Students are seen at the Crimson Academy taking an English test.
SUGAR HILL — On his first trip to Africa, Phillip Haynes said he was shocked by what the people of the Rwandan village of Gihara asked for.
“They didn’t beg for food or money,” the Sugar Hill resident said. “They begged for an education.”
So Haynes decided to build the first school in the Gihara region.
Georgia Gwinnett College student Tina Farmer, who is participating in a study abroad program at the school in Rwanda, describes how water is obtained:
You see, the school is at the top of the mountain and at the bottom is a well that everyone goes to in order to obtain water. Most of the children at the school fetch water before coming to school, at lunch, and even after school has finished. ... The teacher Jesca and I started to walk down the steep mountain side. The kids and other villagers were running down like it was a walk in the park. I saw many kids carrying water up as we were going down. One of the children I saw was around 8 or 9 years old. She was accompanied by a friend of the same age and she had a baby on her back. She also had a five liter water container in each hand and one on top of her head. When I saw this I was amazed. ... So as we started up the mountainside Jesca called over one of the students and I offered to take his water up the mountain side for him. That was the hardest thing I ever did in my entire life! If anyone has complaining children in America I have the solution for them. Let them carry a five liter water container up a mountainside. They will never complain again.
“I didn’t have money or food to give them,” Haynes said. “But I could offer them a better future through education.”
Haynes’ background is in education. He has a bachelor’s degree in human development and a master’s in education. He founded Crimson Academy, a preschool in Sugar Hill, and owns a day care center in Calhoun.
Working with his friend Mark Maynard — the founder of an international ministry who finally persuaded Haynes to visit Rwanda after asking several times — Haynes purchased six acres of land for $11,000.
“That’s expensive for Africa,” he said. “Most governments give you land if you promise to build a school.”
Once the land was acquired, it took about two years for the four-classroom school to be built. Haynes said he kept in touch with locals supervising the project, but only visited the site once per year. Crimson Academy of Gihara, Rwanda, opened in January, serving students in kindergarten through primary grade six.
Haynes anticipated students would be between 5 and 12 years old. But when students as old as 20 enrolled, he realized how scarce the educational opportunities in the area were.
“It’s the only school in the area, and everyone was coming,” he said. “Everyone was starting at the same level, but the older kids can progress faster.”
Currently, educators from Rwanda and Uganda staff the school. Additionally, college students, including Tina Farmer and Diana Oladokun from Georgia Gwinnett College, are wrapping up a nine-week study abroad program at the school.
On a blog on the Georgia Gwinnett College website, Farmer said she and the other college students are teaching English, math, social studies and science. In addition, they are teaching the teachers how to use the laptops, generator and projector.
Students attend English-language, Christian school from 6:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. and study the core subjects plus Kinyarwanda, the area’s native language. Students are also engaged in Bible studies, sports and music.
Haynes said he keeps in touch with the school’s headmaster and teachers through weekly Skype chats. He can’t, however, watch the lessons taking place in the classroom through the online video chat program because the school is located in the mountains and the Internet connectivity is poor.
“We talk about concerns and issues and successes,” Haynes said.
The school’s construction was documented on a blog on the school’s website, www.crimsonacademy.com/international. The website also contains information about the school and photos from its grand opening.