Last October when I was in Africa doing research for a play, I visited three schools in Rwanda: a girls’ orphanage school in Nyamata that is supported by Seattle school children; Agahozo Shalom Youth Village which I wrote about in January, and the Gashora Girls Academy which was in the last stages of construction and yet to open. The founders of the Gashora Girls Academy, two Seattle women, Soozi McGill and Shal Foster, and its headmaster Peter Thorp, took me along on a construction progress inspection. Last month the Academy did open for business with an inaugural class of 90 bright and excited girls.
Nick Kristof has written often in the New York Times about how educating girls is the best way to invest in developing countries. To put it in cold economic terms, educating girls generates a much higher ROI than all other development, including educating boys. An educated girl invests more in her family, community and country. She has fewer unplanned pregnancies and fewer children. Soozi and Shal were aware of this data as well as the horrible conditions in Rwanda following the 1994 genocide when one million people were murdered in 100 days.
The history of foreign development aid in impoverished countries is littered with as many failures as successes. We’ve all read about the new health clinic lacking doctors and nurses, schools built but the teachers stop showing up, funds absconded by corrupt officials. $3.8 million appears to have been wasted recently in one more debacle, this one in Malawi and more high-profile than usual because of Madonna’s involvement.
Soozi and Shal, emboldened by the data about educating girls, were also aware of the checkered history of aid projects; they were determined not to repeat those mistakes. The Gashora Girls Academy has been meticulousy planned, subjected to rigorous financial oversight, is fully supported by President Paul Kagame’s administration (Rwanda’s First Lady Jeannette Kagame participated in the school’s opening ceremonies), and is well equipped and staffed. Like Agahozo Shalom, the Gashora Academy is a boarding school with the girls living there.
I am a great admirer of this project that Soozi and Shal initiated just a brief three years ago. An amazing amount of global development work originates in Seattle. The Gates Foundation is the largest such organization but many others are also doing important work. (My own alma mater, the University of Washington, has contributed more graduates to the Peace Corps than any other college in America, bar none.) The Gashora Girls Academy is part of this great tradition.
Last week this new school was singled out for praise in Kristof’s Times column, guest-written by Josh Ruxin, a savvy veteran of African development efforts. I encourage you to read it.
Peter Thorp, head of the new Academy, is confident that many of the girls will go on to become leaders and help Rwanda continue to rise from the darkness that almost destroyed it 17 years ago, and become one of the leading lights of Africa and the developing world. My call is that the Gashora Girls Academy goes in the win column for foreign aid and good deeds.