It’s a little past noon and we are headed to Chanelle and Aline’s family home. Chanelle ranked 1st on the national exam in the whole province of Mwaro. She is also part of the first cohort of Shekinah’s students. We wanted to share in hers and her family’s joy and express our pride to have her at the school.
Chanelle and Aline meet us on the road as we pull over and they usher us to the family estate where grandparents, uncles and aunties and Chanelle’s siblings and her mom all live. We are warmly welcomed by the family inside the modest but warm living space. The joyful banter consists of recounts of Chanelle’s grandmother recalling the unwavering determination of her granddaughter to be the best, echoing all the way to how she walked as a child: “I called her Bidogeza, because her steps were always heavy on the ground.”
Chanelle and Aline are quick witted and known to be excellent students, however their journey is not one straight, obstacle-free line. The two girls and their little brothers had to grow up mostly without their father and the socio-economic privilege of having one. But they were raised by a loving and protective mother who was determined to provide education for her kids. At the start of Shekinah School, she was among the first parents to have her kids enrolled at the school. Along the years, trouble happened and her husband was falsely accused of murder and even though police investigations concluded he was innocent, Chanelle’s dad on death threats had to flee the province and leave his family behind. His wife nonetheless kept the kids in school in spite of needing the extra help and barely affording the school supplies.
As Shekinah grew, the project of economic empowerment for the students’ families was introduced and through that, Chanelle’s mom received two goats for two of her children enrolled at the school. Her resilience still pays off as she now is the proud mother of the first student at the National Examination in Mwaro this year. Chanelle was also personally invited by the Governor of the province to be recognized for her impressive achievement.
“You were only a baby when you first came to school, Chanelle,” Micheline, CEO at Shekinah recalls. “Did you know then that you wanted to achieve the highest grade in Mwaro?”. Chanelle quietly answers “I had dreams of it at night. I saw myself doing the exam, but even after I was done, I was not sure I had done well.” She goes quiet again, probably reminiscing about the experience.
Chanelle is well on her way to greatness as she aims for higher skies and isn’t afraid of sacrifices. “I would wake up at 3am to revise before my tests,” she says. Soon Shekinah Centre will be opening its boarding school facilities to students like Chanelle and Aline to provide for them an environment propitious to focused studying and ensure that they have access to adequate time and space to dedicate to their schoolwork and develop within a circle of peers. Aside from Shekinah Centre, Chanelle, Aline and their siblings are surrounded by a great support system found in their relatives and their mom who continually push them to achieve their best. And it is to supportive structures similar to theirs that Shekinah Centre owes its growth and reach as a program.