Life Lessons Through Teaching
Posing with some of the Benebikira Sisters are (back row from left) Joyce Ang ’14, Kristen Dombrowski ’14, Kaitlyn Greene ’14, Sarah Christie ’15, Carolina Fernandez, P’14, program sponsor, and Michelle Aellen, adviser/program coordinator; (middle row from left) Kelly Hoover ’14, Chelsea Miller ’15, Nicole Roscigno ’14, and Katerina Akrivlellis ’14; (front) Oriana Torres, MBA’13, adviser/program coordinator. Photo: Oriana Torres, MBA’13
Don’t expect anything. It will all change.
That was the advice Dennis Hanno, Murata Dean of the graduate school, gave to the group of students before they embarked on a month-long trip to Save, Rwanda, this past summer break. The eight students from the Women’s Leadership Program and their two advisers had spent hours developing curricula covering entrepreneurship, English, and information technology, which they planned to teach to Rwandan middle and high school students at a boarding school run by the Benebikira Sisters.
The sisters, who operate an associated orphanage as well as other services, had a relationship with Babson through Hanno and the Babson-Rwanda Entrepreneurship Center. The idea was to bring the Babson experience to the Rwandan students, who would be finished with regular school by that time.
Hanno’s parting words, however, proved true. Although Rwanda was supposed to change its school calendar so that summers were free from classes as in the U.S., the switch didn’t happen. As such, the Rwandan students were still in school when the Babson volunteers arrived, which meant adhering to the government curriculum. “Dean Hanno warned us, you think it will all be one way, and then it won’t,” says Kelly Hoover ’14.
Figuring out how to negotiate between what they wanted to teach and what was mandated was tricky, says Oriana Torres, MBA’13, who as one of the group’s advisers had helped develop the curricula. To adjust, the Rwandan teachers opened some of their class hours to the Babson teams, who scrapped a lot of their original ideas but came up with new ways to infuse their lessons into the Rwandan curriculum. “We would cover the topics, but in our own way,” says Hoover.
The Babson teams brought a drastically different teaching style to the Rwandan students. In Rwanda, there is almost no interaction between student and teacher. “The teacher literally copies everything on the board, and the students copy it in their notebooks,” says Torres. “To ask, ‘What do you think?’ was weird for them. They weren’t used to so many questions and so much encouragement to talk.”
With time and coaxing, however, the students responded. “The kids were so excited to see us,” says Hoover. “They have an incredible happiness that couldn’t be broken. Every day we’d teach something new, and they were teaching us, too.”
The teams used their teaching skills in other ways as well. Twice a week they taught classes in entrepreneurship and professional development and technology at the nearby National University of Rwanda. On an informal basis, they also taught some simple English to the nuns (English became the official language of Rwanda in 2008). “The nuns are so smart,” says Hoover. “They would say, ‘I want to learn this,’ and then we’d tell them the English words, like for the seasons or parts of the body. And we taught them a few different prayers. It was really rewarding.”
“Sometimes we take so many things for granted,” says Torres. “You forget the beauty and the challenge of trying to explain something to someone who never has seen or heard of it. So sometimes we were like, wait a minute, you really don’t know that? And then you start finding creative ways for them to understand. It all comes down to the individual and your capacity to establish a connection with them.”