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The relationship between Harwood Union and the people of Rwanda was first inspired by a student named Troy Sooter, who, in 2004, was inspired by the survival story of Valentina Iribagiza.
Since Troy's first visit, 37 students, 5 teachers and several parents
from the Harwood community have traveled to Rwanda; several have made
the journey twice. Countless others from the school's community have
also contributed funds toward the education of Rwandan students, books
and school supplies, seeds and gardening supplies as well as maple
syrup, coffee and soccer balls.
Over the last two years, the international program at Harwood has partnered with the Rwanda Educational Partnership and the Vermont Folklife Center on a variety of service-learning projects.
Currently, the Rwanda Program at Harwood invests a lot of time and energy in partner school, The Good Samaritan School, also known as Teddy's, which is named after the energetic and inspirational woman who saw a desperate need for early childhood education in her community.
"Teddy's" school is located in a city called Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Teddy started with a one-room schoolhouse - her own house, where she worked with 35 students, ages 3 to 6 years old, in 1996. By the end of the year over 40 new students arrived. Since then, the program has grown rapidly.
Teddy has had to move six different times yet still refuses to turn away any student who wants to learn, even if she or he cannot meet the annual tuition fee of $40 per student. Nearly 400 students attend the school, and approximately 90 cannot afford tuition, so the Harwood program worked to create a scholarship program for 90 families. So far, the program has delivered 70 scholarships.
Currently, seven classrooms are filled with 40- to 60-plus students. What little water exists on campus is used to water down the classroom floors so dust does not disturb learning. Walls are brittle, bathrooms are bushes and clay closets with holes and supplies amount to whatever can be carried into the country.
To compound things, Teddy faces eviction on a weekly basis, because the leased land the school sits on can be sold at any moment; essentially, local officials lack proper guidelines regarding private property.
Based on the challenges at Teddy's, Harwood students and faculty, Teddy, the school and parent communities, teachers and community members are creating ways to address basic needs. Two years ago, Harwood students started a modest library and led art workshops with students. Last year, Harwood students delivered over 400 books, built bookshelves and led a series of literacy workshops.
The goal is to continue to find ways to improve the learning opportunities for students at The Good Samaritan School, according to Harwood educator Steve Rand.
This year students plan on hosting an event at The Inn at the Round Barn in Waitsfield to keep raising money to support the remaining necessary scholarships. It takes place on December 5 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. and is known as Stories of Hope.
The event will include African-inspired catering by the Round Barn's Cooking from the Heart Catering, an exhibit of previous students' work, a silent auction, student presentation on Teddy's, and the story of Valentina Iribagiza, who inspired it all.
She will be coming from Boston where she is currently going to school and working as a nurse to share her story, and some of a Front Line special called Valentina's Nightmare will be shown.