Does a Father Wash Babies?

By Kevin Dixon
Wellspring’s Chief Executive Officer

Wellspring Board member Meghan LaCoste and I had the opportunity to visit GS Rwankuba, a school on a rough dirt road on the outskirts of Kigali. There, we sat in on a Primary (grade) Level 5 class to observe an English lesson incorporating the principles of Wellspring’s Gender-Responsive Classrooms module. This gender training has been piloted for the past year to test methods of ensuring girls’ learning outcomes are not disregarded. It focuses on providing equal learning opportunities for both boys and girls and measuring students’ progress on an ongoing basis rather than just at the end of the term.

Does a Father Wash Babies?

The teacher was teaching the use of the simple past tense in English. Students were asked to put the sentence, “The father washes the baby,” into the past tense. After confirming the students grasped the concept, the teacher asked, “Does a father wash a baby?” There was laughter. Then, he asked for a show of hands, “How many of you think fathers wash babies?” Not a single hand went up. Then he asked one of the students, “Why wouldn’t a father wash a baby?” The students had no answer. It was obvious that gender roles had been engrained in their way of thinking: caring for children is the mother’s responsibility, not the father’s.

At this point, the teacher resorted to humour to show there is no reason a father cannot wash a baby… “What if the mother isn’t home and the baby is dirty? Should the father kick the baby out the front door like a dirty soccer ball?”, portraying the action to uproarious laughter from the students.

Rwanda is a nation where more than 50% of parliamentarians are female, the highest proportion of any nation. Gender equity is a priority for the government, but entrenched cultural values can slow progress. Some girls in rural areas, like a remote school I visited in Rubavu District, marry and give birth as early as 14 years old. Many do not go beyond Primary (grade) 6 because they’ve been convinced secondary education is not necessary for girls.

A Leader for Learning Equality

Following our lesson observation, Meghan and I toured the school. The head teacher, Tito, is a strong advocate for Wellspring’s work and led a conversation with a group of teachers who have been trained by Wellspring. Tito has a reputation as a trouble-shooter and has applied Wellspring training to improve a number of schools he has served. With his encouragement at GS Rwankuba, Wellspring’s Community Involvement trainers have promoted a lunch program five days a week, supported parents to plant an expansive community garden, and encouraged a girls’ room to support adolescent female students during their menstrual periods. Many teachers have been trained in the modules of Wellspring School Development Program. Indeed, one teacher came to me toward the end of our visit to effusively thank me for the difference Wellspring has made in her life personally.

Breaking Barriers to Education

Wellspring’s work is making a significant difference in breaking down gender barriers to quality education for girls, and equipping all students with a mindset of equality, justice, dignity, and worth. As we continue to support teachers with the tools needed to address gender inequity and provide equal learning opportunities, classrooms, families, and communities are being transformed for the better. Perhaps a female graduate of GS Rwankuba will someday become a Rwandan parliamentarian and shape her nation for good! If so, it may be partly because Wellspring improved the quality of her education and opened up opportunities she may have never thought were possible.