Nonprofit promotes girl power in Rwanda

May 23, 2014
By

A Jamaica Plain resident is tackling inequality in Rwanda, where very few young women have the opportunity to attend secondary schools, with a nonprofit organization that holds fundraiser runs.

“The issue of young women not going to secondary school was something that came up time and time again,” said Margaret Butler about her time in the African nation when she was working for Partners in Health around 2007. “As a young woman in North America, I never questioned whether or not I could or would go onto secondary school. It was a given. This felt incredibly unfair.”

Butler, a former elite runner who competed for Canada in the World Cross Country Championships, would go running in the morning in Rwanda and have boys tag along with her, but never girls. That spawned an idea for a girls-only run that would help support girls education.

“We had over 400 girls from the local schools come out and run and celebrate girls’ education,” Butler said about the first run in 2008. “That year, I raised enough support to send 10 young women to secondary school. From 2008, Komera began to grow, and we currently have 70 young women in our programs and still host an annual girls’ fun run.”

She said the mission of Komera, which means “strong and courageous” in the local Rwanda language, is to develop self-confident young women through education, community and sport. The nonprofit issues scholarships to public boarding schools in Rwanda that is equivalent to our grades 10-12. Komera also provides school-based mentorship through teachers it trains and other services.

“During their school holidays, [students] attend camps with Komera where they learn about leadership development, health and social entrepreneurship,” said Butler. “They also participate in sport and explore positive ways that they can use their bodies.”

She said that Komera works with the students families to help them develop small businesses, so they can also send their other children to school and to support the nonprofit students.

“Last term the parents purchased five pens for each Komera [student],” said Butler. “This is a big deal as the average income of these families is roughly $250 per year.”

Komera is based in JP, but Butler said over the next three years she wants to transfer leadership of the nonprofit to Rwanda.

“My goal is to work myself out of a job,” she said. “I really believe that Komera can be and will be run by Rwandans. I will continue to support with fundraising and building the Komera Global Run worldwide.”

The Komera Global Run helps raise money for the nonprofit and brings awareness to the cause it fights for in Rwanda. The run takes place in several places throughout the world, including in Boston on June 14. For more information, visit komera.org.

The Komera “fun run” in Rwanda in 2012. (Courtesy Photo)

The Komera “fun run” in Rwanda in 2012. (Courtesy Photo)