Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz visited the Educational Institute for Blind Children in Kibeho to mark its 10th anniversary. The minister watched folk dances performed by the pupils and talked to children and sisters who run the Institute, among others Sister Angelica Jose and her colleagues. Teachers and carers presented teaching aids they use with blind children.
The idea for the Institute came from Sister Rafaela Nałęcz of the Congregation of Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross, founded in Warsaw in 1918. Its mission is to serve blind people. The sisters are active not only in Poland (among others, the Róża Czacka School and Educational Centre for Blind Children in Laski, St Maximilian Kolbe Special Needs School in Laski, the Nursing Home in Zulow), but also in Rwanda, India, and Ukraine.
The establishment plan was approved by the Rwandan government while funding for its construction was provided by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Institute was launched in September 2008 when the first group of children was admitted. In 2009, a primary school for blind children was established, Rwanda’s first.
In 2018, the Institute had 134 pupils (101 in the primary school and 33 in the secondary school) from Rwanda, Congo, and Burundi, and a staff of 70. The Institute complex comprises eight buildings, including a boarding house run by the sisters, where children live while they go to school. They are provided with food and medical care there. The community which runs the Institute includes six Franciscan sisters: four from Poland, one from Rwanda, and one from Kenya.
As regards admission, children from the poorest families are given precedence. The Institute uses a standard curriculum, the same as at other Rwandan schools, but adapted to the needs of students with disabilities. They learn Braille and explore the world through the sense of touch. Teachers and educators receive special training to prepare them for working with blind children. The school follows a curriculum based on tactile methods. Children learn everyday activities at the boarding houses in order to be able to function in society on their own. More gifted students can continue education at integrated secondary schools and later at universities.
The Institute is the largest project to be carried out in Rwanda with Polish Aid funds. Its construction was initiated by the Polish Embassy in Nairobi in 2007 and the Congregation of Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross became the project partner, having many years’ experience in running similar schools and working with blind people. Spring 2009 saw the completion of a complex consisting of a school building, a boarding house for boys, a boarding house for girls, kitchen, laundry, and a building for the staff. The project received the patronage of then First Lady Maria Kaczyńska, wife of Polish President Lech Kaczyński. The opening ceremony took place in 2009 during the visit of Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski in the presence of Rwanda’s minister of education; a Braille printer was then donated to the Institute. In 2013, the Institute was visited by Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
The MFA continues to support the Institute, including through small projects implemented by the Polish Embassy in Nairobi and, since 2018, by the Polish Embassy in Dar es Salaam. These included: equipping the Institute with Braille printers, a power generator, and ovens for pottery classes; providing access to water (Polish Aid financed the drilling of a well, the installation of a solar-powered pump and additional water tanks, and the securing of the well’s area); and expanding the school to accommodate the increasing number of pupils.
Polish development cooperation also financed renovation works and the installation of a power generator, which is an emergency source of power in the frequent cases of power outages in Rwanda. It was crucial to ensure apprenticeship opportunities at the Institute, which was achieved through the introduction of apprenticeship training in the curriculum. In 2018, teaching materials were purchased and prepared and 31 people trained for the purposes of improving English skills of the Institute’s teachers and tutors. In 2019, the MFA will finance the purchase of teaching aids in mathematics.
In addition to improving the quality of life for the children under its care, the Institute also has a positive impact on the perception of blind children by Rwandan society. Thanks to the efforts of the Institute staff and the Polish Embassy in Nairobi, the initial lack of interest in the Institute from Rwandan authorities was in time replaced by the promise of support and assistance in its functioning.
Launched in 2007, the regular cooperation between the MFA and the Congregation of Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross enabled the establishment and functioning of an educational centre which has gained both political importance and support in Rwanda and has become a model for the country’s education policies for people with disabilities.
Up to now, approx. PLN 5m of Polish Aid funds has been donated for the construction and operation of the Institute in Kibeho.