Meghan and Kevin at GS Rugando in October 2022.
Kevin Dixon, CEO of The Wellspring Foundation for Education.

Kevin Dixon

Putting Youth First at G.S. Rugando

A warm welcome by the head teacher at a middle school “Group Scolaire Rugando” in Kigali was an antidote to the light drizzle that accompanied my arrival in October 2022. G.S. Rugando is in an area where poverty and family problems are prevalent. We have begun a new program—Youth First—in partnership with the US-based organization WorldBeing and the Rwanda Basic Education Board, which equips young adolescents with mental well-being and resilience strategies.

Wellspring’s Board member, Meghan LaCoste, and I sat down on that rainy afternoon with three teacher facilitators at GS Rugando who are enthusiastic advocates for Youth First. It didn’t take long for stories of kids’ lives transformed to begin pouring from their lips.

Working Through Emotions

Philippe’s* behavioural challenges made it necessary to repeat his first year of middle school. Youth First was introduced at GS Rugando during Philippe’s second time around. Philippe learned strategies for emotional self-regulation during his weekly sessions with two dozen students his age. The change was remarkable. His behavioural problems subsided, and he became a class monitor. Jean-Bernard, the facilitator who shared the boy’s story, was proud to report the boy’s progress continued beyond the end of Youth First.

When Duke’s* father went on a mission abroad, his mother took up with another man who soon moved into the family home. Duke felt so angry about the situation and at the new man that he vacillated between wanting to kill him and wanting to kill himself. Youth First taught Duke strategies for anger management. His violent inclinations have lessened.

Learning Healthy Communication

Over the course of the twenty-week program, Marie-Claire* learned communication skills. Her father had recently left her family and gone to work far from the family home. During occasional phone calls home, Marie-Claire’s father would get angry and hang up. Marie-Claire shared with her mother some of the techniques she learned in Youth First, and her mother began applying them. Since then, Marie-Claires father has returned, and the family has reunited.

Eyes on The Prize

As our conversation continued, one of the teachers who facilitates the weekly sessions asked, “Would you like to meet one of the girls who has completed the program?” A few minutes later, we were joined by Amelia*, a vivacious 15-year-old, who very articulately described the benefits of Youth First in her own life. “Sometimes boys bother me at school, ‘Oh, you’re so pretty,’ they say.” Amelia shared that Youth First has taught her about goal-setting. She said, “I tell the boys, ‘Come on guys, this is a time in our lives for learning and focusing on the future. It’s not a time for sex.” Amelia focuses solely on her education and will not let anything—or anyone—distract her from her dreams.

Over the next three years, Wellspring and CorStone will work towards Youth First’s expansion to support more teenagers in more schools across Rwanda. Our objective is that the Youth First program and the value that it brings will be experienced by students in every middle and secondary school in the country.

*a pseudonym
The photo is representative.