A Change in View
By Quentin Fincaryk
Wellspring’s Western Development Officer
This little girl in Rwanda changed how I view the world.
I don’t even know her name. She probably doesn’t remember me, but I will not forget her.
This summer I was travelling with The Wellspring Foundation team in Rubavu, the westernmost district of Rwanda bordering the Congo. It was dry season, so we could access certain remote villages that are unreachable the rest of the year. On this day, I joined Wellspring trainers on a support visit to Kamugarura, a mountaintop primary school that felt cut off from the rest of the country.
I remember sitting in a small, poorly-lit classroom made of earthen brick and a thatched roof. It had a dirt floor, no electricity, and felt smaller than a living room. There were no teaching aids, except for a few handmade posters on the walls. Rough paper and chewed-up pens were in short supply. Ninety bright, young students crammed into the space, often four or five to each desk.
Despite the conditions, the class time was warm and lively. Our teacher captivated the attention of all learners, flashing an affirming smile between each point confidently made. The students were fixated on her words, and enthusiastically volunteered answers at every given opportunity. Clear and concise instruction followed by waves of excited responses. It was a privilege to watch students experience such a raw and intense joy of learning. Thinking back, I don’t remember my math classes ever being this much fun.
The time came for students to quietly practice what they learned through some math exercises. I was sitting at the very back of the class, and right next to me was the little girl pictured. I could tell she was struggling. Her body language matched how you, I, and every student has felt when clueless and stressed. Being a polite Canadian, I didn’t want to offend by breaking decorum and getting involved. Still the little girl struggled. I could see her enthusiasm fading away as her frustration grew. Suddenly, I felt God prompt me with a thought.
“What? But I’m a guest. And I don’t even speak Kinyarwanda.”
“I brought you across the world to right here. Help her.”
So, I did. Without saying a word, and using my fingers to count, I lead her through the simple concept of addition. With each complete question, I noticed her eyes open a little wider. It was beginning to make sense! At the end of the break, my little partner was the first to shoot up her hand and offer solutions. She was so enthusiastic that our teacher welcomed her up front with a grin. Perhaps this was the first time this girl ever had the confidence to participate. Maybe it wasn’t coincidence that she seated herself in the most distant corner of the classroom – as far away as possible from the pressure, growth, and benefit of engaging with her education.
A seed of thought began to grow in my mind.
What if this spark of confidence was applied to her other studies?
What if she now embraced her education, instead of hiding from it?
What if this small touch changed the course of this girl’s life?
Flying home over the Savvanah, I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened in this tiny village classroom. I reflected back on the turning point in my own education. I was in Grade 3, the same age as the girl in Kamugarura. It was a difficult time for me and I was struggling in school. I had applied for the school play and was surprised to get a role. I had to stay after school for practice and spend one-on-one time with the drama teacher. I barely remember the performance, but I do remember being the last to leave practice one day. My teacher looked me in the eyes and said, “You’re doing an excellent job, Quentin. Did you know that you are a smart boy?” I replied, “No, I didn’t” or something dumb like that. But it didn’t matter. From that point on, I began to believe I was smart. I drew strength from those words and they changed the course of my life. I am deeply grateful for this thoughtful teacher and the doors education has opened for me.
Was our meeting a turning point for the girl in Kamugarura?
I came home convinced that the work of The Wellspring Foundation is to multiply these kinds of stories across the nation of Rwanda and beyond. Individual lives transformed through quality education; each student nurtured in a loving community of key people equipped for the task. I believe I crossed the world to Rwanda to meet this little girl, and I’m grateful I can share this story with you.
In the bigger picture of Wellspring’s work, it’s so easy to gloss over the powerful story of one child. One child who is precious in God’s eyes, and deserves a bright future just as much as loved ones in my life or yours. Education is powerful. Combined with hope and dignity it is life-changing. Together we can open this door for another child in Kamugarura, and hundreds of thousands more across Rwanda.
Thank you for dreaming together with me of a more just world. A world where the dignity and worth of each child is fought for and celebrated. Thank you for being part of The Wellspring family,