Renae Stucky noticed very few girls visited the Children’s Peace Libraries of Rwanda in Kigali, where she works. That is, until April this year.
Stucky, 23, was a participant in MCC’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program, which is a year-long, cross-cultural service experience for young adults in Canada and the U.S. From August 2016 to July 2017, Stucky, who hails from Moundridge and is a graduate of Bethel College, worked in the peace libraries as an assistant.
Annika Bolter, 23, from Racine, Wisconsin, also served in Kigali through SALT. She assisted a community-based savings and loan program supported by MCC in Rwanda.
In conversation with the women and girls in the community, Stucky and Bolter learned that some didn’t feel empowered to strive for their goals and had faced sexism. The SALTers felt compelled to do something to help the girls in the community feel included, special and capable of achieving their dreams.
From there, Bolter and Stucky decided to host an empowerment camp for girls at the library, together with Stucky’s supervisor, Francine Muhawenimana, the coordinator of libraries.
Each day, from April 27 to 30, Stucky and Bolter led the class of 26 girls, ages 9-12 in a game, introduced the theme and then talked about notable women in Rwanda and around the world. They also led the girls in discussions about women in sports, in the workforce and in art.
From there, the children would reflect on the topic and the things they were learning through art projects and games.
Muhawenimana and a female Rwandan pastor came to speak to the girls, too. Muhawenimana was supportive of the camp, but especially of including Rwandan women speakers to serve as role models for the girls participating.
“When we meet with them and show them the experience from the other (Rwandan) women who are important in the government or who have done something important for society, they stop being afraid,” Muhawenimana explains.
Stucky and Bolter say they were intentional about inviting local women to participate.
“Renae and I can talk to them and tell them they can do everything they want,” Bolter adds, “but we’re Muzungu (foreign) women. Having two Rwandan women who are wonderful examples of overcoming discrimination was really important.”
At the end of the week, each girl was given three strips of paper on which to write a hope, dream or something they’d learned over the week. After everyone was finished, the group linked the paper strips to make a chain.
“It was meant to say, look at all these good things we are as individuals, but look at how much stronger we are when we’re linked together,” Bolter explains.
Stucky adds, “The main thing all the girls said was that they don’t have to be scared to do things. They can do things themselves, and they should be proud. They’re capable.”
The SALTers believe the camp was important for the girls involved. They hope to see it continue in the future.
“I see them in the library more often, now,” Stucky says a month after the camp ended. They don’t always read, but we have a relationship going now. I’d say it’s a success,” she says.