A Life-Changing Experience for 170 Students
By Janet Reineck
In December of 2017, my assistant Genevieve Feiner and I traveled to Rwanda to help with our annual Student Leadership Training in Kigali. Program Director Justin Bisengimana led the three-day training for 170 students, assisted by our Education Coordinator Chantal Kubwimana, Program Assistant Dany Rukundo, and Business Coordinator Judy Rwibutso. Genevieve captured the entire experience in photos and videos.
JUSTIN’S 2017 LEADERSHIP THEMES
Justin spoke eloquently, powerfully, clearly – giving the students concepts to expand their reality, gain self-confidence, and visualize themselves as leaders. Justin’s lectures which were partly in Kinyarwanda, partly in English. When he spoke, you could hear a pin drop – the students were so attentive, soaking in every word.
Each time Justin posed a question, 5 to 15 hands shot into the air. When called upon, the students stood (or walked stridently to the front of the room) and offered clear, insightful, spirited responses.
I chimed in at the end of each of Justin’s topics, elaborating on what he had said, giving examples from my own experience, and bringing in ideas from the perspective of WD4H. My general message to the students: You are crucial to the success of your communities. You are the ones who will lead your people out of poverty. Your communities need the skills and knowledge you will acquire at school and through the Leadership Training. They need you to devote yourselves to their well-being. The older generation of co-op leaders is excited for you to start leading with them. They believe in you. It’s time to step up to the challenge!
Building a better future: We’re working not just to survive, but to create a sustainable future. Don’t think like the others you go to school with. They just want a job. You have the responsibility of building a new future for your communities.
Creativity: Imagination + application = creativity. Think out of the box. Find creative solutions, adapt, respond to the circumstances. Why do we need creativity?
Overcoming fear: Try and fail…but never fail to try! Being a hero doesn’t mean you don’t have fear. It means you’re working to get over your fear. You’ll have to get over your fears in order to make serious decisions. We all feel fear. It doesn’t mean we have to give up.
Creating a vision: Create a picture in your mind that will inspire you and others. Example: Farming to eat is not a vision – everybody does it to get by. But if your vision is for your children to attend school, then successful farming becomes a passion. Keep the vision in your mind – develop objectives and a path to realizing your vision. What the co-op needs from you will help determine your vision and fuel your passion.
Using your brain: As leaders, we are required to make the best decisions for our people. Which part of the brain are we using in making decision based on our emotions, reasoning, or memories? We need to use the REASONING PART. We need to understand how the people we work with are thinking.
Understanding your past: Your history is yours, no matter how traumatic it might be. Cherish it, it’s a big part of who you are today. But don’t live by your past. Learn from it! Reflect on your past, study it, replay it, reframe it, release yourself from it, use it to become a strong leader!
Deep breathing: As leaders you’ll face many challenges. When things are difficult, when you need to summon the REASONING part of your brain, take deep breaths. With the breath, feel gratitude for life itself.
One of our goals at the training was to introduce the Impact Assessments we’ve been working on with co-ops. I explained how the tool was developed in partnership with the co-op leaders and how it represents a new model in measuring the impact of aid, in which recipients devise with the parameters and chart the progress in their own lives. The students gathered in small groups by co-op, studied the charts they were given until they understood what the numbers meant and how they reflected the progress being made. Based on the trends they were seeing, they were tasked with creating goals for 2018. They took the charts home to work on with their co-op leaders. It was amazing to see the students understand for the first time the progress their communities have made, and comprehend the role they will play in guiding this transformation.
EXCHANGING LETTERS WITH SPONSORS
Another goal was to make sure the students really understand what it means to have a Sponsor, who their Sponsor is, and the importance of the letters they exchange. They were thrilled to read the letters we brought for them from their Sponsors and took the letter-writing assignment very seriously. We brought home 153 full-page, detailed letters written in English. For many of the students, this was the first letter they had ever written in English. Those more comfortable with English helped the others. It was an incredible process to witness.