Sharon Sakakibara (left)

Sharon Sakakibara (left)

Local connections for Rwanda

The Wellspring Foundation for Education hosts a dessert evening May 28 to benefit the non-profit group

Okanagan residents will have a chance to make a difference in the lives of children half a world away when Wellspring Foundation for Education comes to Vernon.

Kirsten Mucyo, program director for Wellspring in Rwanda, will be in town May 28 for a dessert evening presentation, 7 p.m. at Vernon Alliance Church Hall, 2601-43rd Ave. Those attending will get a look at schooling in the heart of Rwanda and hear of the efforts being made to change the country through the education of its youth.

It was 20 years ago Rwanda suffered through a horrendous genocide with hundreds of thousands of people being slaughtered in an ethnic rage that lasted for months.

While scars from those dark times remain, Rwanda is now a much different country and Wellspring is dedicated to doing what it can to educate future leaders that will guide the African nation in the coming years.

Vernon residents Sherrie Mann, Sharon Sakakibara, Barb Elgin and Shirley and Gerry Malnis have witnessed firsthand the powerful impact Wellspring is having on the lives of countless children. They spent two weeks in Kigali working with the faith-based organization and with the ever-smiling children of the nation’s largest city.

Wellspring operates a program called Ignite 48 and for $55 a month, people can literally change the lives of Rwandan youths by sponsoring a classroom, supporting a program that shows teachers how to teach and by opening up doors to education some children do not have access to.

Mann said the schools are all similar with open classrooms, long tables for desks and up to 60 children per class. All struggle with limited resources.

“They go to school and then they go home and work in the fields or carry water,” said Mann, adding the students she met ranged from Kindergarten to Grade 6.

While it is not uncommon for North American youths to balk and complain about having to go to school, the Rwanda youths seem eager to get an education, appreciating the privilege of attending class.

“The most common thing we saw was huge smiles on their faces. That is largely due to Ignite 48. One of the students told us how different things are now, how much better they are. They want to go to school now,” said Mann.

Ignite 48 also works with the teachers, to show them more effective and impacting ways to teach. Before Ignite 48, teaching conditions were Draconian and it was not uncommon for a teacher to use a strong stick to enforce discipline.

But after training through Wellspring, they are more engaged with the students and the rising grades reflect the new method of teaching.

“The teachers also teach other teachers,” said Mann. “They go back to the schools and help the teachers to teach. The teachers are so appreciative of learning a new way of doing things.”

After returning from a Wellspring educational session, one teacher got down on his knees and begged the forgiveness of the children for the way they had been treated.

Elgin said Wellspring also helps Rwanda educators to use materials they can find locally and a financial donation here is magnified many times in Rwanda. After the formal portion of the trip Mann, Sakakibara and Elgin went on a trek to view the Mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park.

“Seeing the gorillas was wonderful,” said Sakakibara, “but was not the highlight of my trip.Being able to interact with students and the amazing Rwandan Wellspring staff was the real treat. Before I was a supporter, now I feel more like a partner in what is being accomplished there.”

To RSVP for the Dessert Evening, contact or call 250-542-0398. For more information on Wellspring, go to   (North American site) or  (Rwandan site).

Shirley Malnis is partner engagement coordinator for The Wellspsring Foundation for Education.