Inspired by a dedicated young woman who put herself through school despite the great tragedies she had faced in her youth, Devon Ogden founded Safi Life to help other girls in Rwanda to do the same.
This non-profit organization works with donors to present scholarships to help women cover the costs of attending college. Furthermore, scholarship recipients also participate in mentorship and fellowship programs in their own communities so that they can give back and inspire others to follow in their footsteps. We were fortunate enough to talk to Safi Life’s Outreach Coordinator, Jessica Davis, about the life-changing impact that Safi Life is making.
Darling Magazine: Can you give a little bit of insight into the structure of the education system in Rwanda? Do girls usually go through at least primary or secondary schooling?
Jessica: The education system in Rwanda is similar to how it is in the U.S. Most girls go through primary and secondary schooling. The numbers drop dramatically once you look at girls attending higher education, because the tuition fees are equivalent to a year’s worth of income. So very few can afford to attend university. That’s where we come in!
DM: On your website, it says that the scholarship recipients give back to their own communities through mentorship programs. Can you explain what these programs involve?
Jessica: Currently, our scholarship recipients have started a program where they have been reaching out to widows and mothers who lost their children in the genocide of 1994, and have been spending time with them, cooking and having fellowship with them. Each of our scholarship recipients either lost parents in the genocide or are orphans, so it’s a beautiful thing to see them forming new families and bringing joy and hope into each others’ lives.
…very few can afford to attend university. That’s where we come in!
We are also currently developing a program where we pair each of our scholarship recipients up with young girls from orphanages to tutor them in their studies and mentor them.
DM: How do you find potential scholarship recipients?
Jessica: We are very fortunate to have an amazing team of dedicated people on the ground in Rwanda making sure Safi Life runs smoothly and effectively! One of those people is our namesake and County Director, Safi Umukundwa. Safi visits orphanages and meets with female genocide survivors and orphans who are potential scholarship recipients. She interviews them and reviews their grades. She looks for young women who have high academics, are highly motivated with their career goals, and have a deep desire to impact their community in a positive way. Once Safi has approved a young woman, she is put on a list, and as funding becomes available, she is awarded a scholarship to attend the university of her choice.
DM: Is there any means of communication involved between scholarship recipients and their donors, in order to bridge these cross-cultural boundaries?
Jessica: Communication is dependent on the preference of the donors. We have several donors who have chosen to sponsor specific girls, and in those cases they do communicate with each other often! It’s an enriching experience for both sides involved. Our Executive Director, Devon Ogden, and I interact with the ladies frequently on WhatsApp as well!
We absolutely love the fact that technology provides us with the ability to develop relationships with these inspiring young women, even though we are half way across the world from each other! They love the opportunity to practice their English, too. Each of them is tri-lingual, speaking Kinyarwandan (the local tribal language), French, and English.
DM: What’s the most influential thing you have learned from working with these young women?
Jessica: Each of these young women have experienced a horrific tragedy in their lives. Most of us can’t even imagine going through what they’ve been through. But they have not only survived, they thrive! They are joyful, vibrant, and loving! They believe with every fiber in their being that they have a purpose in life, and have a deep desire to make a positive impact in their communities, their country, and the world. I am inspired daily by them. It’s easy to get caught up in trivial troubles that life throws my way, but these young women inspire me to practice an attitude of gratitude, to pour out love onto others and to passionately pursue a meaningful life that positively impacts the world I live in.
But they have not only survived, they thrive!
DM: Do you see Safi life potentially growing to aid women with scholarships in other countries in the future?
Jessica: It is our dream to expand Safi Life into other African countries in the future. There is certainly a need for it, and we believe that educating women is pivotal in creating stable, thriving African nations. Statistics show that an educated woman in a developing nation is less likely to suffer from domestic abuse, medical complications, and poverty. Educated women gain respect from their male counterparts and typically reinvest their incomes into improving their communities. Cultural norms begin to shift, and by simply educating women, a healthier society begins to form. It’s exciting to think about!
Images via Bobby Neptune