Primary school age (7-14 year old) children are out of school.
Of the poorest quintile of children are out of school, the highest percentage in Rwanda.
Of 15-24 year olds have not completed primary education in Rwanda. (EPDC, 2014)
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 even 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.
MindLeaps teachers first met Ali in 2013 and 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.
In 2015, 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 in 2016 and scored an incredible 85% in his first term, making him the top student in his class.
Girls LEAD Program
Girls face particular challenges, especially when they are forced to drop out of school and survive on the streets. With no clear alternatives, many fall into prostitution and/or teen pregnancy. They are uneducated, have no vocational skills, and can suffer from a deep sense of worthlessness. MindLeaps is a safe space for them, providing social work and counseling services to address their many needs. Over 50% of the children that come to the MindLeaps center each day are girls. Some of these girls are not in school and some are in school, but at risk of dropping out. They follow the same dance, English and IT program as the boys to develop their cognitive and behavioral skills. In addition, these girls take part in our Academic Acceleration Program to help them catch up to the appropriate school level and be ready to enter formal education or improve their current school performance. This Acceleration Program provides the students with English, French, Math, Science, and Social Studies courses.
In 2017, MindLeaps launched Girls LEAD, a project that features and advances the top fifteen girls at The Jim Bell Centre. These girls perform at venues across the country and share their stories of change. These performances are further opportunities to push girls’ confidence to an even higher level by allowing them to showcase what they have learned in their dance classes and to practice public speaking.
The 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 various capital and renovation projects. The Kigali center has been appropriately named The Jim Bell Centre in his honor.
At The Jim Bell Centre, a nine-member Rwandan staff works with 90 children ages 9 to 18 daily to provide a ‘catch up’ program for vulnerable in-school children and out-of-school youth who are struggling to become literate and perform well in formal education. The program consists of:
•Dance training to change behavioral patterns and increase cognition
•IT classes to introduce children to technology and the outside world
•Academic Acceleration led by teachers from the local White Dove Girls School, consisting of English, Kinyarwanda, Math, Science, and Social Studies courses
•HIV testing and treatment, sexual health and reproductive classes, and hygiene/sanitation services
•A daily meal program to improve learning capacity and deter the onset of life-threatening diseases
•School sponsorship to fully reintegrate children into formal education and ensure school completion
At MindLeaps Rwanda, 74-80% of participants are permanently reintegrated into a household and off the street after one year. 70% of MindLeaps students who enter the formal education system perform in the top 20% of their academic classes.
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.