Seeing It Through: Youth For Christ Lights Rwanda During a Dark Time

Most parents of school age children would agree that 2020-2021 was a harrowing year for education. And yet, although it may not have been in the way that we were accustomed to, or the way that we had planned, education continued despite the pandemic. Our children were never denied a chance to learn…at least this is true in the United States. Staff and students at the Kigali Christian School (KCS) in Rwanda had a much different experience.

KCS currently operates on two campuses: the main campus in Kigali opened in 2006 and currently serves over 1000 students in grades Pre K through grade 12. The Rwamagana campus (a rural community in Eastern Rwanda) opened in 2016 and is home to 600 students in grades Pre K through 6. At both campuses, many students can earn a quality education, regardless of their ‘poverty-stricken’ situation, thanks to the sponsorships provided by people around the world.

Rwanda country coordinator at LifePoint, Josh Swann, wrote that while many of us consider poverty to be “an overall absence of material objects,” those who live in under-developed countries often describe it as “a lack of dignity, a mentality of inferiority, an inescapable mindset of shame, and a feeling of being enslaved by depression and fear.”

Jean Baptiste, National Director of Youth for Christ (YFC) in Rwanda, genuinely understands that although poverty may appear to simply be a lack of material objects, a more accurate picture of poverty also entails a spiritual, psychological, and emotional void. To provide a wholistic solution to poverty, YFC operates the Kigali Christian School (KCS) to provide a learning environment where students experience God’s love, are empowered to dream, and where their hope can be restored. KCS exists so that all students, many of whom are connected to the school’s sponsorship program, can receive the necessary tools to break the cycle of true poverty. What YFC is doing is working.

The Rwandan school year started in January 2020. Schools were open for several months until COVID made its appearance in Kigali. With even a minor number of cases reported, the government shut down quickly and firmly. Front line workers continued to serve, but citizens were forbidden to leave their homes unless it was to get food or to receive emergency medical care.

The Kigali campus of KCS had approximately 200 students living on campus as the distance from Kigali to their homes is too far for a daily commute. Once the strict lockdown began, no one was allowed to travel across district boundaries for any reason, so the students were required to remain on campus. For 3-4 weeks, YFC staff lived with the students to provide meals and other necessities, however, with the schools closed, the students were not able to continue their studies.

To make matters worse, with no incoming tuition payments during the times of lockdown, the staff salaries went unpaid. Many of the student’s families also lost their income, making it difficult for staff and students to afford food. Says Jean Baptiste, “My challenge as a leader was to mobilize resources and figure out how we could feed the staff and their families and take care of the kids in the sponsorship program.”

With help of partners like LifePoint Church, YFC was able to distribute food on a regular basis not only to students but to hundreds of YFC families – a huge blessing during a challenging time.

Most of the sponsored students have no internet access to learn online and, in some cases, undereducated parents that are unable to help fill the void. They were unable to continue learning so the KCS staff went above and beyond to make hard copies of lessons available to their students, although distribution was difficult with the lockdown in place.

Despites the challenges faced during a pandemic year, KCS students continue to thrive academically. Students in grades 4 and above were able to finally finish the school year that began in January 2020 a few weeks ago. The Rwamagana campus, comprised of many financially sponsored students, was even recognized for receiving the highest test scores in their district for the Grade 6 national exams taken in July 2021. The government awarded the school with a financial prize to congratulate their first-place performance. The Kigali campus continues to be one of the top-ranking schools in the country as well.

All students below grade 4 still have one semester to finish since semesters are being staggered between grades to provide better separation between students in the classrooms. However, another strict lockdown was recently placed in Rwanda due to a spike in COVID cases, so it’s unclear exactly when they’ll be able to resume and finish. As our country is slowly emerging from the pandemic into the light, it is still dark for many others.

Despite the many challenges, the Rwandans have remained grateful and optimistic. Josh Swann describes Rwandans by stating: “I have never met a people group more content. It is very humbling to interact with people in Rwanda because they live with significantly [less] than we are accustomed to in the states, but they often appear much happier.”
Indeed, this sentiment is echoed by Jean-Baptiste himself. He notes “It’s been a tough year, but we thank God. He’s seen us through this far.”
No doubt He will see them through until it is light again.

LifePoint partners with Youth For Christ as part of our Global Outreach. The Global Outreach team is excited to be providing GO Bags from each of the countries that LifePoint partners with, containing items that bring a piece of the partnership here to LifePoint. The Rwanda/Ukraine GO Bags are currently available for pick up in the church lobby, including more information on the Kigali Christian Schools, a Rwanda magnet, and coffee.

For more information on the GO Bags click here OR text LPGO to 97000 to have one sent to you!

For more information on sponsorship for a Rwandan student to attend Kigali Christian School, click here.

 

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