Our COVID-19 Response
Seeking justice in the midst of brokenness
I’ve been thinking a lot about the happenings in the world recently, as I’m sure you have too. In the midst of watching the news and checking social media, I’ve turned to reflecting on our core values of dignity, worth, and justice. At Wellspring, we deeply feel the cry for justice amid brokenness. In a world that so often dehumanizes and treats people as “other,” we stand for and with the marginalized and oppressed. We are determined to play our part in seeking restoration and justice through our work in quality Christian values-based education in Rwanda and beyond.
Our priority has always been and will always be to help the most vulnerable, so I want to give you a quick update on our work in Rwanda amid the ongoing struggles of COVID-19.
In good news, we have moved beyond the phase of immediate relief, which included deliveries of foodstuff, such as maize flour and beans, to 12,000 people struggling with hunger in the Rubavu District, and are now into a phase of sustainability, which includes working towards building resilience and helping schools prepare for reopening in the fall. Our offices in both Rwanda and Canada have partially reopened, providing our team with additional space and resources as we continue to support 134 schools, their wider school communities, and the hundreds of thousands of children they serve. Even as we move into this new phase, three of our drivers remain actively involved in the National COVID Response Task Force, and we are so proud of the key role they are playing at this important time.
As our work with schools continues, one of our key priorities is to ensure school leaders have the support they need to prepare for reopening in September. Additionally, we know that many children will return to school carrying the burdens of their lockdown experiences. We are currently developing our training to help teachers care for these children, particularly in addressing any psychological struggles they have, standing with them and offering the help and safe space children need to work through these experiences.
But that’s not all.
As I’ve spoken about in previous emails, evidence shows that dropout will be a critical issue in the coming months, as many children won’t return to schools when they are reopened. These kids are just as deserving and worthy as every other child, and we are committed to getting every child back in the classroom so they can have the same opportunities to thrive in the future. We’ve seen through lived experience that the best way to combat dropout is to come alongside communities and families. Our Community Involvement team is hard at work developing relationships with parents and community leaders, as well as preparing workshops that help parents understand the importance of education for their children.
Alongside this, we are developing plans to ensure that schools have access to the necessary sanitation facilities to protect children with good hygiene and limit the spread of COVID-19. We previously conducted a survey about hand-washing facilities and are looking into ways to support priority schools, as well as coordinating with other agencies to ensure our resources are used as wisely and widely as possible.
In the midst of all this, we have also finalized our strategic plan for the next four years, entitled Vision 2024: For Every Child, and we can’t wait to share it with you. And of course, in relation to the personal news I shared a few weeks ago, we are preparing for a new C.E.O. to take the reins here at Wellspring. While it will be hard to leave such a wonderful organization, I am deeply excited for the new opportunities that will come for Wellspring with new leadership. Stay tuned for more details on this front very shortly.
Though this may be a dark time, our vision is to see the light dawn as together we seek justice, worth, and dignity for the vulnerable children and families of Rwanda, that they would be empowered to fulfil their God-given potential and know that they are loved by the God who created each of us equal.
Thank you for your role in this story, for making this transformative work possible. As always, we are just an email, phone call, or direct message away. Please don’t hesitate to reach out, even if you’re just looking for a bit of encouragement. We are always delighted to hear from you.
Stay safe, stay strong, and stay connected to each other and the One who brings life in all its fullness.
Andy Harrington, CEO
The Wellspring Foundation for Education
Moving from relief to sustainability
As we move into the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been thinking of you all. In many places, including here in BC, the possibility of returning to an altered form of normalcy is on the horizon. Though, to be honest, I’m not sure that the word ‘normalcy’ will ever apply to 2020. As we adapt to this new normal, I just wanted to say again that we are still here for you, through phone calls and prayer, zoom meetings and social media messages. Please don’t hesitate to reach out, even if you’re just looking for a bit of encouragement.
In Rwanda, our team is also going through a transition. As the lockdown has been partially relaxed, we are moving from a phase of immediate relief to one of sustainability.
This week, we finished our initial deliveries of foodstuff, such as maize flour and beans, to families struggling with hunger in the Rubavu District. To focus and learn, kids need proper nutrition, and we will not abandon them while they are starving. As such, we will continue to support as needs arise. Our trainers have also written and submitted 61 radio lessons to the Rwanda Education Board for broadcast over Radio Rwanda to support learning at home for children. Our team worked tirelessly on these lessons so that kids will not miss out on their education while schools are closed. In addition, three of our drivers and vehicles are still hard at work with the National COVID Response Task Force, transporting medical staff and supplies, as well as contact tracing. I am so proud of our team and their willingness to serve as we all weather this pandemic together.
As schools will remain closed in Rwanda until September, we have laid out five priorities that will define our response to this continuing crisis as we emerge into a new sustainability phase. We will…
- Assess the evolving situation on a constant basis.
- Be proactive with our partners and the Rwandan government.
- Stay focused on quality education.
- Place a particular focus on the most vulnerable children and families.
- Address emerging needs, such as increased dropout rates and the challenges of reopening schools successfully.
In this, we recognize that good hygiene is key to protecting children. To make sure we’re tackling this head on, our team recently completed a survey of the sanitation facilities in 130 of the schools we work in. The results showed us that the need is great. 96.2% of these schools do not have adequate hand-washing facilities. Of the facilities that do exist, only 37% are accessible to students with disabilities. In a time where we know that hand-washing is essential to combat the spread of diseases and to protect the health of children, we cannot let this stand. We are building a plan to address this critical issue alongside our partners.
The reopening of schools will come with a variety of challenges, and we are committed to standing by leaders, teachers, and parents as we all navigate these new realities together. The necessary lockdown has had severe impacts on many lives, and we know that some children will come back to school carrying the trauma of what they experienced during this crisis. We’re currently examining ways to offer support for leaders and teachers who will stand alongside these kids and offer them the help and safe space they need to work through their experiences.
In all of these plans and priorities, we continue to seek justice, worth, and dignity for the children and families of Rwanda, so that they will have the same opportunities to grow into their God-given potential and know that they are loved by the God who created us all equal.
It is only because of you, our wonderful community of supporters, that this is all possible. Thank you for reaching out across continents and oceans to help our Rwandan brothers and sisters during this crisis. We cannot thank you enough.
Stay safe, stay strong, and stay connected to each other and the One who brings life in all fullness.
Andy Harrington, CEO
The Wellspring Foundation for Education
An outpouring of generosity
Here we are, six weeks into this lockdown. Together, we have had to adapt to so many new challenges—missing family and friends, trying to help our children access schooling, attempting to work from home, and just dealing with the incredible strain of each new and unusual day. In this unprecedented time, I’m so grateful that a sense of community is prevailing as we all strive to find new ways to connect despite being physically apart.
Last week, we experienced that community firsthand as we connected through the Stay Home Gala. It brought true joy to my heart to see hundreds of you interacting with our teams both in North America and in Rwanda as we travelled on a virtual journey through education together. This was a deeply meaningful time of passion and inspiration, particularly as we heard directly from children about the difference Wellspring’s training has made in their school, and how quality education is impacting their lives. We also heard direct updates from our team about the urgent needs in Rwanda, such as food security and access to continued education, that are rapidly arising due to COVID-19.
Thanks to your generosity, we are only $989 shy of our $250,000 target, all of which is being directly used to tangibly support urgent needs in Rwanda, while also ensuring that we are planning well for the continued pursuit of quality education into the future.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a drastic impact on daily life in Rwanda, and our team is right on the frontline, doing all they can to bring aid and comfort. Rwanda is in the process of easing the nationwide lockdown, but has announced today that schools will remain closed until September 2020. Due to the resulting economic hardships and the closure of school feeding programs, hunger has gained a gnawing foothold, and Wellspring is responding.
So far, we have purchased 35 tons of maize flour and beans, which is being delivered to 12,000 people, and is enough to help an average of 2,000 families get through the next two weeks. We are also providing resources for parents and leaders, and crucially, are exploring the opportunity to partner with another organization to ensure that vulnerable young women have access to the information they need to address the very specific issues they face.
In that, we remain committed to the future of quality education in Rwanda—an education that shows justice, dignity, and worth to every child and empowers them to fulfil their God-given potential. Our team is planning for a surge in operations, both in schools and in communities, once the lockdown is fully lifted. We’ve already begun a survey of the sanitation facilities in each of the 75 Rubavu District schools we work in, as it is critical for students to be protected with good hygiene. Evidence also shows that dropout will be a critical issue, as many children won’t return to schools when they are reopened. We’re committed to getting these kids back in the classroom so they can have the same opportunities in the future as every other child, no matter their circumstances.
We can’t do any of this without you, our wonderful Wellspring community. We are so deeply grateful for all that you do and the sacrifices you make to stand by the most vulnerable children and remind the world that they deserve a quality education too. Thank you.
Stay safe, stay strong, and stay connected to each other and the One who brings life in all its fullness.
How do 10,000 kgs of beans relate to education?
Despite this challenging time, I do hope you were still able to have a wonderful Easter. For our family, this weekend was a time to find hope in the darkness. This year, I found Easter Saturday to be particularly profound, the day of wonder and anxiety between the death and resurrection.
On that Easter Saturday, the followers of Jesus were sent to their knees in despair, troubled about what would come next. This is where we all live in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. This is a place of both fear and hope, doubt and faith, all mixed together in the tension of being human. But we know this story ends with Easter Sunday. We know that love triumphs over fear and that we will see everything put right, the whole of creation restored to perfect condition as everyone comes home again.
And that is what we must cling to as we continue in the day-to-day of this crisis.
At Wellspring, we’re continuously adapting our programs to be responsive to the emerging needs in Rwanda. As well as a health crisis, Rwanda is facing an immense economic crisis. This is resulting in food shortage and wide-scale hunger, particularly among the vulnerable populations we work in.
As a result, Wellspring is assisting the Rubavu District in an emergency food security program. It is essential that children have the nutrition they need to thrive and the energy they need to learn. Initially, Wellspring is purchasing 10,000 kgs of key foodstuffs, such as beans, that will be distributed to those in need, but this is just the beginning of our support as hunger is a critical issue at this time.
In the midst of this, we remain focused on quality education. Our team is partnering with the Rwandan government and other organizations as a national effort is put forth to move learning onto the airwaves. We have recently completed the first round of lesson scripts, which will be broadcast on the radio soon to help children learn at home.
Our team has also prepared a guidance package for school leaders, offering strategies as they adapt to being a leader of a ‘school’ that is spread out over many hills and valleys. We’re also finding ways to continue our support for parents, to encourage them as they deal with both the challenges and opportunities of children staying home, some of whom have disabilities that require special support and care.
While we are focused on the urgent needs, we are still committed to the future of quality education in Rwanda. Our team is planning for a surge in operations once the lockdown is lifted. Evidence shows that dropout will be a critical issue, as many children won’t return to schools when they are reopened. We’re committed to getting those kids back in the classroom so they can be equipped with an education that matches their God-given potential. In addition, we must ensure that children are protected with good hygiene, which is why we’re investigating what it would take to provide increased sanitation and wash facilities in each school.
Right now, we anticipate a cost of around $200,000 to meet the emerging and urgent needs in Rwanda in the realm of education, food security, and school sanitation. At the same time, we’ve had to cancel spring fundraising events that raise a significant portion of our operational funds, which leaves us with an overall gap of $500,000 at a time when our work is more crucial than ever.
This is why we’re excited to launch our Stay Home Gala, which will run from April 22-25, 2020 with four days of online events, films, discussions, and more. As well as being an appeal for much needed funds for COVID-19 relief and beyond, we want this event to be a bright light of hope in a dark world as together we celebrate what God is doing in education in Rwanda. You can learn more about the Stay Home Gala at: wellspring.ngo/stayhomegala
Looking forward to seeing you there and, as always, please don’t hesitate to reach out if there’s anything we can do to support you. We’re all in this together.
Peace and grace,
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.