on full lockdown, which is being rigorously enforced. With the emergence of COVID-19 in the country, the Rwandan government is trying to stop the spread of the virus due to limited medical facilities that would be quickly overwhelmed. All schools and non-essential businesses are closed. All travel is banned except for essential shopping. This means that all of our team are working from home.
However, this obstacle has not stopped our team from caring for the children of Rwanda, particularly in the face of real and growing needs in response to this crisis. Kids in Rwanda have fewer opportunities for learning at home than children in North America, and their time away from school presents economic and childcare burdens for parents, many of whom already struggle to provide for their families on a day-to-day basis. With school feeding programs closed along with the schools, food security is a real issue, as many of these families can’t make up for those lost meals for their children.
Self-isolation and social distancing also look very different in Rwanda. In the villages we work in, family homes often consist of one or two small rooms, with many generations living together in these cramped spaces. We have worked hard to bring support to these families through the school system, which has become a community hub, and we are concerned about how these families are coping without this support.
In response to these growing needs, we are taking the following actions:
- Wellspring has been asked by the government to take a leading role in the coordination of partner organizations to develop a plan to help children continue with their education from home. This will allow parents much needed space and stability, and also help children access resources that will encourage learning.
- We are working with the government and key partners, such as UNICEF, USAID, and others, to develop lessons that can be broadcast over the Rwanda Broadcasting Service to children across Rwanda. As part of this, we are also looking at ways in which we can work with parents to bring reassurance and reduce anxiety levels.
- We are continuing to monitor the food security situation. Any response that Wellspring makes in this field will be done in conjunction with the government and our partners.
- We are reaching out to every one of our key project participants, including school leaders in the 134 schools we work directly in, as well as parent representatives, community leaders, and district government, to check in with them about the situation.
- We are planning on a surge in our operations and support when schools reopen, whenever that may be. The continuation of our program is essential to ensure that no child is left out of the education they deserve.
Here in North America, our team is also working from home, and we are doing all that we can to support the Rwandan team. A crucial part of this is ensuring the necessary funds to both respond to the needs addressed above and also increase our operations when schools reopen. This task has been made exceedingly difficult due to the cancelation of key fundraising events, including our Vancouver Gala, which leaves us with a nearly $400,000 hole in our budget.
But we choose to see this as opportunity, not an obstacle.
As such, we’re excited to announce a special event that we would love for you to participate in.
From April 22nd to 25th, we will be hosting our virtual “Stay Home Gala: Turikumwe!” This is the Rwandan word for “We are together”, which is truly what we are right now, isn’t it? Daily events will feature new films from Rwanda, interviews, updates, bright moments of inspiration, a silent auction, and much more. Our aim is to show you how our work is making a difference in a dark time and how education for the most vulnerable is more vital now than ever before. More details will be announced shortly, but I do hope you can join us and that we can all celebrate what God is doing, even in these challenging times.
I was reminded this morning of the words in Proverbs 3-5-6, which I first learned by heart as a new Christian from the Good News Bible version:
Trust in The Lord with all your heart and never rely on what you think you know.
Remember Him in all that you do, and He will show you the right way.
May that trust in Him and His guidance be our way forward at the moment.
Thinking of you all,
COVID-19 is impacting all of us in so many ways, and we want you to know how Wellspring is responding to the current crisis, both in North America and Rwanda.
Firstly, we are making every effort to protect our staff, instituting work-from-home protocols where necessary and ensuring that their health and safety is our first priority.
Secondly, we are doing all we can to care for the many vulnerable communities we work in, while also communicating wisely with our stakeholders around the world about current needs. Sadly, despite excellent protective efforts by the Rwandan authorities, COVID-19 has entered Rwanda and the healthcare systems are not well-equipped to cope.
There are real needs in the current situation in Rwanda, particularly with schools now closed. This presents critical issues that are different to those we face here in Canada. As a March 18th blog post from the World Bank states:
“As we have seen from previous health emergencies, most recently the Ebola outbreaks, the impact on education is likely to be most devastating in countries with already low learning outcomes, high dropout rates, and low resilience to shocks.
While school closures seem to present a logical solution to enforcing social distancing within communities, prolonged closures tend to have a disproportionately negative impact on the most vulnerable students. They have fewer opportunities for learning at home, and their time out of school may present economic burdens for parents who may face challenges finding prolonged childcare, or even adequate food in the absence of school meals.”
Wellspring is particularly concerned about this, and therefore we have taken the following actions:
- We are in communication with the Rwanda authorities and our partners on the ground to see what specific measures we can take to help them in this crisis. We have had some requests, and our team is currently assessing how we can best respond. We will update you on this as soon as we are able.
- We are working directly with schools and communities to encourage them and keep communication lines open.
- We are looking at the educational resources we can provide to help children keep up with their learning from home.
- We are planning ahead for a surge in activity when the schools reopen.
Our North American Situation and Response
Sadly, as has happened with many other non-profit organizations, we have taken a massive hit in our fundraising, particularly due to the cancellation of some key events, including our Vancouver Gala. This has led to a projected $400,000 hole in our finances over the next two months. However, we are determined to stay operational and respond to the needs of the nearly 200,000 vulnerable children we work with, their teachers, parents, school and community leaders. To do this, we need to replace our events and raise the funds that have disappeared.
To that end, we are planning a four day virtual online event from April 22nd to 25th, including premieres of films recently shot in Rwanda, an online auction, live updates from our teams in North America and Rwanda, and lots of interactive moments with you, our partners and friends. As well as this event being an appeal for much-needed funds to do our work, we want this to be a bright light of hope in a dark world, as we see what God is doing in education in Rwanda.
Over the next few weeks, we will keep you updated about our response to this crisis and the work happening on the ground. To begin, we are hosting an open Zoom call where you can join and hear the latest updates directly. This will take place at 12pm Pacific / 3pm Eastern on Monday, March 23rd. The details are below and we would love to see you there.
We will also be hosting an Instagram live event on Tuesday, March 24th at 12pm Pacific / 3pm Eastern.
Times like this show us who we are and who we follow. They can bring us to our knees in prayer or our knees in despair. We choose the former. So in this difficult time, we also want to care for you and hear from you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for prayer, support, or even just a chat. You are as much a part of Wellspring as we are and we are all in this together.
Peace and Grace,
CEO: The Wellspring Foundation
On Monday, March 23, 2020, we were live on Zoom to discuss what the COVID-19 pandemic means for Wellspring in Rwanda. Our C.E.O. Andy Harrington walked us through the current situation in Rwanda, what school closures mean for the most vulnerable, and what Wellspring is working on as a response to this crisis.