The wisdom of educating Rwandan women

I’ve written a lot on Humanosphere about how young people, aka the Millennials, are especially interested these days in trying to make the world a better place. It is definitely a phenomenon.

Last night, at a small gathering in a Queen Anne home, I met some young women from Rwanda who are among those trying to make Rwanda a better place — helped by another young Millennial, American Elizabeth Dearborn Davis, who moved to the central-east African nation to start a girls school.

It’s called “Akilah” – Swahili for wisdom.

Rwandan student Allen Kazarwa talks with Sharon Woolf at Seattle fund-raiser for Akilah

“When you tell people you are from Rwanda many just think of the genocide,” said Allen Kazarwa, a 20-year-old student at the Akilah Institute for Women (yes, it’s spelled Allen, not Ellen). “Today, it is a beautiful country. It has taken a lot of energy and strength to achieve this.”

Kazarwa and her colleague Noella Abijuru spoke at the home of renowned media strategist Frank Greer (co-founder of GMMB) and his wife Stephanie Solien. The Seattle power couple hosted the Akilah fund-raiser because Dearborn Davis is a family friend from Florida.

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“I’ve now lived in Rwanda for five years,” said Dearborn Davis, 27. As a student at Vanderbilt University, she said she learned about the genocide in Rwanda and wanted to help rebuild the country. So, like your typical Millennial, she just decided to move to Kigali and more than two years ago launched this project there — the girls school Akilah.

Many people have noted that educating and empowering young girls is perhaps the single most effective means of affecting positive change in poor communities. Educating girls mean educated mothers, healthier children, healthier families, healthier and wealthier communities.

Another high-profile, home-grown example of girls helping girls is the story of Jessica Markowitz, the (pre-Millennial?) Garfield High School student who also was prompted to start a girls school in Rwanda. Read about this amazing tale in the Seattle Times story.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who is not without his detractors for his tendency to be somewhat authoritarian, is nevertheless credited with helping to improve life in Rwanda over the years. One of the things Kagame has been credited with is in empowering women, both in society and in politics.

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Kazarwa was a small child during the Rwandan genocide. Her father was killed and she said she didn’t want to talk about her mother. She was raised by her “Auntie” in Eastern Rwanda.

“My Auntie told us that the only way ahead is education,” Kazarwa said. They were a poor farming family and she had to do her share of the work, but Auntie also made time for her children to study. Kazarwa competed against 1,500 applicants to become one of 50 students selected to attend Akilah.

“Rwanda is today peaceful, unifed and we are doing well,” Akilah said. “I want to someday run a tour company, to show people this and to raise money to educate children. Education is everything.”

I didn’t ask Dearborn Davis how much money they raised. It was a pretty small gathering. But there was one guy there who might be willing to help out.

Bill Gates Sr. meets and greets at Akilah fund-raiser

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.