A total of 15 Rwandan high school graduates have earned scholarships to join American and European universities thanks to Bridge2Rwanda Scholars preparatory program which helps students connect to international universities.
The students received full scholarships to join Northwestern University, United States Coast Guard Academy, Abilene Christian University, Grinnell College and Haverford College among others.
Bridge2Rwanda, an American Non Governmental Organisation, in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Rwanda Development Board, initiated the programme to offer preparatory lessons to high school graduates who qualify for scholarships in American universities.
The organisation has an International Training Centre, which offers elementary classes for various university entrance examinations that include Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), SAT Reasoning Test, Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) and Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).
"I have been studying in English my entire life, but I hadn't seen or used more than 20 percent of the words on the SAT," said Rina Ntagozera, a 2012 Bridge2Rwanda Scholar.
The programme targets secondary school students who pass with good grades at the end of their senior six examinations.
"I took my first SAT test before I joined the scholars program. My score was not anything close to earning a scholarship," said Jackson Karama a first-year student at the United States Coast Guard Academy.
"When I took the SAT again after five months' preparations, I went up 310 points. I have been at school now for three months and there is no doubt that this program prepared me fully. A year ago, this was only a dream."
The Bridge2Rwanda Scholars project began as an initiative of the Ministry of Education, which was seeking technical assistance to help Rwandan students access the best universities.
The Scholars program began in May 2011 with 18 recent graduates from the 2010 Advanced Level exams. One year later, 15 others earned scholarships and left for the U.S. and Europe.
"Rwandan students have tremendous potential. Many students just need an extra year of focused preparatory classes to show international universities what they are capable of," said Bridge2Rwanda Scholars Managing Director Anna Reed.
Bridge2Rwanda is currently working to share with as many secondary schools, students and partner institutions as possible to help students graduate from secondary school well-qualified in both English and leadership skills.
"The students are very promising and we are very optimistic for what they are going to accomplish," Ms. Reed noted. "The results of our first year's group have confirmed to us and our partners that it is possible."
According to bridge2Rwanda, the first Scholars' group of bursaries carry a total value of over four years of more than $2.5 million over 4 years at no cost to the government. A new scholars class, for 2011 secondary school graduates, began in March 2012 with 30 students enrolled.
"The keys to this process are organization and preparation," Reed said. "Students generally need excellent secondary marks, national exam results and English reading and writing abilities. Once we find students with these abilities, we just help them prepare to make the transition and then watch them succeed."
The preparatory programme gives top students an additional year of English reading and writing classes, alongside spirituality, leadership development and service activities.
President Paul Kagame challenged Bridge2Rwanda in New York City in July 2009, to develop a program to "burst the bottlenecks" that prevent Rwanda's best students from winning scholarships to study abroad.