Life at Gashora
Profile of the Average Gashora StudentOne of the most common misconceptions that volunteers hold is an underestimation of the students. To date, 90% of GGAST graduates have continued on to university, an extraordinary accomplishment given that Rwanda and throughout East Africa, the percentage, especially for girls, is typically less than 5%. Over the last three graduating classes, over $30 million has been awarded in scholarships in the U.S. and Canada with at least one GGAST alumna at each Ivy League school. GGAST is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) school, with a curriculum that compares to the U.S. Advanced Placement program. We are a government aided school, which has become part of the fabric of the Rwandan culture and economy, focusing on empowering the country’s next generation of leaders. As the forerunner in education in Rwanda, GGAST focuses on educating and supporting the “whole girl” through strong college-prep academics, health and nutrition, social and emotional development, and extracurricular programs. As a STEM school, our unwavering commitment to excellence and innovation has nurtured students to become leaders in the country in academic and entrepreneurial achievements.
Since opening our doors, GGAST has enrolled girls from 27 of Rwanda’s 30 Districts and has included students from Burundi and recently 2 students from Somaliland, creating the most socio-economically diverse school in Rwanda and arguably all of East Africa. GGAST alumnae continue their education at exemplary universities around the world in preparation to return to Rwanda, continuing the mission of RGI, to help lead and transform the nation. These young women will be the next generation of scientists, social entrepreneurs, advocates and thought leaders, who will bring solutions to the biggest global challenges we face.
Gashora’s Education System
GGAST is comprised of 3 grade levels—Senior 4, 5 & 6, the equivalent of American sophomore, junior and senior years. While the course load varies a bit at each grade level the typical course load is:
Students elect one three-course combination listed below. In addition to their combination, students take classes in English, Entrepreneurship, Kinyarwanda and General Paper. Classes are conducted in English and meet 4 times per week, for a total of 280 minutes.
- PCB (Physics, Chemistry and Biology)
- PCM (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics)
- MCB (Mathematics, Chemistry, Biology)
- MPC (Mathematics, Physics, Computer Science)
- MPG (Mathematics, Physics, Geography)
- MEG (Mathematics, Economics, Geography)
- CEM (Computer Science, Economics, Mathematics)
At the end of their S6 year, the seniors take National Examinations in their 3 combination subjects, entrepreneurship and General Paper. Each science subject has 2 separate exams, so the PCB girls take a total of 8, 3-hour exams over 10 days. In 2018 the indigenous language, Kinyarwanda, will be added as a 9th National Exam.
In addition to their required subjects, GGAST girls study English each year. The focus of the English program is to increase fluency in both their receptive (listening and reading comprehension) and expressive (speaking and writing) English skills. S4 students take an English assessment test upon arrival to assess their fluency level; typical about a third of the students arrive speaking little if any English, so they are grouped together. TOEFL and ACT test preparation (the school has decided that our students should take the ACT test for US university applications in lieu of the SAT test) begins in the S4 year, but it becomes a major focus of the S5 curriculum, with less time spent in S6, as the girls prepare for National Exams (which are administered in English).Two foundational philosophies complete our “whole girl” educational program—extracurricular physical and intellectual work through sports and clubs; and our belief that girls should be empowered to take on leadership roles in a wide range of capacities. After the long day of classes, students participate in sports and clubs in the afternoons. The sports program includes both competitive (basketball, volleyball and football (aka: soccer) and non-competitive (yoga, martial arts, jogging, e.g.) sports. There is a wide range of club activities—French, Entrepreneurship, Debate (a “competitive” club), “Dear Dr. Rwanda (community service), and many more. We emphasize further personal responsibility and community commitment by requiring the girls to do weekly jobs.
School Schedule, Daily Flow
The girls wake up around 5:00 am before their first “preps” at 6:00 am. Breakfast is served starting at 7:00 am, although the volunteers/faculty typically eat once the girls are off to class at 7:30am. There are 7 periods in a day, ending at 3:30 pm, with lunch in between from 11:50- 12:40 pm. Student clubs take place 2-3 days a week, sports another 2-3 days a week, and on Wednesdays, the girls have either advisory or “jobs,” where they clean the campus spaces. Dinner is served at 6:00 pm, and the girls have night preps from 7:00 - 9:30 pm.
Depending on your project and responsibilities, your weekends will be free for you to travel around Rwanda or relax at the school. The students typically plan activities such as fashion shows or cultural nights or are busy studying on the weekend. For volunteers, there can be less to partake in. After a busy work week immersed in the school, volunteers find it very healthy and rejuvenating to leave for the weekends. It is easy to take the bus to a nearby city named Nyamata, or take a bit of a longer bus ride into the city of Kigali, where there is lots to do. It is strongly encouraged for volunteers to use the weekends to relax and re-energize.
While the weekends are less hectic, the girls are up early even so for breakfast and then an hour of preps before some more clubs, sometimes outside speakers, or field trips complete the morning. The balance of Saturday is relaxed time for the girls to clean their uniforms and enjoy Saturday movie night.
The girls have no true obligations on Sunday morning, but they are up early doing their “revisions” (or homework and/or National Exam preparations) before most of the girls get ready for church. Our few Muslim students celebrate the Sabbath on Friday; the Adventist students on Saturday; Christian and Catholic girls on Sunday. The Adventists, Pentecost, and Catholic students often worship in Gashora village. But one of the week’s highlights is the non-denominational, ecumenical church service in the Community Center. It is a program entirely run by the girls and the singing, dancing and preaching is truly inspiring. Whether your volunteer time is a short visit or an extended stay, you do not want to miss the GGAST church service.
The other highlight of the week is the assembly. Like the church service, the program is planned and run by the students. There are announcements from the Headmaster, other administrators and often teachers, but more often the girls read their own poetry, announce and celebrate any special individual or group accomplishments, and show relevant and timely video clips as part of the weekly “information prefect’s” responsibility. We often have visitors speak and as a volunteer you will be expected at some point to share your own story with the girls. The assembly is informative, well executed and lots of fun.
Stella-Noella Tetero interest in engineering was fueled by a desire to defy the norms and “prove her worth”, but she soon realized that engineering was one of her passions in life. “I loved the fact that every piece of information I received raised more questions, and I wanted to be part of the people who try to find solutions,” Tetero says. “Finding these solutions often raises even more problems, but that is part of the beauty of engineering. Ways to make the world better still humble us as human beings who cannot fix all the flaws in the world.” She says of studying at Columbia University, “Being constantly surrounded at SEAS by such brilliant individuals in different fields instills a certain competition, not the bad kind of wanting to prove who has the upper hand, but the kind that brings out the best in each of us and makes us want to go as far as we can in whatever we’re passionate about.”
Beatrice, class of 2013, didn't see a clear picture of how to make her dreams come true of being a doctor before coming to Gashora. Through her time at GGAST she came to appreciate different perspectives and know that “regardless of our differences we could all come together and enjoy each other’s company.” This has helped her at McGill University where she received one of the best scholarships in the world—the MasterCard Foundation Scholarship. “College has been challenging and inspiring, full of ups and downs, but one of great successes. Just like the bonds that pulled me through GGAST, the bonds I have made in college will pull me later in life, and I cherish that.” She is pursuing a degree in Biological, Biomedical and Life Sciences program, which will equip her with the skills to fulfill her dreams. “I know great things are awaiting. I see myself making an impact on my country, helping families achieve greater freedom from the constraints of poverty and disease, empowering them to live healthier lives. I look at the Gashora Girls of the past and future, and I can confidently say our future, our families’ and our nation’s future is bright, for the greatness Gashora Girls have in them will be carried into their next generation.”