of the population lives on less than $1.90 USD per day. (World Bank, 2021)
of children in the poorest quintile of the economy are out of school, higher than the rate for any other quintile. (Demographic and Health Survey, 2010)
of the population age 25 and older has not completed primary education. (UNESCO, 2018)
The aftermath of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi is still being felt in Rwanda. More than one million Rwandans were killed in the hundred days of the genocide, leaving Rwanda one of the poorest countries in the world. Its social, political and economic structures were destroyed. Though dramatic strides have been made in the nation’s recovery, there are still children in great need.
Over one million children in Rwanda live in extreme poverty (UNICEF 2018). These children are illiterate, lack clothing and barely manage to eat once a day. MindLeaps began working with vulnerable youth in Rwanda in 2010, and opened its own permanent center in Nyamirambo, Kigali in 2014. Since its opening, the center has served over 1,500 out-of-school and vulnerable in-school youth in its safe, supportive space.
Ally is an adorable kid. He is quiet and attentive with a hard working spirit and a deep desire to learn. But for much of his life, he did not have the opportunity to learn.
Ally’s mother died and his father went missing when Ally was very young. Due to extreme poverty, he had to drop out soon after starting primary school. He didn’t finish the first term, which meant he couldn’t even write his own name. Ally spent his days searching for charcoal to sell so he could buy food. At night, he slept in a sewer.
When MindLeaps teachers first met Ally, they invited him to join the dance program. He started coming to classes, but seemed so unhappy at first. The teachers gave him encouragement and support for all his hard work in the dance classes, and over time Ally began changing. His spirits picked up, and he was motivated to work hard in all his classes. He saw that dance steps he hadn’t been able to do at first were now coming easily to him. He understood more English and discovered a love for computer classes. He saw that all his effort was appreciated and was making him a better dancer and student. Ally loved his dance, English and IT classes at MindLeaps, and became one of the best students. He was ready and eager to go to school. All he needed was a sponsor for his boarding school scholarship.
Finally, Ally got that scholarship from Misty Copeland, the first African-American Principal Dancer for American Ballet Theatre. Ally was selected because he was one of MindLeaps’ top performing students in all classes, and the data on his cognitive and behavioral skills development showed that he had reached a level where he could succeed in a formal school environment. Ally was excited to visit OrpCare Boarding School with Misty Copeland, and thrilled to restart his education. He began his schooling and scored an incredible 85% in his first term, making him the top student in his class!
Jim Bell Centre
The MindLeaps center in Kigali, opened in 2014, has been dedicated to the memory of Jim Bell, a humanitarian, educator and long-time supporter of MindLeaps. His Level 8 Projects, a charity based in Carnoustie, Scotland, has supported the MindLeaps center in Kigali over the years with capital improvements and renovation projects. The Kigali center has appropriately been named The Jim Bell Centre in his honor.
At the center, vulnerable and at-risk children and youth from the community join the MindLeaps Dance & Data program, which targets critical cognitive and social-emotional learning skills. The dance curriculum is designed to develop these skills and reinforce positive patterns of behavior. The work of the center extends beyond this core program to provide educational support through academic acceleration courses, tutoring, IT classes and school sponsorship. MindLeaps’ holistic approach includes a daily meal program, health and nutrition studies, sexual and reproductive health workshops, and a family strengthening program that reaches out to the families and community as well. MindLeaps also runs Train The Trainer programs at the center to prepare new teachers in the MindLeaps methodology.
The Jim Bell Centre staff is entirely local and includes male and female dance teachers, social workers and support staff. They understand the challenges faced by their communities, and are important role models for the students, providing emotional support and positive encouragement to build confidence in and out of the classroom
Since its opening, the center has served over 1500 children and youth.
Along with the Dance & Data program, academic acceleration courses in such subjects as English, Math and Science are offered at the Jim Bell Centre. Tutoring sessions in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, history and geography also help to support our youth who are in school. Special activities are run to keep kids engaged during school holidays, including art and music groups, Science Club, and most recently, a Chinese class. The center’s educational resources also include a library, where students have access to books at any time.
Those students who successfully complete the Dance & Data program may be eligible for school sponsorship to enter a formal academic setting or vocational training. Sponsorship covers school fees, uniforms, supplies, essential meal support and health insurance. To learn more about the program and become a sponsor, go to https://www.mindleaps.org/sponsorship
Family Strengthening Program
The permanent center in Kigali is also a hub for programs that reach out into the larger local community. MindLeaps has community workers on staff who conduct home visits to evaluate and provide support for difficult life situations.
MindLeaps also runs a Family Strengthening Program to further identify and deal with challenges stemming from poverty, domestic abuse, and lack of financial planning. When they join MindLeaps, each child identifies a “caretaker” (parent, guardian or older sibling), who is then enrolled in a “Self-Help Group”. These groups come to The Jim Bell Centre every Sunday and receive training in basic business skills. Each Self-Help Group identifies a small income-generating project, and MindLeaps makes modest grants to each of the groups, enabling them to implement their project. The ultimate goal is to help families find a way to support other children in their homes or under their guardianship, so that the impact of MindLeaps goes beyond the individual children receiving long-term school sponsorship from the organization.
Nutrition and Health
Students receive meals at the Jim Bell Centre daily. Additionally, kids receive workshops to raise awareness of health and hygiene and learn basic sanitation practices. All students receive their own sanitation kit including towel, soap, toothbrush, and sanitary napkins for girls. Plus the Center provides clean water for the students to wash their clothes. March through September 2020, MindLeaps delivered food and sanitation supplies monthly to over 800 students and family members as part of MindLeaps' COVID-19 emergency relief efforts.
Sexual and Reproductive Health Education
Our LEAPS (Lifeskills Education for Adolescent Positive Sexuality) Program is a sexual and reproductive health curriculum that considers not only the economic issues involved in pregnancy and prostitution, but addresses the complex elements of communication, self-worth, family issues and cultural expectations that affect girls and boys. Focusing on healthy relationships, gender equity, communication and consent is as much a part of this curriculum as puberty and hygiene. Listening to the kids, involving parents and responding to the community are principles embedded throughout the curriculum.
MindLeaps students take part in a series of workshops on sexual and reproductive health taught by local teachers in subject areas such as adolescent development and reproductive biology. The program aims to promote healthy methods, techniques and services that contribute to reproductive health and well-being.
With the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, MindLeaps continued to engage students and further their education at both the Jim Bell Centre and the UNHCR refugee camps through the MindLeaps Virtual Academy. Though today, in-person classes are again fully operational, the Virtual Academy continues to serve students and support their education.
Learn more about the Virtual Academy at https://mindleaps.org/en/virtual-academy
Since 2014, MindLeaps’ IT classes introduce children to digital literacy and IT skills. Topics covered range from the basic introduction of computer hardware and software, to file management and using applications, to navigating the Internet and communicating via email and video platforms.
In 2022, thanks to the generous support of Jewish Helping Hands, MindLeaps was able to expand its IT program by renovating its largest classroom to become a digital learning lab. Equipped with modern technology and electronic devices, The Jewish Helping Hands Digital Learning Center is a technology-based lab making it possible for some of the world’s poorest children to learn 21st century skills. Classes are led by MindLeaps alumni who have recently graduated with IT degrees. Children can enroll to study MindLeaps IT 101 and 102 curricula, as well as coding taught by MindLeaps alumnus Fiston Sindambiwe.
MindLeaps’ program with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees launched in 2018 with 60 youth leaders from the six refugee camps in Rwanda. Refugee youth leaders spent one month training with MindLeaps trainers on dance and Tracker skills. Out of the sixty youth, thirty-eight refugee leaders were hired to run the MindLeaps program in their home camps. Through the UNHCR program, through 2019, MindLeaps served 450 children and youth in the refugee camps. During 2020, in-person dance classes were shut across the camps due to Covid- 19. However, trainers throughout the camps continued to participate and develop their skills through the Virtual Academy. In 2021, these youth began teaching the Virtual Academy to 100 students in the camps. In late 2021, dance classes were able to resume across all the camps. In 2022, MindLeaps was able to reopen classes in three camps (where we were most impactful), Mahama, Mugombwa, and Kiziba, and is now serving 120 kids in the camps.
Mahama Refugee Camp
Camp Population: 62,259
Number of MindLeaps Trainers: 10
Number of Kids Served: 125
Kiziba Refugee Camp
Camp Population: 16,908
Number of MindLeaps trainers: 5
Number of kids served: 75
Gihembe Refugee Camp
Camp Population: 12,249
Number of MindLeaps Trainers: 3
Number of Kids Served: 50
Kigeme Refugee Camp
Camp Population: 21,130
Number of MindLeaps Trainers: 8
Number of Kids Served: 101
Nyabiheke Refugee Camp
Camp Population: 14,325
Number of MindLeaps Trainers: 3
Number of Kids Served: 50
Mugombwa Refugee Camp
Camp Population: 10,638
Number of MindLeaps Trainers: 5
Number of Kids Served: 77
MindLeaps in Nyabihu
In Nyabihu, in western Rwanda, MindLeaps has launched a pilot program with local partners Chance for Childhood and Empowering Children with Disabilities. The program is aimed at advancing the lives of children and youth with disabilities, who can face stigma and discrimination due to their disability. MindLeaps adapted its curriculum to the needs of deaf children, and in 2021 ran its first Train the Trainer program to teach deaf and hard of hearing youth to become dance teachers for the deaf. The beneficiaries of the MindLeaps curriculum are children from the Nyabihu School for Deaf Children.
As of 2022, twelve trainers are teaching 126 deaf children and youth from the community.