Each weekday morning at Kigali Christian School (KCS), located in Rwanda’s capital city, hundreds of students gather outside for a 7:30 A.M. assembly. In perfect unison, the rows of children, sorted by age, sing three versions of “Jesus Loves Me”: one in Kinyarwanda, their native tongue; a second in French; and finally, a third in English. The youngest students are only three years old.
This scene provides the perfect snapshot of KCS, which aims to provide quality education in a Christian environment—a mission that means faith comes first, literally: From the morning assembly onward, “we intentionally share the word of God with the students,” says JMV Nsengimana, the school director for the Rwamagana campus in Eastern Rwanda. Although other schools in the area might claim to provide a Christian education, “what they [often] teach is actually religious studies,” he says. By contrast, “we emphasize salvation by grace. We want to provide transformative Bible study, not only knowledge.”
A secondary goal of the school is to make the country’s economic differences—which can be vast—a non-issue. “There was a time when rich parents were saying, ‘No, my child cannot study with [poor children],’” says Gilbert Muhire, school director for the Kigali campus. But, now, “when they are in uniforms, you cannot discover this one is poor family, this one is rich family,” even though nearly 20 percent of the 862 students are sponsored, meaning an outside donor pays their tuition. As Jean Baptiste Mugarura, national director for Youth for Christ Rwanda, puts it: “We have kids from the rich families learning with—and from—the kids in the poorest class. Having that kind of community has given our school a unique identity.”
Sponsors, more than 20 of whom are from Maryland, donate $50 per month to cover the cost of one student’s tuition, daily lunch, and school supplies and uniforms. To put this in Rwanda’s economic context, “families earn anywhere from $0 a month—they’re just doing their best to survive,” says Brad Burnfield, who oversees Youth for Christ’s national ministries in Rwanda, to about $75 a month for a family of five or six.
For primary students (kindergarten through 6th grade), this $600-per-year sponsorship is sufficient to cover the school’s costs. But for secondary students (7th through 12th), the necessary funding is closer to $750, requiring KCS to supplement the tuition of any sponsored students in upper grades.
Each year, the school can only afford to add 10 unsponsored students who require funding from KCS, which means the sponsorship program is necessary if the school hopes to grow. And, the reality is, that expansion is already happening: Two years ago, a second campus, currently serving preschool through fourth grade, opened in Rwamagana in Eastern Rwanda, a rural area with a higher percentage of sponsored students. The goal is to add two more grades at this campus in the near future, and eventually, to add a secondary school.
Most pressing, though, is securing ongoing sponsorship for 90 students at the East campus who are currently funded by one generous donor through the end of 2017. “We have this window of April to December to get sponsors for these kids to stay at school,” says Mugarura. Otherwise, they’ll be forced to drop out or attend public schools, which often have 80 children per class and questionably qualified teachers.
“Most of the students we have couldn’t actually afford this kind of education without sponsorship,” since the parents are often subsistence farmers, explains Nsengimana.
And it’s not just an education, both academic and spiritual, that Kigali Christian School provides. In December, a seven-year-old student from the main campus was impaled on the side while on school break, and since his mother—a widow with four children—couldn’t afford the $100 surgery, he attended school while severely injured, forcing his teachers to provide care in the classroom. In response, teachers organized a fundraising campaign, and students donated any coins they could spare; some even pulled money from their school accounts to contribute. “The teachers really demonstrated love for this child,” says Muhire. The boy was able to have the surgery, prompting his mother to call KCS her “umbrella,” a source of protection against life’s storms.
“We thank God for what is going on in this school,” says Richard Emomeri, the primary school director at the Kigali campus. “We see God’s love manifested through the staff…I see the teachers serving the kids, giving more than lessons.”
Want to sponsor a child? To sign up, click here.
Contributed by Laura Tedesco