Cultivating Creativity: Delice’s Story
A teenage girl stands in front of a small group of family and friends that’s gathered in the dusty yard outside her home. Her voice, strong and confident, floats over her audience as she reads her poem aloud. Delice, 13, is reciting from the poem that won her first place in a writing competition hosted by a Reading Club supported by Right To Play.
“Let’s protect crested cranes because they are very important for Rwanda. We need to protect them and take care of them to be helpful. They attract visitors who happily come to see them, and our country Rwanda keeps developing. Keep developing, Rwanda, as you have your wonders.”
Delice hasn’t always been confident sharing her writing with others. When she started attending the club just under two years ago, she wouldn’t have imagined reading out loud, let alone reading something she had written herself. But with the support of volunteers trained in Right To Play’s experiential approach to literacy, Delice can let her creativity shine.
Overcoming Barriers to Literacy and Learning
Delice is one of more than 11 million girls around the world who are at risk of dropping out of school permanently due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the virus caused school closures across Rwanda, girls already faced significant barriers to accessing education. Social views of gender roles often limit girls’ access to opportunities and affect their ability to attend school.
For several years, Right To Play has been working with a local organization called UMUHUZA to reduce barriers to education and create a safe community space where children can learn foundational literacy skills. In March 2020, they established a Reading Club in Delice’s community and a library full of books for children could borrow. But just a few weeks after it opened, the club was forced to shut down in response to country-wide COVID-19 lockdowns.
“It was difficult for me [at the beginning of the pandemic], because I was not able to continue my studies and it caused me to drop out of school.” – Delice, 13
With schools and community spaces closed, it became even more difficult for girls like Delice to keep learning. A lack of access to learning materials and at-home support made it difficult for children to study on their own. Even after lockdowns started to lift, fear of the virus and lack of awareness around preventative health practices made many parents afraid to let their children leave the house — including Delice’s.
But Malik, the Right To Play-trained volunteer who leads the Reading Club, knew it was critical to re-open the Reading Club as soon as it was safe. He worked with fellow volunteers to establish safety measures like mask-wearing, symptom screening, and handwashing, and to plan for outdoor sessions where social distancing would be possible. He reached out to parents to ease their minds and underline the importance of continued, safe learning. Slowly, children began coming back to the club. Delice was one of them.
“It was difficult for me [at the beginning of the pandemic], because I was not able to continue my studies and it caused me to drop out of school. After the clubs opened again, I felt very happy that I get to meet my friends and read together – which helps us a lot,” says Delice.
Finding Her Voice and Winning First Place
In the weekly club sessions, Delice and her friends sing songs, dance, and play games that help them build their reading comprehension. They borrow books from the library to practice reading at home. As their literacy grows, volunteers encourage them to create their own stories.
When Delice returned to the sessions, her reading skills were weak. But with practice and persistence, she became more confident, and graduated to more difficult books. She started experimenting with writing stories and poems of her own and sharing them with her friends.
“What I love about reading is that I learn from the stories we read in books, which help us with different things we did not know before. At first, I could read very poorly, but now I can read anything,” says Delice.
In the summer of 2021, her Reading Club hosted a writing competition. Delice put her creativity to work, drafting a poem meant to draw attention to the need for environmental conservation. Her poem called “Let’s Protect the Crested Crane” took home first place.
“I wrote about the importance of a crested crane and the advantages of having it, and how it hunts, dancing with its young ones. When I heard that I won the competition, I was very happy and I decided I would help my friends study so that one day they can win too,” says Delice.
Sharing Her Passion for Reading with Her Community
Since Delice won the competition, she’s been on a mission to share her love of reading with as many children as possible.
“All I see in Delice is a passion to read. She even helps the other children,” says Mailk. “She helps us all because she reminds her peers when it is time to come to the club, so they will not forget to come. Delice is helping with the mobilization of the program.”
Delice has also taken on a leadership role in the club, helping the younger children with their reading practice and facilitating games and learning sessions. And, of course, she still finds time to read anything she can get her hands on.
“At first, I could read very poorly, but now I can read anything.” – Delice
The Reading Club that Delice and her friends attend is part of the Gender Responsive Education and Transformation (GREAT) program, which is made possible thanks to the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada. Active in Ghana, Mozambique and Rwanda since 2018, the GREAT program uses Right To Play's play-based learning approach to remove barriers to education, especially for girls, and to build teacher capacity to improve learning outcomes.