The air of expectation in Rubavu
My husband Gerry and I have been making trips to Rwanda since 2006 to visit the work of Wellspring. I remember well the hiring of Wellspring’s initial group of teacher trainers in 2007, and have followed the growth of these trainers and the impact of Wellspring’s School Development Program in the years that followed. A testimony to their passion, dedication, and job satisfaction is that most of this initial group of teacher trainers are still working with Wellspring! I feel privileged to count them as dear partners and friends.
In the early days, as Wellspring rolled out their program across the Gasabo district, it was a very challenging task to get buy-in from the teachers. It was difficult for them to trust Wellspring’s trainers and to change the way they understood their role as educators and their teaching methods. But over time a good relationship was built, first with the teachers, then with head teachers, administrators, and parents too. Students started doing well in their exams, and the government began to notice, particularly as Gasabo became the top performing district in the country.
As Gerry and I returned to Rwanda in February 2019, we were excited to visit and encourage our friends, but also to see how Wellspring’s expansion into the Rubavu district was unfolding. This has been a huge undertaking, involving 75 schools in very challenging conditions. During our trip we visited one of these schools, Kanama Groupe Scolaire, where the head teacher (the recent recipient of a governmental award for excellence in leadership) shared his enthusiasm for working with Wellspring’s trainers. He had witnessed such progress at the school over the past year by applying what he had learned from Wellspring that he was incredibly motivated for the journey ahead.
At Kanama Groupe Scolaire, parents too were already being impacted through their initial training. Through working with the parents’ group, the school community had accomplished the building of a brick wall around the school perimeter, a new classroom, and a kitchen, as well as the implementation of a school feeding program! However, when we visited a classroom, it became evident that the work Wellspring was soon to begin with teachers was going to be vitally important.
I couldn’t help but notice that the teacher in this classroom was giving out information and the students were simply answering back in a collective, rote fashion. It was obvious that this did not reflect Wellspring’s approach to teaching, which actively engages students in their learning and welcomes their participation in lessons. When I asked Rachel, Wellspring’s Senior Program Manager, why this was she explained that in Rubavu they are using a different strategy than in Gasabo. Using the experience gained there, they decided to first engage the head teachers and parents for a time, before then moving on to direct involvement with teachers. The success of this strategy had created an air of expectation among the whole community. The head teacher and parents anticipated that the teachers would be keen to adopt the strategies Wellspring was planning to teach them, and the teachers themselves could begin to see that what Wellspring had to offer was going to be helpful to them. As a result, there was a positive, expectant attitude in the air. There were even a couple of teachers who asked Wellspring’s trainers when they were going to begin their lessons!
As I pondered this change in strategy, I realized that Wellspring’s experience in Gasabo mixed with the passion of their trainers could actually result in Rubavu seeing even more rapid progress than has been experienced in Gasabo! In spite of the challenges faced in Rubavu, positive changes seem to be happening at a quicker pace because of all that has been learned in Gasabo and the innovative approaches that have been developed as a result. It is clear that these 75 Rubavu schools are already on a journey towards developing and sustaining quality education. As I reflect on this, I am so proud of Wellspring’s trainers! Their knowledge, skill, and dedication is paying off as they expand the work in this new area.
We left Rwanda not knowing when we will return, but certain that we will continue to partner with this great organization and its amazing teacher trainers for years to come. Why? Wellspring’s goal is to be a catalyst for transformational change in education. It is accomplishing its goal through Rwandans working with Rwandans, and is having great success. Who wouldn’t want to be involved in making such a real difference in the world?