With 20th Anniversary of Genocide on the Horizon, Rwandan Girls Need Empowerment More than Ever.

jessica markowitz
Jessica Markowitz with Joyce, a young student in Richard’s Rwanda-IMPUHWE

Impuhwe. In Kinyarwanda (the national language of Rwanda), impuhwe means compassion. Though it has been 20 years since the 1994 genocide, today, more than ever, compassion is what children in Rwanda so desperately need.

“The genocide in Rwanda was truly horrific, killing as many as a million people by the end, and leaving countless children as orphans,” 2009 Youth Award Honoree Jessica Markowitz said. “The war left a generation of children at risk, particularly female children, who society often overlooks.”

Impuhwe is central to Jessica’s work in Rwanda. Since 2006, Jessica has been ensuring 40 Rwandan girls complete their education through her organization, Richard’s Rwanda-IMPUHWE.

“Girls have historically been marginalized and denied educational opportunities, especially in the rural areas,” Jessica said. “Girls are much more likely to drop out, even in the best of times, and barely half of those who enroll in primary school complete their education. And since girls have traditionally struggled in Rwandan society even more than boys, it made sense to make them the focus of my efforts.”

Jessica was originally inspired to begin working in Rwanda after meeting Richard Kananga, a Rwandan human rights advocate who worked with children devastated by the 1994 genocide.

“As Richard spoke about the tragedy and the importance of rebuilding hope and forgiveness in his country, I was inspired and determined to find my own way to reach out to Rwandan girls my age,” Jessica remembered.

Jessica Markowitz with Richard's Rwanda class
Jessica with Richard’s Rwanda-IMPUHWE students and fellow students from Seattle

Shortly thereafter, Richard connected Jessica with a group of Rwandan girls who were living on a dollar a day, leaving them little money left to pay for an education. She began reaching out to her local community in Seattle, Washington, to generate support for these girls. She organized bake sales and school supply drives, and spoke with fellow students at her school. Soon, she had enough people backing her cause to found Richard’s Rwanda-IMPUHWE.

Today, Richard’s Rwanda-IMPUHWE supports the education of 40 girls in Rwanda’s rural town of Nyamata. These girls are now on track to complete primary and secondary school. Once they graduate, Jessica has no doubt that they will make a lasting, positive impact in their village and country.

“I’m inspired by the girls in Rwanda and their incredible strength to work hard and become leaders in their community despite the many difficulties they face on a daily basis,” Jessica said. “I met the girls when I was twelve years old and I’ve watched them become leaders in their own right. They have all told me their stories and after seven years of growing up together they have become my sisters.”

Grace, one of the original students supported by Richard’s Rwanda-IMPUHWE, is a testament to Jessica’s work. Grace was separated from her parents during the genocide and now lives in a simple mud hut with her aunt. Despite the daily challenges that come with living in poverty, Grace is on her way to become a doctor.

“You will be proud I’m a powerful woman,” Grace told Jessica, “and I’m going to help you change the world.”

jessica markowitz
Jessica at the school’s end-of-year assembly

In 2009, we honored Jessica’s work with our Youth Award and $15,000 in grant funding. Jessica used our funding to support the educational opportunities of girls living in the Bugesera District of Rwanda, providing school fees, school supplies, insurance and school uniforms.

“By receiving the World of Children, I became more confident and knew my age could not stop me from being successful,” Jessica said. “The Award provided media coverage, which allowed me to fundraise and grow the organization in a sustainable way. I will always cherish my experience when I was honored in New York City and especially the love and support I have been receiving to this day from [World of Children Co-Founders] Kay and Harry. It’s an absolute honor and privilege to be part of the World of Children family.”

On Sunday, April 6, our Co-Founders will travel to Rwanda to visit Jessica, meet the girls in Nyamata, and attend the commemoration event of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Read more about our Co-Founders’ trip to Rwanda by visiting worldofchildren.org/rwanda. Support the work of heroes like Jessica by clicking here. 100% of your donation directly supports and advances the work of our Honorees.

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