By Jean Paul Bahati
Early education from a child’s parent is extremely important. Learning in the beginning years of a child’s life plays a vital role in their development. There are many gaps in family education for those uprooted by disasters and conflict in their country. Elie Ntakirutimana is working to address this gap in his role as Church Empowerment Zone Manager at World Relief, an organization that brings sustainable solutions to the world’s greatest problems – disasters, extreme poverty, violence, oppression and mass displacement – through church empowerment to serve the most vulnerable.
Elie designed a program that helps children attend maternal schools at an early age. These are children suffering from a lack of early childhood care services just because their parents do not consider it to be important, or there may not be such services in the community. Parents often spend their time looking for work and as a result children, at an early age, are left home, not cared for and lacking the essential knowledge and behaviors for the next phases of education.
“I designed the Early Childhood Development Program in 2009 for kids who ranged in age from two to six years old,” Elie said. “It started it in my rural village in the Ruhango District in Rwanda. I recruited 154 volunteers from that community and trained them to teach children. Then I gathered students in my village at churches, cell offices and even under trees. I designed 149 classes to support more than 2,000 children.”
As a result of this program, rural parents started valuing early childhood education (ECD) and started thinking about community or home-based ECD programs. As a result of the program's success, other organizations started thinking about early childhood education services in rural communities. In 2013, Unicef Rwanda officially piloted the program in 10 select districts (Ruhango included).
Elie has been working in his role at World Relief since 2014. It has focused on preparing curriculum and modules and designing and piloting possible intervention programs that help churches to address their community needs. In addition, when working in the Ministry of Youth in 2012, Elie was assigned to be a mentor for youth in social rehabilitation at the Iwawa Rehabilitation Center, one of three rehabilitation centers of Rwanda’s National Rehabilitation Service. The Center’s mandate is to rehabilitate male delinquents 18 years old and over who exhibit deviant behaviors. Elie developed the social rehabilitation concept note and initiated many interventions in response.
He learned that most of the people were sent to Iwawa had social development challenges based on family issues. He is using lessons from those experiences today as he recently launched a center called Ishema ry’umuryango which provides psycho-social therapy to families, couples, parents and children who have social problems. The program will officially start in September 2021, with a vision to enable individuals, families and communities to experience happiness and security.
This social initiative solves a problem. To me, it is a great example of innovation – coming up with creative ways to address challenges in a society.
This problem-solving mindset was also on display when Elie was in charge of education at UNHCR. He helped refugee children experience primary, secondary and university-level academics. He also identified that there was a lack of pre-primary schools in refugee camps and took the initiative to start pre-primary programs there. Interestingly, right now all refugee camps are implementing this program.
With World Relief, he initiated the Youth Running Club which is designed to use games to teach life skills to children who are over 10 years of age. It is currently being rolled out in all of World Relief's Church Empowerment Zones.
Elie had a goal of improving curriculum development, coordinating, and planning.
“Success means to commit yourself to achieve your established goals,” he said.
Elie entered the education sector when he was studying for a Bachelor’s Degree. He entered the education sector due to the unstable life conditions at university. He applied and earned the job as a teacher of history, economics and geography in a secondary school. It is from there he started his career as an educator. It ended up being his career calling.
Elie grew up in remote areas where there were no maternal schools for young children. Later during his academic pursuits, he realized that some of his classmates attended such programs.
“There was a gap in my academic journey which underscored to me the importance of gaining skills that are acquired by those who attend maternal schools,” he said.
Today, Elie holds a Master’s Degree in Social Welfare Administration from Annamalai University, located in India. He would like to specialize in a Ph.D. program that will help tackle issues in Centre Ishema ry’Umuryango.
Elie was raised in a Christian family which prepared him to work with pastors and lead Bible studies. This is aligned with World Relief’s work that acknowledges the church as a key institution that is empowered and influential to bring changes in the community where it serves.
“Churches can help you to execute change in a community,” he said. “Churches tackle the spiritual arena of life, but when churches are involved in tackling other issues, it can be an agent in bringing positive holistic changes in the world.”
Advice for the Educational Innovators and My Takeaways
The lack of family education for many is a challenge that can be addressed by those who want to make a difference, according to Elie. To innovate, you need to identify a gap and employ your resources to close them.
My conversation with Elie underscores two key points:
You need to have professional development career goals as early as possible. Then you need to develop a road map that will direct you to achieve these goals. Career goals need to be “SMART”: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.
You need to keep focused and motivated to achieve your goals. Don’t take on too many goals at a time. You should identify what you are passionate about and go for it, avoid being distracted by other achievers from different careers. You need to stay motivated and be focused.
It is clear that Elie has been able to make a big impact among different communities by following this course of action. I look forward to actioning such guidance as I pursue my goal to support youth as part of my career.
Jean Paul Bahati is a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Healthcare Management. You can connect with him on LinkedIn. He wrote this story after going through the Global Innovators Academy Interview an Innovator experience.