WILMETTE--Touting Sonrise School's national exam results, Archbishop-elect and Primate of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, Laurent Mbanda, PhD, was well-received at a packed dinner/bowling fundraiser Feb. 25 and spoke of education, his accomplishments as Anglican Bishop of the Shyira Diocese and future goals as Archbishop.
"Sonrise is doing exceptionally well," said Mbanda at the Wilmette Bowling Center benefit sponsored by one of the school's founders, Church of the Redeemer, Highland Park. The proceeds from the night would support operating costs for the primary and secondary campuses in Musanze, Rwanda.
In the three placement exams, Sonrise is included in the top divisions of the nation. Additionally, one female student finishing high school "had maxed out" with a score of 100 percent, he said.
Students advancing from sixth to seventh grades all proceeded to divisions one and two (the best category). From ninth to 10th, "they all passed with good grades," in exams highlighting their individual strengths of study, Mbanda said. Already one student will be enrolled at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, for her college studies. Others are enrolled in various universities in different states.
Two recent local college graduates from Sonrise--Richard Ndekezi of Wheaton College and Joris Cyizere of Northwestern University--are preparing for graduate school. Another at St. Olaf is also headed to graduate school. Currently, over 15 Sonrise graduates are attending college in the United States.
Improved Education in Rwanda
An improvement to Rwanda's primary and secondary school ranking system, which began this month, has been in the news. The new system allows evaluation of performance by subjects and encourages comprehensive teaching to discourage abuse by some schools¬-- "poaching" top students for enrollment and dismissing those with lower grades--according to The East African, "Rwanda's new school ranking system in the works."
"It is a very positive thing; the goal is to promote better quality education" Mbanda said about the new ranking system. He added that the government has a new vision that includes reading and writing for all Rwandans and diverse professional and technical skills training. Technical schools are being promoted to earn or create jobs in all trades. Also, an extension of education provided to Rwandan students, from ninth to 12th grades (basic education), is already in place.
"The grading and the ranking somehow doesn't give all kids opportunities and quality education," he said about the previous ranking system. "They're encouraging that every child is given an opportunity (with the new system)."
Needs at Sonrise School
Sonrise, ranking among the top 10 Rwandan schools since its founding in 2001, has 137 students enrolled who are needy--their parents have passed away, or are not able to provide quality education. Currently, 45 of the 137 have been admitted without payment or sponsors, in the hope that sponsorships can be raised. "They are going now but that puts us in a very tight and difficult position; you have an opportunity to sponsor them," said Mbanda.
As a private school with over 700 students, government funding is not received. To remove the stigma of an orphan-based school, founded right after the Tutsi population genocide, and to help with expenses, paying students were, and still are, admitted. However, fee-based enrollment has declined due to the financial crisis and sponsorships have not kept pace with the needs of orphans and at-risk children.
Additionally, procurement of another bus is needed, Mbanda said. For daily students attending, a single bus begins multiple rounds at 5 a.m. Yet if there isn't enough room for all, the paying students won't have transportation. "We give priority to the needy if we have to make a choice--that's how we do it, because they need the support," he said.
Elected Jan. 17 as the next Archbishop and Primate of the Province of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, Mbanda will be enthroned on June 10. Looking back at his reign as Bishop, he said, "I am excited about the growth of the church. We've seen over 60 new congregations started in the last 8-1/2 years."
An impetus for church growth, an early childhood program of 195 centers, including over 20,000 children, was created.
"That probably has been one of the most exciting programs to see," Mbanda said about the 3-6-year-old program. "This has been the best strategy as far as church growth is concerned, because when we go to the community, we are attending to the needs of the children."
He is also proud of the training programs. Eight pastors completed master's degrees, 10 bachelors,' and over 200 pastors and lay leaders completed in-services training.
A self-sustaining technical college was founded 4 years ago, boasting an enrollment of 1500. Also, income-generating activities to sustain the diocese were established, including a hotel with 23 rooms and a commercial building.
"We have paid off our debts," he said, explaining, "We started in a financial crisis."
Looking forward, self-reliance and sustainability was the fifth on his list of goals as Archbishop. "How can we, the church of Rwanda, think of ways to generate income that can sustain us and liberate us to become a vibrant church that doesn't always extend a hand outside?"
First on the list was training pastors, followed by evangelism and discipleship. He noted that "nurturing our congregations" needs to come first.
A sound financial management system, perhaps called 'stewardship,' is third on his list of priorities. "That is very important to me," he said.
Fourth, converting church buildings unused during the week into early childhood centers would nurture and protect the children and teach about hygiene. Additionally, he said, it serves as an appropriation, or poverty alleviation, because mothers are then enabled to work outside the home knowing their children are well cared for. As a fringe benefit, it is a church growth strategy. "If you take care of the children, the people will come."
In his autobiography, From Barefoot to Bishop; A Rwandan Refugee's Journey, 2017, Mbanda tells of a suspenseful journey that began when he was 5 years old and a lesson in trust that has carried him throughout his life. A book review can be found in this publication (insert link).
Known as a top-ranking school in Rwanda, Sonrise was founded in 2001 as a boarding school by the Anglican Church's Shyira Diocese to care for orphans of the genocide that claimed over 1 million lives nearly 24 years ago. Today needy children, whose parents have passed away, abandoned, or could no longer care for them, are often admitted without payment or sponsors.
Although Sonrise operates with a continued tradition of excellence in education, fee-based enrollment has declined and sponsorships have not kept pace with the needs of orphans and at-risk children. The average cost of educating primary grade students is $900 and $1,100 for high schoolers.
Contributions to Sonrise School are accepted by Mustard Seed Project. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with donations. For further information, call Church of the Redeemer, 847-579-0733, or visit https://redeemernorthshore.org/bowling-for-sonrise. Church of the Redeemer, with offices at 1282 Old Skokie Rd Ste 3, Highland Park, holds Sunday services at Trinity International University, 2065 Half Day Rd, Deerfield.