This past month I spent nearly two weeks in Rwanda with a small group of teachers hosted by SEVEN Fund (the Social Equity Venture Fund). The object of the fellowship was to study Enterprise Based Solutions to Poverty, their successful implementation in Rwanda, and their implications for K-12 education here in the United States.
When most people hear Rwanda mentioned, they immediately think of the horrible and devastating genocide that took place in 1994. But what’s as astounding as those horrific 90 days when roughly 1,000,000 lives were taken, is the amazing, unlikely reconciliation and renewal that’s taken place since.
In July of 2000, His Excellency, President Paul Kagame, laid out Rwanda Vision 2020 after a comprehensive consultative process building broad consensus among Rwandans of their hopes and dreams for the future. The ambitious plan called for reduction of aid dependency; building a knowledge-based economy; creating a productive middle class; fostering entrepreneurship; eradicating HIV and AIDS; ensuring 100 percent enrollment in primary and secondary schools; and providing universal access to quality healthcare.
All by the year 2020.
2011 sees much of the vision realized, and Rwanda has become not only an example for developing countries, but for the world.
When it comes to gender equality, good governance, economic development and environmental sustainability, Rwanda is no longer compared to its neighbors in Africa, but with the likes of China, Singapore and Costa Rica. The self-determination and collective responsibility of the Rwandan people can be observed throughout the country, and are credited for the great strides the country has made.
The Rwandan people and their government refuse to let the rapid development leave anyone behind. In fact, it is the most vulnerable populations that are identified first and best cared for. By concentrating on real and sustainable solutions to poverty, refusing to apply band-aid solutions to local and national problems, and by doing small things right from the beginning, Rwanda avoids many of the large problems we see every day in Washington, DC, and throughout urban America.
I am eager to share the lessons I have learned in Rwanda, beginning with a new curriculum on entrepreneurship and its natural links to service-learning and environmental sustainability.
Our students have learned through DC SCORES’ service-learning component how to look critically at their communities and include stakeholders in effecting positive, sustainable change. I believe we have a new responsibility to be more deliberate in teaching them ways they can turn these and other skills into greater educational and employment opportunities in the future, ensuring their seat at the table in deciding what the future holds for their communities, themselves and their families.
These are but a few of the many lessons that we can learn from a small, under-resourced, landlocked country in Africa that from many public policy standpoints has surpassed the U.S. in but 14 years since a devastating tragedy took Rwanda as a nation back to square one.