In 2021, we agreed to support a fabulous vocational training programme for 16/17 year old girls in Rwanda. The £6,000 grant covered the salaries of three staff members who run Girls Space for two years. As the 2022/23 graduates of the programme completed their course, we caught up on how the project went.
The Girls’ Space programme
Girls’ Space is a vocational programme in the rural community of Gako in Rwanda. It was set up by Together in Sport Rwanda (TiSR), a Scottish registered charity set up in 2016 by Kari Spence, a teacher from North Berwick.
Girls’ Space was developed following consultation with parents, teachers and local government, to address an issue with 16/17 year old girls. Most had dropped out of primary school at age 6 or 7 to work in the fields or as maids to local wealthy families. Sadly, with limited prospects, many were ultimately entering a life of prostitution and crime. TiSR realised that there was a need to support these girls in learning vocational skills.
The girls who are enrolled in Girls’ Space attend for 4 days a week for 1 year. They learn sewing skills to make clothes and accessories – the aim is that they can set up their own micro-enterprises and sell their products once they have graduated from the course. The project has a wider remit, too, which includes learning conversational English (essential when they sell their products), sports leadership (to build confidence and leadership skills) and personal, social and emotional development.
Impact of Girls’ Space
Girls’ Space has been hugely successful in building the self-esteem and skills of its graduates over the first 4 years of operation (the last 2 years of which were supported by Hazel’s Footprints). The girls report a massive increase in their personal happiness and prospects.
Kari Spence recently returned from Rwanda and had this to say:
“Our 2022/2023 cohort of girls graduated in March 2023. Each of the girls who graduated was given their own sewing machine. This had been identified as a barrier to those who graduated in the earlier years as they did not have the funds to purchase their own machine.
“This week whilst in Rwanda I was able to go and visit the girls in their communities to see what they have been up to since graduating.
“It was amazing to see how the girls have developed since leaving Girls’ Space. We spent time with each of the girls, their parents and even met some of their clients. They have all set up their own small business and are making an income to help support their families. Some of the girls are even helping other vulnerable girls in their communities in how to sew – the ripple effect of the Girls’ Space project.“
About TiSR & its founder
TiSR’s first project in 2016 was to secure land next to the school as a sports pitch – a huge asset to the school and in constant use. Since then, TiSR has established: a food programme for all 640 pupils at the school plus the teaching staff; health insurance for the children; crisis funding for families to keep kids in school; vocational training for 16/17 year old girls (Girls Space); and a volunteer programme which brings 18+ UK teachers each summer holidays to Faith & Hope improve local teaching standards & resources (outside of COVID times). Most of TiSR’s work has continued despite Covid – with food packages being delivered to pupils “homeschooling” during lockdown periods. Girls Space has remained open for most of the pandemic.
Kari Spence has a deep personal commitment to TiSR – she has volunteered in Rwanda 26 times since she first visited in 2009, mostly at the Faith & Hope school. She also lived full time in Gako (home to Faith & Hope school) from January 2019 until Covid forced her return in March 2020. Kari has returned again to Gako to monitor the Girls Space programme as well as other TiSR projects.