Wellspring’s Blog

Joel Olson

Meet Joel Olson, our Education Adviser and Technical Consultant to the Wellspring Academy in Rwanda! Since joining our team, Joel has revolutionized how the Wellspring Academy engages with parents to build the school community. We’re blessed to have Joel as part of our Wellspring family and are excited to learn even more from him as we look to use technological solutions to grow community in Rwandan public schools.

Joel completed his Bachelor of Education at Trinity Western University in 2005 and, as a mark of his outstanding work as a student teacher, received the Maxwell A. Cameron Award. After graduating, Joel worked in various schools in Langley before settling as a Grade 6 & 7 teacher at Fort Langley Elementary. He also studied at Simon Fraser University to complete his Masters of Educational Leadership K-12. His thesis topic was Using Technology to Increase Parent-Teacher Communication: The Smart Way to Communicate. Joel’s research, which paid attention to the rapid onset of technology in schools, communities, and society, has helped Wellspring as we seek to grow both community involvement and technology usage in schools. In August 2016, after connecting with Wellspring through his church, Joel and his family packed up and moved to Kigali.

“Wellspring began as a dream.  Now, in reality, countless lives and entire communities are being transformed through education in Rwanda because of Wellspring.”

In his work with the Wellspring Academy, Joel advises the school leadership on how to build an engaged community. He works alongside teachers to empower them with the necessary skills to make a lasting impact in students’ lives. Joel also partnered with a local tech company to build a two-way automated SMS program to connect with parents. Since rolling this out, parent engagement in the school community has skyrocketed. Now, over 600 parents are engaged with their child’s education and students are supported both at school and at home. In addition to his work at the Academy, Joel works with our Abundant Leadership Institute to facilitate discussions and learning. His exposure to different experiences of educational leadership allows him to offer great insight in the ALI classroom.

As Wellspring moves forward, Joel will be playing a role in our expansion to the Western district of Rubavu. This rural region poses many new challenges, such as increased dropout rates and high levels of gender-based violence. Expanding to 75 new schools is no small undertaking, but we believe these schools can be transformed into vibrant learning communities that recognize each child’s dignity and worth. As Wellspring grows, Joel’s research in school communication, as well as his expertise as an educational leader, will be invaluable. Thanks for being such an integral part of our team, Joel!


Back to School: Empowered Students

Whether you’re in Vancouver or Kigali, Toronto or Gisenyi, kids are our future. When principals put in late nights at school events, when teachers skip dinner to mark a student’s test, and when parents wake up early to take their kids to choir practice, they do it because they care about the children. All of this hard work nurtures their growth and empowers them to succeed in every way. But when these stakeholders aren’t putting the child at the centre of the story and are looking out for their own best interests instead of the child’s, it can cause disastrous suffering. A dysfunctional school has negative effects on a child not just in the present, but many years into the future as well.

And that’s what Wellspring saw when we arrived at G.S. Kagugu.

Before Wellspring’s training, classrooms were a place of fear and loathing. The students hated learning because one wrong answer or misplaced word could lead to a beating that would result in nasty bruises. Their lessons were boring and some days they didn’t receive any teaching at all. Instead of learning good values, the students followed the poor example of their teachers and school leaders and began to skip school and adopt bad attitudes. Parents saw these negative effects and many of them chose to pull their kids out of school. They felt their kids could at least work to earn money to support the family instead of spending their days trapped in the classroom. But this meant that many kids were losing out on the chance to have an education and break the cycle of poverty being thrust upon them. Not having an education severely limits future opportunities.

But when Wellspring began to work with the leaders, teachers, and parents at G.S. Kagugu, remarkable transformation took place, and it all came back to benefit the kids. By teaching leaders how to build a healthy working environment, students are now being taught by teachers who are happy and love their work. By training teachers in the proper methods to teach a quality education, students are actively engaging with their learning and are grasping concepts with a deeper clarity. By helping the school to embrace positive behavioural management instead of physical punishment, kids are not fearful in their classrooms and are willing to engage in their learning instead of being afraid they might speak the wrong answer. And by working with parents to sensitize them to their role in the school community, children are being supported at home and encouraged about the importance of continuing their education.

This training has been hard work, but the fruit has been sweet.

The exam results at G.S. Kagugu have improved a staggering amount and many primary students are now receiving scholarships to schools of excellence. Relationships are now founded on trust and respect, and students feel able to approach their teachers for help about everything from a science question to needing advice about trouble at home. Engaged parents are telling their neighbours about the changes at the school and encouraging them to re-enroll their kids. These outreach efforts have led to many of the dropouts returning to school. Kids who wouldn’t have finished their education are now back in the classroom and excited to learn. This fills our hearts with uncontrollable joy.

G.S. Kagugu is a living testimony to the importance of holistic school transformation. When all stakeholders work together and rally around the children, a vibrant community that empowers the leaders of tomorrow emerges. We are so privileged to have played a role in G.S. Kagugu’s story, but this school is only a chapter in the wider story of Rwanda. We want to see this transformation spread beyond this school compound to impact neighbouring schools, like G.S. Gisozi I. We dream of a Rwanda where the ripples spread until every school has undergone the same transformation as G.S. Kagugu. We want to invite you to come along on this journey with us. Schools like G.S. Gisozi are almost fully funded and a monthly gift from you can help us impact even more students. 

I want to help transform Gisozi

That’s it for our blog series about holistic school transformation. Thanks for reading along, and remember to keep checking back for more impact stories from real people who are being empowered by our training. If you ever want to dive deeper into our programs or learn more about what Wellspring does, we’d love to chat with you!

Wellspring is a Christian organization working to empower the next generation of Rwandans through quality education. We believe we are uniquely placed to be a catalyst for transforming education for hundreds of thousands of African children and fostering vibrant communities that address poverty in all its forms. Why do we do this? Because we believe that every individual, no matter their circumstances, should be shown the same dignity and worth that Jesus showed us.

 


Back to School: Engaged Parents

This week, we’ve been diving deeper into G.S. Kagugu’s transformation into a model school. So far, we’ve talked about how effective school leaders push their school towards success and how caring teachers promote learning in the classroom. Today, we’re looking at how engaged parents strengthen school communities.

Parents are a vital part of a child’s education. Here in North America, a parent’s role isn’t over when the kids are dropped off at school. There are parent-teacher meetings to attend, agendas to sign each night, and model solar systems to help design. While the involvement of parents may vary between families, most kids have some sort of support system to turn to when they don’t understand a homework question. Because the encouragement for their education doesn’t stop the moment the school bell rings, they are being equipped for success on all sides.

This is the case for plenty of families in Rwanda as well, but unfortunately the majority of children in the public school system are not being supported in their learning at home. As they didn’t go to school themselves, many parents don’t realize they should be carving out time for their kids to study or asking them about their lessons. With the new post-genocide schooling initiatives, there has been an assumption that education falls within the realm of the government, not the parent.

But this is shifting. Parents are starting to realize they do have a role in their child’s education, but they aren’t sure how they should become involved or even if they have the means to do so. And that’s why Wellspring developed our Asset-Based Community Development approach (ABCD).

Before engaging with Wellspring’s program, parents at G.S. Kagugu were impassive and uninvolved with the school. Few parents attended school meetings due to poor communication and tensions between parents and school leaders. They would not offer time or help for schoolwork at home and would not visit with teachers to check on their children’s performance. There was a deep lack of trust between the parents and the school community, and the school was suffering because the parents were unwilling to help out.

This all changed when our community trainers began working with parents. Our Asset-Based Community Development training focuses on mobilizing parents and empowering them to bring about change through their own skills and talents, all while placing an emphasis on a parent’s role and responsibility in their child’s education. This program works in tandem with our School Development Program to help the school become self-sustainable and ensure the children are supported from all sides as they receive a quality education.

Today, parents at G.S. Kagugu are taking ownership over the school at the centre of their community. They understand that their involvement strengthens G.S. Kagugu and the education of every child at the school. When there is a general meeting, the attendance levels are high and there is a willingness to collaborate between leaders, parents, and teachers. Parents now call teachers to check in on the performance of their children, and teachers reach out to parents when there is a problem. Students are being encouraged to study at home and are returning to school ready for their lessons the next day. Parents are even volunteering their time and skills to help construct a new school hall. New parent initiatives are beginning all the time, and they all work towards strengthening the school and supporting the kids.

A healthy school that provides a strong education is at the centre of any vibrant community, and parental involvement is key in making this happen. The parents at G.S. Kagugu have propelled their school—and their children—towards success. Wellspring has a vision of this happening in every school community across Rwanda. You can be part of making this vision become a reality by partnering with G.S. Gisozi I, a school only a few blocks away from G.S. Kagugu. Will you be part of G.S. Gisozi I’s journey?

I want to help transform Gisozi

We’re coming to end of our blog series about holistic school transformation. Tomorrow, we’ll be looking at how the transformation of all the stakeholders in a school community—leaders, teachers, and parents—work together to support the students. Thanks for reading!

Wellspring is a Christian organization working to empower the next generation of Rwandans through quality education. We believe we are uniquely placed to be a catalyst for transforming education for hundreds of thousands of African children and fostering vibrant communities that address poverty in all its forms. Why do we do this? Because we believe that every individual, no matter their circumstances, should be shown the same dignity and worth that Jesus showed us.


Back to School: Caring Teachers

No matter where you are in the world, teachers make up the heart of every school. Here in North America, they are the ones decorating their classrooms with bright posters that teach students about grammar tenses and multiplication tables. They are the ones planning fun science experiments and choosing novels for book reports. They are the ones imparting their wisdom to our children. When we say goodbye to our kids at the classroom door, we trust that their teacher will not only take care of them for the day, but will also teach them lessons that will set them up for success in the future.

In Rwanda, the picture is a little different.

Unlike in North America, teachers are afforded very little respect in Rwanda. Despite being the ones educating the next generation, they are seen as the lowest of the low in society. The training they receive is minimal, leaving them unprepared for the challenges they will face in their classrooms. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Many teachers in Rwanda do have a true passion for empowering the new generation, they just don’t have the training to implement it. And that’s where Wellspring comes in.

Yesterday, we looked at how change in the hearts of leaders is propelling G.S. Kagugu towards success. Today, we’re going to look at the team of educators as we continue following G.S. Kagugu’s journey from a dysfunctional community to a model school.

Before Wellspring began its training in 2011, the teachers at Kagugu were following the example of their poor school leaders. Instead of working together and supporting one another, the teaching staff were divided. They were set in their old, ineffective methods of teaching and did not care about the school or their students. Teachers often left school to drink or smoke, leaving the students just sitting in the classrooms, or would take days off without warning and return to school without any lessons prepared. When lessons were taught, they were lacking in engaging activities or real-world connections and did not resonate with the students. Physical punishment was also used when students answered a question wrong or spoke out of turn, which twisted the classroom from a home of learning to a place of fear and distrust.

This all changed when Kagugu’s leadership embraced Wellspring’s training and encouraged the teaching staff to do the same.

Wellspring worked with a selection of teachers from Kagugu to empower them with quality education techniques. With our trainers, they learned how to use local-made teaching aids to demonstrate their lessons, how to encourage deeper understanding of concepts through active participation and group work, and how to encourage and care for students through positive behavioral management. Through peer learning, the multipliers (teachers who received high-level training from Wellspring) then passed these skills along to the other educators at Kagugu, which helps the school become self-sustainable when it comes to effective teaching practices. Now, the teachers who were trained by their peers are performing at the same high level as those who were trained by Wellspring!

With this training, the staff’s passion for education has been renewed and the quality of teaching has vastly improved. Teachers are rarely absent and always come to school with lessons planned. They care about their students and work closely with leaders and parents to ensure that every child is looked after. Teaching aids are used in the classroom and cross-cutting issues are integrated into lessons so that the students understand the value of their lessons in the real world. In their free time, P6 teachers even help their students to revise for exams. The entire attitude of the teaching staff has shifted. This healthy school environment has helped the school to retain their good teachers and even attracts teachers from other schools who want to work in such a positive community.

When Wellspring first began our School Development Program, G.S. Kagugu was a struggling school. Its teachers lacked the training necessary to help their students succeed. Now, Kagugu is one of the top performing schools in one of the top performing school districts of the entire country, and the high performance of students on exams can be traced back to the transformation of teachers.

Teachers play a direct role in a child’s future, which is why a large portion of our School Development Program focuses on empowering teachers with the skills to engage their students with a quality education. We’ve seen how this training can transform entire school communities, just like G.S. Kagugu, and we have a vision of spreading this impact across the Rwanda. You can be part of this story too by supporting a school to receive this transformation through our School Partners program! G.S. Gisozi I, a school merely streets away from Kagugu, is 78% funded. Will you be part of G.S. Gisozi I’s journey?

I want to help transform Gisozi

We’re halfway through our blog series about holistic school transformation. Tomorrow, we’ll be talking our experience in working with Kagugu’s wider community and parents to teach them about their role in their child’s education. Looking forward to sharing with you!

Wellspring is a Christian organization working to empower the next generation of Rwandans through quality education. We believe we are uniquely placed to be a catalyst for transforming education for hundreds of thousands of African children and fostering vibrant communities that address poverty in all its forms. Why do we do this? Because we believe that every individual, no matter their circumstances, should be shown the same dignity and worth that Jesus showed us.


Equipped with Effective Leaders

For any school to succeed, it must be equipped with effective leaders. This is true in Canada, Rwanda, and throughout the world. Here in North America, we know that when we send our kids off to school, the principals will be looking out for their best interests. We trust that they have undergone rigorous training and post-secondary education that has equipped them to lead their schools and cultivate a team of teachers who will provide a quality education for our children.

This isn’t the case in Rwanda. While most head teachers truly care for their students, they simply have not received the necessary training to be able to grow their school communities into vibrant places of learning. Because of this, many schools in Rwanda fall into a dysfunction. Leaders are not leading, teachers are not teaching, and learners are not learning.

This is why the first step towards holistic school transformation comes from working with leaders. When leaders are on board and ready to rally around quality education, remarkable change can take place.

And that’s how the story began at G.S. Kagugu.

When Wellspring began our School Development Program in 2011, our trainers found G.S. Kagugu in a state of disarray. This all stemmed from a leadership team who did not trust one another and put their own desires ahead of the needs of the school. Instead of making plans for school improvement, they sought to prolong the corrupt environment from which they were benefitting. Wellspring knew that for our trainings to take root, the school leadership would need to have a change of heart.

That’s exactly what happened when a new head teacher was appointed.

Having experienced Wellspring’s training at another school, the new head teacher understood that the mark of a true leader is their servant heart, and that their success comes from the success of those they lead. With Wellspring’s support, he worked closely with the entire school leadership team to teach them about the importance of their actions upon the school community and help them adopt this servant attitude. With this new heart for serving the school, the leadership began to craft a plan for school improvement. They met with teachers to listen to their point of view, and opened their office to learners, parents, and local leaders to hear their stories. Using the skills taught by Wellspring, the school leadership crafted a healthy school environment, something that had been lacking for many years. Now, the leadership works closely with the teachers to show them they are valued. Instead of discouraging peer learning, teachers are encouraged to share their skills with one another and lesson plan together. The leadership also raised funds to buy phones for each teacher, which has helped immensely with the issue of miscommunication between teachers and parents. Now, communication flows easily from all levels in the school.

G.S. Kagugu is unrecognizable from the dysfunctional school that our trainers first saw in 2011. Leaders and teachers are collaborating, students are achieving excellent marks on exams, parents are passionately engaged, and it all stems back to the transformation of the leaders.

Change in the hearts of leaders brings about change in the lives of everyone, which is why it’s the first step towards creating a vibrant school community that sees all stakeholders thrive. Through our training modules, Wellspring helps leaders understand their responsibilities to their school community and walks them through creating school visions and plans for improvement. With your help as a School Partner, we can extend the transformation seen in G.S. Kagugu to other schools, such as G.S. Gisozi I. Just like Kagugu, this school is full of potential just waiting to be realized.

I want to help transform Gisozi

But Kagugu’s story isn’t over! Tomorrow, we’ll be breaking down how our training empowered the teachers at Kagugu to provide their students with a quality education. See you then!

Wellspring is a Christian organization working to empower the next generation of Rwandans through quality education. We believe we are uniquely placed to be a catalyst for transforming education for hundreds of thousands of African children and fostering vibrant communities that address poverty in all its forms. Why do we do this? Because we believe that every individual, no matter their circumstances, should be shown the same dignity and worth that Jesus showed us.


T’S BACK TO SCHOOL SEASON

It’s the back to school season. TV’s are looping commercials of children running through store aisles amid notebooks and pens. Classrooms are neat and tidy, ready for the chaos of the first day of school. Kids are soaking up their last few rays of sunshine before heading back to the classroom.

In North America, we don’t think twice about sending our children to school. We know that their teachers have undergone rigorous training, that their classrooms will be full of brightly coloured posters that reinforce learning concepts, that they’ll get to participate in fun and informative activities that will stick with them long after the school bell rings. We never have to doubt the quality of education that our kids receive in North American schools.

This isn’t the case in Rwanda.

In most Rwandan classrooms, teachers are overwhelmed by the sheer number of students, walls are bare and lacking in teaching aids, young kids are lectured at instead of being actively involved in their learning. In fact, many children aren’t even given the opportunity to go to school, as their parents feel they won’t learn enough to make it worthwhile. A lack of education means that children are not prepared for their future, and may very well end up stuck in the same cycle of poverty as their parents.

But this doesn’t have to be the case.

With Wellspring’s innovative School Development Program, schools undergo a holistic transformation that sees the entire community rallying around the kids. With support from leaders, teachers, and parents, children are equipped with a quality education that matches their dreams and God-given potential.

How does this work? How can a school go from a place of distrust, disorganization, and disrespect, to home of consideration, care, and competence?

We’re glad you asked.

This week, we’ll be running a blog series that breaks down the transformation that occurs in each stakeholders’—leaders, teachers, parents, and students— lives with our program. And this isn’t just theoretical either. We’ll be sharing real stories from Groupe Scolaire Kagugu, a K-12 school with 5516 students and 73 teachers located right in the heart of the capital city of Kigali. When we first started our work in the Gasabo district, Kagugu was in a state of disarray. Now, it is a model school in one of the top performing school districts in the country.

Join with us this week as we map out Kagugu’s route to transformation.

But that’s not all! You are a key character is this story.

You make our work possible. With your support, Wellspring is able to send our trainers into each of these school communities. We dream of a day when every school in Rwanda will have the chance to experience the same transformation as G.S. Kagugu. But we need your help to make this a reality.

As we share G.S. Kagugu’s story, we’ll also be sharing information about Groupe Scolaire Gisozi I, a K-12 school in the busy wood market district of Kigali with 2663 students and 49 teachers. Through our School Partner program, G.S. Gisozi I is 78% funded and needs only $305/month more (or 6 donors at $55/month) to fully fund the school to experience holistic transformation that involves the entire community. This week, we’d like to invite you to join our School Partner program, where your gift can help thousands of students to be empowered by a  quality education. You can come alongside G.S. Gisozi I and play a role in the school’s—and Rwanda’s—future.

I want to help transform Gisozi

Wellspring is a Christian organization working to empower the next generation of Rwandans through quality education. We believe we are uniquely placed to be a catalyst for transforming education for hundreds of thousands of African children and fostering vibrant communities that address poverty in all its forms. Why do we do this? Because we believe that every individual, no matter their circumstances, should be shown the same dignity and worth that Jesus showed us.


Mary Nankya

Say hello to Mary Nankya, a quality education trainer for Wellspring. Mary is one of our longest serving trainers, as she joined the organization in November 2007, almost a decade ago! Mary brings a unique blend of compassion, wisdom, and dedication to her role at Wellspring. We’ve been so privileged to spend the past ten years with her and can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Mary was born and raised in Kafumu, a small village in the Mpigi district of Uganda. She studied and received a diploma in primary education before moving to Rwanda. Mary taught Grade 4 and served in a number of different schools, including Green Hills Academy, before joining Wellspring in late 2007.

As one of our quality education trainers, Mary’s job is to work through our School Development Program to help the next generation of Rwandans receive a quality education. This is done by training teachers to succeed under the Competence-Based Curriculum. This curriculum, adopted by Rwanda in 2015/2016, focuses on a learner-centric methodology of classrooms instead of the previous, lecture-based model. A lesson that is crafted with the students at the forefront instead of the teacher helps the students learn more through techniques such as active participation, positive behavioural management, and use of teaching aids. Mary also works with Head Teachers to help them develop their leadership skills. Good leadership is essential for a school to succeed, as the leader can support the teachers through lesson observation and feedback, as well as engaging with the wider community to ensure that students are being supported at home as well. Mary also models lessons to teachers and leaders to help them understand the components of a great lesson and to train them in assessing and analyzing lessons when providing feedback for their colleagues through peer learning.

Gilgal Kids School
Gilgal Kids School

In Wellspring’s future, Mary is excited to see Wellspring’s vision expand beyond Gasabo district to impact more and more lives. This is already being realized through Wellspring’s expansion to the district of Rubavu in the west of Rwanda and through initiatives of our staff members, who are taking what they have learned through Wellspring and applying the techniques, such as Asset-Based Community Development, to their own home communities. Mary is one such individual. In her home country of Uganda, Mary’s family has helped to established a school that seeks to provide quality education to the next generation of Ugandans. Mary is working hard to ensure that every child receives the quality education they deserve. We couldn’t be prouder to call her a Wellspring staff member.


On the blog: #WellspringWednesday: Barb Luck

Many of you have probably already had the pleasure of meeting Barb Luck at an event or chatting with her over the phone, but now it’s time to officially get to know one of Wellspring’s longest serving staff members! Barb has been working with Wellspring as a Financial Officer since its inception in 2004. We’re privileged to be working alongside her as Wellspring’s story continues!

Barb was born in Vancouver before moving out to Langley, where she raised her two kids with husband, Edgar, who is a Wellspring board member! Before Wellspring, Barb used to work in customer service at Dairyland and spent her nights taking courses for accounting and computer training. When her nephew, Richard Taylor, felt the call to work alongside a team of Rwandans as they sought to heal their country through providing a quality education to all, Barb was eager to help. Over the years, she’s seen our North American team grow from two people in Langley  to an eleven person team in Langley, Salmon Arm, and Ontario.

“In the years I’ve worked with Wellspring, it has been such a delight to watch the organization grow and bloom into one that makes a lasting impact. God has provided for us in so many ways and it has been amazing to watch transformation occur in the lives of individuals both in North America and in Rwanda.”

Barb spends her days at Wellspring liasoning with our wonderful supporters. She ensures that all donations are processed correctly and that our finances are up to date. We would be lost without her! Barb also communicates frequently with our Rwandan financial team to ensure that all operations are running smoothly. Her service in North America helps the team in Rwanda to empower a new generation.

Outside of work, Barb enjoys the outdoors. She’s got a green thumb and can cultivate a beautiful garden. She also enjoys reading and cycling with her husband. When Barb reflects on Wellspring, she remembers the times when our dream felt impossible, when funds were lean and we weren’t sure if there would be enough to cover the bills. But God always came through. He provided when we thought there was no way forward. In Wellspring’s future, Barb is excited to see God’s continued faithfulness and provision as Wellspring expands. She is excited to continue to support our wonderful Rwandan team as more and more lives are impacted by a quality education.


Emmanuel Seromba

Meet Emmanuel Seromba, one of the key players on Wellspring’s Community Involvement team. We’ve been privileged to have Emmanuel as part of our team for the past three years. His hardworking spirit and dedication not only bless the Wellspring family, but also the families of dozens of local school communities as he connects with them through our Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) workshops.

Born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Emmanuel moved to Rwanda in 1995. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy and Theology. Before joining Wellspring in 2014, Emmanuel served as a Head Teacher in the Eastern Province of Rwanda and the manager of a local NGO. Through these positions, he learned how to work with and encourage emerging communities. This experience gave him invaluable insight upon joining our Community Involvement team.

“Mobilization is key in changing communities and Wellspring’s program is great at mobilizing parents to be part of their child’s education. Even my own family has benefitted from Wellspring’s techniques.”

As one of our Community Involvement trainers, Emmanuel works with families in local communities to help them understand their role in their child’s education. Quality education can only succeed when it is supported by all stakeholders in a child’s life. When parents and teachers rally around their children, they are given the tools to reach their full potential. The ABCD workshops led by Emmanuel and the rest of our team focus on empowering people to help themselves. Instead of focusing on what they do not have, this approach emphasizes the community’s assets and strengths. Once the assets of the community are identified, they can be connected to areas of need and mobilized, which results in empowered citizens and improved community life. Our Community Involvement team works with these parents to realize how their assets and involvement can strengthen the quality of education at their local school. When parents are invested in schools, quality education becomes sustainable.

Emmanuel also testifies that his work at Wellspring not only impacts the lives of other families, but also the life of his own. After reviewing some ABCD modules, he brought them home to his family and engaged in a discussion with his thirteen-year-old about the four roles of a parent: Encourager, Friend, Teacher, and Enforcer. After hearing this discussion with their daughter, Emmanuel’s wife realized that it was Wellspring’s influence that affected his good relationship with their children. “Wellspring is more than just a job,” she encouraged him, “it is also a school of life.”


Juliet Kabatesi

Say hello to Juliet Kabatesi, one of Wellspring Quality Education trainers! August 2017 will mark Juliet’s five year anniversary with Wellspring. Our team has been blessed with her creativity and positive outlook over the years, and so has Rwanda’s Gasabo district, where Juliet has provided training for countless teachers and impacted entire school communities!

Juliet was born in a refugee camp in Western Uganda, where she helped raise her siblings. In December 1994, she moved to Rwanda and has lived here ever since. Juliet obtained her teaching certificate in Uganda and taught Grade Three there for a few years. After moving to Rwanda, she became a Head Teacher. She stayed in that position for seven years before leaving to pursue her Bachelor’s Degree in Education. Instead of returning to her Head Teacher position after completing her degree, Juliet joined the International Education Exchange where she learned how to apply her education and skills to training teachers. After a year, she moved to Wellspring as a teacher trainer to help spread quality education techniques to multiple schools and transformation the education community across Rwanda.

“Wellspring is full of servant leaders—people who are humble, caring, and loving. Because the people of Wellspring encourage and believe in me every day, I am a changed person. Now, I have the opportunity to bring this change to others.”

For the past five years, Juliet has been working with local leaders and teachers in the Gasabo district around Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. Through workshops, feedback, and teaching model lessons, Juliet helps teachers understand the importance of provide a quality education for their students. Leading by example, Juliet walks teachers through the process of creating unique teaching aids and integrating them into lessons to promote active participation among students. Active participation ensure that students are invested in their learning and helps them grasp concepts with a deeper clarity. This is just one example of the good work that Juliet does! We could go on for hours about the various activities that trainers like Juliet use to help Rwandan teachers.

As Wellspring continues to expand and move forward, Juliet is excited to see more and more students impacted by teachers who love and respect them and impart a love for learning. Each student deserves an education that matches their potential, and it is trainers like Juliet who are helping this to become a reality across Rwanda.


Rachel Fitz

It is a rare gift to encounter a young girl with a passion for justice so big that she believes she can make a difference. It is even more rare when her dream invites others to engage in justice. After living in Rwanda for 3 years, 11-year-old Rachel Fitz was profoundly impacted by what she saw. When her family moved back to Canada, she set to work supporting Wellspring’s work in Rwanda and began to dream of creating a bike ride in which the entire community could participate.

On June 24th we will celebrate the 4th annual Rachel’s Ride for Rwanda in Derby Reach Park and we couldn’t be more motivated to help a young woman realize her dream. Through Rachel’s Ride, a total of $39,700 (and increasing daily) has been raised to support the Wellspring Foundation for Education.

We had the opportunity to ask Rachel some questions to uncover more of what drives this inspiring 14-year-old. May you be encouraged and inspired by her response.

Rachel, tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Rachel Fitz and I am in grade 9 at Regent Christian Academy, in Surrey, BC. My favourite subject is English. I am a big fan of literature, reading and writing. Writing is also what I do in my free time – charting out stories and poems, creating characters that I become emotionally linked to. My other favourite subject is P.E. because, at this age, the average person rarely gets enough activity in their life, and besides that, my teacher Mr. Walker makes P.E amazing!

How do you think living in Rwanda for 3 years has impacted you?

Rwanda gave me an experience that most teens don’t get to encounter. It was very eye opening to see how people live very differently than us. To see the children in my neighbourhood playing with nothing but sticks and balls, some without shoes, living in small houses with tin roofs… It shocked me so much and unleashed an urge for justice in me.

What do you love most about Rachel’s Ride?

What I love most about Rachel’s ride – well, definitely the fact that we are raising money to improve education for children in Rwanda, but also that everyone gathers together in community and joy, to ride together for the glory of the Lord. It amazes me, how we all come together and unite. God is working!

What has surprised you the most about being involved in Rachel’s Ride?

What surprised me most so far in Rachel’s Ride is the number of people every year who chose to give up their day, come out with us, ride for Rwanda, and raise money for these children – the world needs more people like this! If we all stood together and praised the Lord, united as one in the Church and granted justice for the poor – well, we could have a big impact on many lives, show people how much Jesus loves them, and set an example for others!

What have you learned through being involved with Rachel’s Ride?

If there is anything I have learned through Rachel’s Ride, reading the Bible, and talking with loved ones, it is that I did not start this event. I wrote out a proposal of an idea I had to Mr. Richard Taylor [the co-founder of Wellspring]. I had a large dream in my heart for the Rwandan children, and there were people there to support my dream. But no. I did not start this event. I do not want the “specialness” of being the founder and everything. It is not my place to take that glory. That glory goes to God. It is He, who truly started this all, and brought together a team to make it happen.

What is your dream for the future?

My dream for the future – is that Rachel’s Ride would grow bigger and larger every year. Not to have fame for us, but so that more and more money can be raised to support those children.

What advice would you give to those who want to make a difference in the world?

My advice for those who want to make a difference – don’t hold back. Give it all! Write that letter, ask that question, ANYTHING, just to get your dream started. Or join someone else’s dream. Find a way to get involved, giving to something beyond yourself. Because God works in amazing ways, and He will work in you.

Find out more about Rachel’s Ride


Rachel Mahuku

Meet Rachel Mahuku, Wellspring’s Senior Manager in charge of Community Involvement and Partnerships. Rachel’s been a huge part of our team since 2012 and has seen our work grow immensely under her care and dedication. We’re so thankful for Rachel’s wisdom and joyous outlook, especially as we move into an exciting new season for Wellspring!

Rachel was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and completed her Bachelor of Education degree in Kenya. She moved to Rwanda to work as an Assistant Lecturer at the Kigali Institute of Education (now University of Rwanda, College of Education) before taking her Master’s degree in Education in Uganda. Her experience in education in all of these cultural contexts, as well as her many years serving as a teacher and head teacher, made her the perfect fit for Wellspring in 2012.

When Rachel first joined Wellspring, she served as a Program Manager. She participated as a Wellspring representative in the Rwanda Education NGO Coordination Platform (RENCP – a working group that coordinates the efforts of the many educational NGOs working in Rwanda) and worked closely with the Rwandan Education Board. Rachel spent many hours from 2013 to 2015 working tirelessly with the government as they created a brand new school curriculum. Rachel helped the curriculum shift from a teacher-centric methodology (focusing on lecturing and placing the teacher at the centre of lessons) to a learner-centric one (focusing on active participation and placing the student at the centre of lessons). Now, the Competence-Based Curriculum has been fully implemented into schools in Rwanda. Instead of emphasizing memorization, lessons are focused on creating competencies in students to ready them for life after school. Cross-cutting issues and values are taught regularly thanks to this new curriculum, and we’re proud to say that Rachel and Wellspring were a part of this process.

In 2016, Rachel became a Senior Manager at Wellspring. She now leads our Community Involvement team, which implements Asset-Based Community Development in local school communities, and supports Wellspring’s partnerships. This includes our partnerships with organizations such as AEBR in Rwanda’s Western Province, other educational NGOs through RENCP, and work done in coordination with the National Education Sector.

As Wellspring moves forward, Rachel is excited about the transformation in Gasabo spreading to other districts, such as Rubavu. She sees Wellspring’s work in Gasabo as only the beginning, and is eager to discover innovative new techniques that will improve and grow our impact as we seek to help education be redeemed in Rwanda.


Shauna Cheng

Meet Shauna Cheng, Wellspring’s Operations Administrator. Shauna is the glue that holds our North American team together, as she oversees our daily office operations. We wouldn’t know what to do without her! She’s great at tying her passion for the outdoors into her passion for Wellspring, and even co-created the Peak Week fundraiser. We’re so thankful that Shauna is part of our Wellspring’s family!

Shauna was raised in Matheson, a small town in Northern Ontario before taking the plunge and moving out to the Pacific Northwest, where she now lives in Port Moody. She received her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in International Studies, with a focus in international development and cultural change. Her thesis focused on the importance of education in development, which gave her the perfect background for working with Wellspring! Before joining our team, Shauna worked in the Mayor’s office at the City of Surrey. She became a Wellspring team member in May 2013, on the very week of the Wellspring Gala, which is now an event that she coordinates!

“Once I heard about Wellspring’s vision for education and their model of development, I knew there was something special here, and I wanted to be part of it. It’s encouraging to hear stories of all the good work our Rwandan team is doing, and it’s a real privilege to share Wellspring’s mission with local communities here in Canada. This is a great team and I love that I get to be a part of it!”

Shauna works in our Public Engagement department, which means she spends her days engaging with the public about Wellspring’s work! She takes charge of many of our events, coordinates school engagement with local BC classes, and oversees our peer-to-peer fundraising program. Shauna’s yearly highlight is Wellspring’s Gala. Preparation for each year’s gala starts almost as soon as the previous one ends, and Shauna is there for all of it. She loves seeing the details come together throughout the year, watching people be impacted by Wellspring’s vision on the night, and helping them engage with our work afterwards. You can RSVP to our Vancouver Gala on May 11th and be part of this experience!

In Wellspring’s future, Shauna is excited for our move into Rwanda’s Western Province. As this region faces so many unique challengessuch as increased dropout rates, gender-based violence, and high levels of povertyshe’s looking forward to seeing mindsets transformed as Wellspring works to combat these issues.


Vedaste Byombi

Meet Vedaste Byombi Kamasa, Wellspring’s Community Involvement Project Manager and District Liaison—he joined our family in 2012. Since then, he’s played a major role in many aspects of Wellspring’s work—he even helps our gala films come together each year (RSVP to the Vancouver gala on May 11th to see this year’s films)! We’re so grateful to have spent the past five years with Vedaste and can’t wait to see what the future holds!

Vedaste was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he completed his secondary schooling before moving to Rwanda for university. His education experience was shaped by splitting his schooling between these two countries, as one instructs in French and the other in English. Because of this, Vedaste pursued his Bachelor’s degree in both English and French education. After completing his Masters of Business Administration, he’s now pursuing his Ph.D. in Business Administration (Finance). Before working with Wellspring, Vedaste served as the Head Teacher at Rwanyanza School, a school in which Wellspring currently works.

“I remember when we started Asset Based Community Development, it was like a dream but seeing the outcome, it is unbelievable! When I see those changes, I feel this it is not only a job but a ministry of transforming people.”

When Vedaste joined Wellspring in 2012, he began as a Quality Education trainer. Back then, he spent his days in the field, working with teachers to pass along quality education techniques. In 2013, Vedaste was appointed to his current position of Community Involvement Project Manager. He still spends a lot of time in the field, but now he emphasizes the importance of Asset-Based Community Development to parents and school communities, which allows for the growth and sustainability of quality education. Vedaste is also our District Liaison, which means he supports Gasabo district in implementing education policy at a grassroots level, such as the new Competence-Based Curriculum.

Vedaste is driven by his optimistic spirit and faith, both of which reached a new level upon joining Wellspring and seeing the generous spirit of our donors. Vedaste’s favourite Wellspring memory is witnessing the transformation of a parent at Kinyinya School. Previously, this parent focused on what he lacked and could not see a way to provide for his children. With the help of Vedaste and Wellspring’s Community Involvement team, this parent learned to focus on his assets and strengths instead. Through this, he found a way to contribute to the school feeding program to ensure his children could participate in lunch and other school activities. This parent is now motivated to contribute to the school community and provide for his children. In Rwanda’s future, Vedaste is excited about the new generation of Rwandans being shaped through Wellspring’s initiatives, as they receive the legacy of education.


Louise Reilly

Meet Louise Reilly, Wellspring’s Director of Public Engagement. We’ve been blessed to have Louise as part of our North American team since 2013. We can’t imagine our office without her bubbly presence, hard work, and commentary of Andy Murray’s tennis matches!

Louise was born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland before hearing the call of the Pacific Northwest and moving to Canada in 2003, where she obtained her Masters of Christian Studies (with a Missions and Social Justice focus) at Regent College. She now lives in Langley with her husband Phil and their children. Before Wellspring, she served as the Research Manager at CCA (the UK Customer Contact Association) for twelve years, working remotely from Canada while studying and raising her two sons.

“My role with Wellspring is so much more than a job. It’s a daily privilege to play a small part in seeing the real and lasting change that education can bring, both in the lives of individuals and the trajectory of nations. I’m constantly inspired by my Rwandan friends who do this work on the ground, and who bring light and hope wherever they go. And I’m humbled too by our partners here in North America who give so generously in many ways to see Wellspring’s vision become a reality. It’s a complete joy to be part of this story!”

…continue reading


Beatrice Namango
Meet Béatrice Namango, one of Wellspring’s Quality Education trainers. She joined our team in 2007 and has been bringing transformation to education in Rwanda for a decade! We’re so thankful for Beatrice’s role in the Wellspring family.

“Wellspring has been an incredible friend to Rwanda by playing a big role in creating the new curriculum. This will soon produce critical thinkers, who are capable of solving any problem and are full of positive values. This is why I love working with Wellspring!”

…continue reading


Students at a school in Rubavu

It’s the last day of what has been one of the busiest, challenging, most inspirational and rewarding trips I have ever made to Rwanda. And I have made a lot of trips here.

We had a wonderful first week looking at the impact of our work at Wellspring Foundation in the 49 schools in Gasabo province, near the capital Kigali and planning for a new work we are starting in Rubavu, near the Democratic Republic of Congo. This week I got to visit the area. And what a visit it was.

It started with a meeting at the District government offices where our local team met the Mayor and Vice Mayor [the two most senior government representatives] as well as the head of education in the area. It’s very hard to get a meeting so we were delighted that all four were there to meet us. They told us they knew of Wellspring and of the work we had done in Gasabo and on a pilot project in the area. They also told us about some of the chronic issues. Lack of space and facilities, overcrowding, untrained teachers. We talked of the critical problems facing girls in particular, with very high levels of teen pregnancy, children needing to stay and care for families while parents worked, very high drop out rates and the lack of opportunities that among other things, leads many of the girls into exploitation and prostitution. The issues are huge, but the good news was that we were able to tell them that we were committing to stand with them and that we would be launching a 5 year program to repeat what we have done in Gasabo, building vibrant school committees with leaders, teachers, parents and the children themselves. The Mayor was delighted and as he and I shook hands on it, we shared a look of passion and commitment. …continue reading


The Vision Trip team

In the final blog post of the 2017 Vision Trip, Taru summarizes the team’s experiences in, “Murakoze Rwanda: Thank You“.

We came together as strangers 12 days ago, we part as friends whose lives have been greatly enriched by our journey together, experiencing Rwanda and the work of Wellspring. We learned a few words, and how to greet people with a hug and then a handshake. A lot of time was spent in the coaster bus, driven by Placide, our exceptional driver, navigating the incredibly busy streets of Kigali full of motor taxis, bicycles, buses, trucks, cars and of course, pedestrians. He also managed the slippery muddy roads in the hills where schools were located, as well as driving through the Akagera game reserve and up to a coffee plantation in the rain.

Rwandan Landscape and Bicycle

Rwanda is truly the land of a thousand hills, the scenery never gets old. There aren’t many flat sections of road, always going up or down. What really amazed me is the stamina of the Rwandan people. They mostly walk long distances, usually carrying something, like jerry cans of water, bags of food, baskets of fruit, firewood etc on their heads. Bicycles are another mode of transport, both as taxis and to carry various loads. Amazingly, most come with only 1 gear.

Children outnumber adults. Schools are bursting at the seams. A primary 1 class we visited had almost 100 children in it. They were a happy lot, attentive and responsive to their teacher. Their smiles and enthusiasm were infectious and we couldn’t help but smile as we entered into clapping along with their songs. They loved having their picture taken hamming it up for the camera.

Rwandan students hamming it up for the camera

Thank you Jeff for being our tour guide. Your humour and easy manner put us all at ease. Your knowledge of the country and its history helped our appreciation of every place we visited.

This was an eye opening experience in many ways. Peace and safety reign in the country, the government is stable, reconciliation after the genocide astounding.

Comments as we were wrapping up today included: “Beauty from ashes”, referring to the rebuilding of the country and the reconciliation that has occurred since the genocide 23 years ago. Someone recounted Jesus’ words “What you did for the least of these, my brothers and sisters”, referring to Jeff’s embracing the Rwandan people as his own and how Wellspring is working to improve education for children. “Little is much when God is in it” was another comment, referring to the resourcefulness and resilience of the people. They use and share what little they have, as poverty is a fact of life.

Our lives have been impacted by our experiences and observation of the servant leadership of Jeff and Richard, the program implementation in the schools and the excitement and engagement of community and families at the schools, among many other things.

Alphabet made using ABCD principles.

Richard led us in a final exercise today – we made a teaching aid of the alphabet using readily available materials – rice sacks and markers. We had a great time collaborating on words and pictures to use for the letters that were meaningful to us on this trip. It was a great application of what we learned during the week and a concrete example of how to use what is available as materials.

Going forward, I pray that we will share our experiences with friends back home to help spread Wellspring’s vision: “To be a catalyst for transforming education in Africa and to foster vibrant communities that address poverty in all its forms”.

Murakoze Rwanda, it has been a memorable week. Thank you Wellspring for sharing with us how your vision has already impacted communities in such a powerful way.


3 buck at Akagera

The Vision Trip included a trip to Akagera National Park. John shares the experience.

Rwanda’s best known attraction is the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park in the northwest part of the country straddling the Congolese and Ugandan borders. Less well known, certainly to us, is that Rwanda has one of the oldest national parks in Africa—Akagera National Park. While less famous than the larger game parks of Kenya and Tanzania, it was established in 1934 and runs along the eastern border with Tanzania, originally covering 10% of the country. Interestingly, the Agakera River for which the park is named, flows from Burundi along the eastern side of the park and is part of the headwaters of the Nile River. The comfortably rustic Akagera Game Lodge is situated on the eastern shores of beautiful Lake Ihema which dominates the southern end of the park.

The park was completely decimated and virtually abandoned during the devastating genocide in 1994. It was officially downsized by two thirds in 1997 to accommodate the majority of the two million Rwandan refugees returning to their native country with their 40,000 head of cattle.

Giraffe in Akagera National Park

The park has seen a resurgence since 2010 when it was put under the management of a private game company partnering with the Rwandan Government and has been nurtured back to a rich area of biodiversity and wildlife. Today the park boasts abundant wildlife including approximately 100 elephants, 2500 Cape Buffalo, 50 Leopards, 1800 Zebra, 80 Giraffe, 1600 Hippopotami, 11 species of antelope, 1000 Warthogs and an unknown number of Baboons, and over 500 bird species. Lions and rhinoceroses have been reintroduced into the park as well.

On our Sunday afternoon and Monday morning drive we were fortunate to see Cape Buffalo, Zebra, Baboons, Warthogs, many antelope and a majestic Giraffe. As we tried to make our way to the restaurant for breakfast this morning, a number of us were welcomed by a very bold and aggressive family of baboons.

Akagera National Park and Lodge was a wonderful and unexpected ending to our vision trip with Wellspring and the amazing group of people travelling together seeing the beauty and diversity of Rwanda over the last 10 days.


Kara relives the 2017 Vision Trip’s day at the museum

Birds sang their morning songs and the sun kissed our tired faces as we emerged out of our hotel room doors. Welcome to day eight.

After breakfast and devotions, we set off to the Ethnographic Museum which is situated just a few minutes up the road from where we stayed the night. The museum is one of six of the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda and displays historical, ethnographic, artistic, and archaeological artifacts which allowed us to gain a deeper insight into Rwandan culture.

After perusing through the museum, we made our way around the outside of the building to the back garden where we were to watch a traditional Rwandan dance. On our way there, we couldn’t help but get distracted at the monkeys that were leaping from branch to branch and boldly wandering across our walking path.

Dancing at the Ethnographic Museum in Huye.

We continued up the trail and reached our destination where the dance was to take place. For the next hour we sat listening to the beating of drums and watching in awe as the vividly dressed dancers told the story of their history through movement . . . (and of course the nightmare for all the introverted team members came true when the dancers pulled us out onto the floor to dance along with them).

After the museum we had a quick lunch and then made our way to a coffee plantation called Huye Mountain Coffee. Our lively tour guide brought us to see the coffee trees explaining everything there is to know about coffee. We got to see where the plants grew and where the beans were washed, sorted, and roasted. Of course the coffee tour would not have been complete without sampling the coffee, and I must admit, it has my stamp of approval!

Well-caffeinated and having purchased almost all of Huye’s coffee supply, our team loaded back onto the bus for our three-hour journey back to Kigali. We arrived ready for dinner and a good night’s sleep!


Dancing

We’re all familiar with the phrase “in the real world”…and often use it, to describe our experience in our everyday life as we know it in western civilization. Well today, we did experience the real world. The real world and the every day realities of a small village in the Southern Province of Rwanda, Africa. In the village of Shyogwe, a cooperative named Ingobokarugo, meaning “supports the family”, the families, particularly the women, work together to support their families and carve out a livelihood by creating beautiful handicrafts to be sold at a local centre well known as the Azizi Centre, meaning “Excellent Life”.

Once at the Cooperative, our group divided in two and each group was welcomed by a number of women from the cooperative. We were escorted into the dark living space in a tiny mud home of the eldest member and enjoyed our time getting to know our hostesses as introductions were made and stories were told. The tasks that we were going to being doing were explained to us and each one of us was also dressed in traditional clothing complete with headdress. Along side our hostesses we set out to harvest in the garden, peel and prepare the cassava for lunch, hoe the weeds in the banana grove and replenish the water supply. The water was retrieved about one km down well worn paths leading to the river. Once all the jugs were filled the real challenge came when climbing back up these same paths to return to our hostess’ home. Oh, and did I mention it was raining significantly at the time making the trek a slippery and precarious climb. All the while you can imagine each of us in silent wonder as we walked with our Rwandan friends…. realizing this was a trek that they did at least daily and is their “real world”.

Filling water jugs

Lunch was waiting for us when we arrived back at the home and we enjoyed a simple yet hearty lunch of beans, sweet potatoes, cassava, avocado and pineapple. After lunch a time of community work was done as the ladies demonstrated to us one of the many handicraft items they make as part of the cooperative. The small bracelets we painstakingly made alongside our competent teachers are again just a small a small reminder of the work these ladies do every day to maintain and provide for their families.

Weaving a bracelet

It was a privilege to get to know our Rwandan friends and spend the day with them. At the end of the day, as we prepared to leave, we were treated to a cultural dance performed by many of the ladies as a show of appreciation for our visit and interest in their lives. Yes, we came interested, but we went way touched and honoured to have been so welcomed into their homes and to spend the day with these generous and warm families. We experienced the “real world” as we witnessed true community, working and sharing together. What a gift today was.


The twinkling lights of Goma, DRC across the bay

I opened my eyes at 5:15 and thought “I should go back to sleep.” Then I heard the birds. In the dark of pre-dawn I got out of my bed, prepared for the day, and walked towards the lapping shore of Lake Kivu.

The birds filled the air with their sweet chitter chatter. The lights of Goma twinkled across the bay and the great traumatized Congolese city showed it’s timeless beauty in the dawn light. The water of the lake was calm even as ferries and transport boats were already passing on the horizon and in the mist. I spent the daybreak hour in solitude on the beach, perched on the edge of a lounge chair, marvelling to have the opportunity to wake up in this gorgeous place.

Rwanda amazes me, literally, at every turn.

Students in a classroom in Western Province

Today we toured a school which is a part of Wellspring’s new work in the Western Province. The classes were packed to maximum capacity and the children were full of joy. The school and the children clearly showed their poverty; the school was dilapidated and the childrens’ clothes were tattered. Yet in spite of overcrowding and poor facilities the children were present and the teachers were eagerly teaching. There is a lot of laughter in these classrooms and wide smiling faces greet us with endless enthusiasm.

The school headmaster explains to us how glad they are for Wellspring’s work in their district. After the success Wellspring has had elsewhere in Rwanda, this distant and poorer area of the country is eager to receive help.

After visiting the school we get back in our bus and drive for over four hours, crossing nearly half of the country. We were accompanied by Ernest, a Wellspring Rwandan staff, who explains the countryside as we pass through it. He even excitedly points out his own home village where his extended family lives.

Tonight we are resting at the city of Muhanga and we are looking forward to an exciting day ahead, including Azizi Life.

The Vision Trip team


As the Vision Trip team heads West, Wes shares about the journey

After spending 4 nights in Kigali, we began our trip to Western Province where we planned to stay one night on the shores of Lake Kivu, right on the border with Democratic Republic of Congo. Knowing that the comfort facilities along our 4 hour trip would be limited, and somewhat primitive, Jeff outfitted his truck with a portable, private facility to ensure a readily available “water closet”.

Unnamed person demonstrating the facility.
Unnamed person demonstrating the facility.

Today would be a day of travel, in full tourist mode, so we can be ready to check out Wellspring’s newest area of ministry, on Thursday, in Western Province. We headed out of Kigali, starting up the first of many rolling hills that made up today’s adventure, never exceeding the governed 60kph that the bus was capable of. Truly today gave us a window to look into what the country is so well known for: terraced, green, lush rolling hills, growing sugar cane, cabbages, corn, acres of tea, as far as the eye could see. We saw rivers, snaking through valley floors hundreds of feet below the road. Farmers, old and young, using bikes, sacks, their heads and their backs to transport the day’s goods to market: Sugar cane, corn, charcoal, potatoes, and even rocks, being transported along the side of the highway.

We saw evidence of Rwanda’s pursuit of a brighter future by the way the people experience safety and security, by the way the communities are kept so clean, and by the commitment to good governance practises. We hear about how the country continues to grow, and how the Rwandan people experience improved living conditions, better access to infrastructure like electricity and sanitation.

Nyirangarama

After a brief stop in Nyirangarama for a variety of traditional roasted snacks, we head for our final destination at Lake Kivu, where we checked into our accommodation, just before a predictable thunder storm rolled through. All in all, we had a great day seeing the beautiful Rwandan countryside. Tomorrow, meeting with Wellspring’s team in Western Province. I am looking forward to more insights into Wellspring’s successes in providing better educational outcomes for the youth of Rwanda.


Students in the school yard at Shango school

Ron shares about his visit to one of our partner schools, and the impact this firsthand look had on him.

Our Team was excited as we started day four of our vision trip. Today we learned more about Wellspring’s School Development Program and had the opportunity to visit a school about twenty-five kilometers away in the hills of Kigali. It’s an experience that we shall never forget.

As we approached the school we saw hundreds of children rushing towards the bus to greet us. As we stepped off the bus we are hugged and cheered as though we are heroes coming to save the day. The reality is, it’s the Wellspring leaders and trainers who have dedicated themselves to a God given vision who are the heroes. A vision that includes developing and delivering tools at the local level that will transform schools through values based education grounded in Christian principles. A training program that teaches and empowers school staff to believe that they have the ability not only within themselves but within their community to change lives.

Meeting with teachers at Shango school

We were invited into the classrooms to observe teachers and later to sit with the school leaders, to hear their stories of how the Wellspring training program has positively changed their interaction with their students. Students also shared with us how their teachers have changed, the children are happy and they want to learn.

The Rwandan government’s vision for education is “to improve the quality of education through curriculum development, setting quality standards, development and management of teachers and providing assessment.” Wellspring’s School Development Program success has opened the door to partner with the government in developing curriculum and training that will ensure that current and future generations will build a strong nation. We now see the journey first-hand and are encouraged as Wellspring expands the School Development Program into other districts in Rwanda.

What a privilege it has been to see and experience God’s blessing upon Rwanda through Wellspring’s work here.


Today’s post is from Paul, one of our friends who has joined us on our Vision Trip.

After learning about a very dark period in Rwanda’s history yesterday, day 3 of our Vision Trip turned the page and gave us all a clear picture of Wellspring’s part in helping to bring a brighter future for the Rwandan people.

As we met with the Wellspring founders, leadership team, and staff it was easy to see their passion and heart for Rwanda and its people. They all shared the part they are playing in Wellspring’s vision to be a catalyst for transforming education in Africa and viewed their work as a calling from God.

Meeting with Wellspring Leaders

Next stop was the Wellspring Academy to experience the transformation we’d talked about in the morning. Again, you could sense the passion of the school leadership team and teachers for their calling as they serve over 600 students delivering high quality values based education. We visited primary and secondary classrooms and saw joy in the faces of the students – the fact they had a short break from their studies to welcome us may have helped with the smiles.

Meeting with student leaders.

A highlight was meeting with a few of the student leaders from Grade 8 through Grade 12. They were impressive and articulate young people with dreams and plans to become doctors, business entrepreneurs, engineers, communications and IT specialists. More important was their commitment to use their talents to help Rwanda and its people. I felt like I was seeing transformation in real time!

When I get back to Canada and get the inevitable questions about how many wells we drilled, I’m in a much better position to tell my friends back home about what Wellspring is really doing in Rwanda. As Phocas, director of Wellspring’s Abundant Leadership Institute said: “Wellspring is good news for Rwanda”. I couldn’t agree more.


Kigali Genocide Memorial, ©Andy Wallace (https://www.flickr.com/photos/127841313@N05/)

“How do I wrap my head around what happened here?” “I can’t possibly process what those three months must have been like.” “How could it happen in such recent history?” “The children, those precious children.” These are just a few of the comments that I’ve heard some of my fellow travellers make since coming to Kigali. Today, we visited the Kigali Memorial Centre where those statements became all the more poignant. As we walked through the hallowed halls of the Centre, viewing the history through film and still-picture format, as we made our way through the “children’s” room with walls clad with pictures of innocent little ones, then silently viewed the rows of skulls clearly marked by a bullet-hole or the fury of a machete, my heart ached inside my chest. Outside, 250,000 precious men, women and children are buried in mass graves under large thick slabs of concrete. Many of their names are etched into a black backdrop for anyone passing by to see. Such brokeness – such pain!

As in previous years, I walked out of the Centre and into the garden. I took some time to meditate – and process. Up in a tree, I heard a bird singing to his mate, completely unaware of the sadness that lay below. The flowers and well-manicured shrubs and trees seemed to bring some warmth to what we were experiencing but still, there was a weight that didn’t wish to leave my heart.

Kigali Genocide Memorial, ©Andy Wallace (https://www.flickr.com/photos/127841313@N05/)
Kigali Genocide Memorial photos by Andy Wallace

 

Then my mind was drawn back to our team devotions this morning based on 2 Corinthians 5:17-20, “Therefore, if anyone is In Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are passed away, the new has come. All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation …”.

I thought, “the only way that our Rwandan brothers and sisters can ever move forward is by extending the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation – just as Jesus extends His gift of forgiveness and reconciliation to any of us who choose to put our trust and faith in Him which is made possible through His death and resurrection.” The good news is that they already are – one of the reasons why Rwanda has become the model country in all of Africa.

Our God is a God who heals. He heals broken hearts, broken minds, broken lives, and broken relationships. In the words of one of Wellspring’s co-founders, Jeff Komant … “the Rwandan story is not the genocide, though understanding its history is important. The real story is yet to be written – and it is indeed being written.” And Wellspring is part of that story. The lack of Christian values-based education enabled the genocide – Wellspring is working hard to ensure that there will never be a genocide again. Please, oh God, may it be so.

Prayer:

Bring us to place of greater humility, help us be gentle and accommodating to our brothers and sisters who have suffered so much – let us be an extension of your grace. Amen


Mwa-Ra-Moot-Say (translation: “good morning”) from the Wellspring 2017 Vision trip.

Morning birdsong gently fills the air. Yellow cascading flowers drip off of the trees just at the periphery of your field of vision. African pop music pulses in the courtyard below. The air is full of humid warmth and the room is full of the brightness of mid morning. More importantly, the room is full of laughter.

This is day one of the Wellspring Vision trip and we are in the capital city, Kigali. We sit around in a circle at the hotel and share our worries and excitement about the days ahead. Contemplative silence fills the gaps and then, yes, lots of laughter. The group is mixing very naturally and finding many subjects of shared interest to bond over.

Hydration = Happiness
Hydration = Happiness

“Hydration = Happiness” Jeff tells us and he lightheartedly punctuates the day by regularly passing out little of bottles of water.

On a more serious note, he tells us wholeheartedly that by travelling from Canada to witness the work of Wellspring, we are giving dignity to those we meet and demonstrating the importance of their stories and their lives.

Sol e Luna
Sol e Luna

We eat lunch at a breezy open air Italian restaurant which appears architecturally inspired by Tuscany. Vibrant paintings are hung on the walls, the high ceiling is supported by big wooden beams, and the backdrop is a 180 degree view of the hills of Kigali. The pizza tastes just like home (as does my Greek Salad) and if it weren’t for that warm air and the aforementioned hills, I wouldn’t know where on earth I am. We all acknowledge that jet lag is dragging on our energy and creating a shared fuzzy sense of reality.

After lunch we take a beautiful driving tour around the city. We see many notable buildings and hear historical stories explaining their significance. Our attention is drawn to the different styles of housing and to both the prosperity as well as the vast amount of poverty. This city is pulsing with hope for the future. Modern urban development is sprouting up everywhere right alongside the little fields of corn and mud-sided houses. How does this surge towards a modern urban landscape and economy affect average people as they look to the future for their children?


“We are happy and grateful for travelling mercies, clean connections and calm skies as we have all landed safely here in beautiful Kigali, Rwanda.  Our host Jeff met us at the airport and after taking care of basic entry requirements we were all relieved to claim our luggage and be escorted to our new home for the next few days.  Many of us are settling in and getting our bearings, connecting with our roommates and anticipating a beautiful fresh start tomorrow.  We look forward to posting our thoughts and learnings as we go and invite you to be part of our vision trip by following along.   We also covet your prayers for health and safety over all as we explore Rwanda with The Wellspring Foundation for Education.”


#WellspringWednesday: Ernest Ntamugabo

Meet Ernest Ntamugabo, one of Wellspring’s Quality Education Team Leaders. Ernest joined our team in 2008 and has been impacting the Rwandan education sector ever since! We’re so grateful for Ernest’s leadership out in the field as he directly engages with teachers and school leaders almost every day. …continue reading


Birthdays for Good: Alastair Bisset dedicates his birthday for good.

In September 2015, Alastair Bisset, an architectural technician from Scotland, was visiting friends in BC. And thanks to one of those friends being a Wellspring staff member, he was convinced to sign up to participate in Wellspring’s Lake2Lake bike ride.  With very little time to train (and with the added challenge of Scottish weather that made training much less appealing!), Alastair boldly rode 115km on the first day of the ride, and in the process raised $1,190 for Wellspring! …continue reading


Meet Gilbert Bisengo, Wellspring’s Catalyst Program Manager. He’s been part of the Wellspring team since 2008, first as one of our trainers before moving to the Catalyst program, where he now supports and mentors partner organizations. Gilbert has been an instrument of change with Wellspring for many years, and we are so thankful!
…continue reading


Meet Kristie Voth, Wellspring’s Public Engagement Coordinator. She’s been part of the team since April 2016 and we couldn’t be happier!

Kristie hails from the thriving metropolis of Crystal City, a small farming community in Manitoba of about 400 people. After completing her Bachelor of Arts in Ministry at Prairie Bible College, she felt the call of the west and has since lived on Vancouver Island and in the Okanagan Valley. She now calls Langley home and is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Education Degree at Trinity Western University. When she’s not busy planning events for Wellspring, Kristie enjoys hiking and sewing.

…continue reading


Birthdays for Good: Brady Josephson dedicates his birthday for good.

We talked to Brady Josephson about why year after year he’s chosen to dedicate his birthday to the benefit of others around the world. In our interview with him, Brady tells us why he does it, but also how others can do the same.
…continue reading


It didn’t take long. Having your heart captivated by Rwanda never does …

Each participant in Wellspring’s 2014 Vision Trip stepped off the plane in the beautiful, humid city of Kigali with different expectations, and different hopes. But each one of us – from young students to retired couples and everyone in between; whether staff members or supporters – came trusting that this trip would prove to be exactly what was promised: A Time for Transformation. And it truly was. As we immersed ourselves in the life of a nation that is being rebuilt, restored and reconciled, we also saw our own hearts and minds change. That was Rwanda’s gift to us.

As a group, we took time early in the trip to understand the country’s history, which gave context to so much of what we experienced there. Having a clearer picture of Rwanda’s past, both ancient and modern, also set the stage for understanding the critical importance of education in guiding the nation into a very different future. Education, once a tool used to create division among a previously united people, is now being transformed into a means of promoting unity and hope. This is where Wellspring comes in.

For me, the greatest privilege of this trip was to see the impact of Wellspring’s work first-hand, and to meet the people who make it all happen. The Wellspring staff in Rwanda love their country deeply, they love the people they serve, and they love the God who has called them to join in His work of redemption and restoration. Each person reflects so much joy as they go about their work, and it was truly infectious to be around them!

In a future post, I will share more detail about this work, and how we were each impacted as we experienced the difference Wellspring is making in communities, schools and individual lives in Rwanda. For now, I want to return to the Vision Trip’s theme, “A Time For Transformation,” and share what this meant for some of our team members …

“I now see that healing and reconciliation is possible. It is happening in Rwanda, and I now have greater hope that it is possible in Canada.”

“I have seen how Wellspring Academy’s motto, “Not To Be Served, But To Serve,” is modeled in the lives of staff.”

“Wellspring has created a culture of love, honour and respect, that is being experienced by all who are involved and impacted by our work. This is central to all we do – in Rwanda, and in Canada.”

“I have come to understand the importance and value of listening. Before we try to make an impact, we need to really hear what people’s needs are, and approach people with a servant’s heart.”

“I have been challenged to be grateful, to grumble less, and to see the blessings in my life for what they are.”

“I realize how often we take education for granted, when so many people have to fight for it.”

“From now on, I will define success differently.”

“Rwanda has been on my heart for many years, but I came here afraid that God wouldn’t have a place for me here. But I realize that I am here for a reason, and that I do have something to give.”

Hope … Servant Hearts … Love and Respect … Vibrant Faith … Vision … Redemption … Community … Humility

These words sum up beautifully both what we experienced in Rwanda, and what we experienced as we engaged with the life and work of The Wellspring Foundation. The organization’s culture is based on these values, and it is such a privilege to be part of this. Wellspring believes that when people around the world partner together to bring change, the transformation that can take place goes both ways. I, along with my 21 fellow travellers, can testify that this is true.

Com to Rwanda with Us!