In 1994, Rwanda was ravaged by a genocide that killed nearly one million people. While the country still faces many challenges, it has also given rise to some of the world’s most incredible success stories in the field of education — and the Harbers Foundation is deeply proud to have been part of one of the most dramatic.
When we first met Soozi Senegal McGill and Shal Foster in 2009, they had a vision for a new kind of boarding school for Rwandan girls. Known as the Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology, it would be a place in which a world-class STEM education transformed young women into global leaders. But little more than a year into the process, McGill and Foster were still struggling to recruit the international donors needed to make that dream a reality.
We know a brilliant idea when we see one, so we stepped up to help. First, we hired National Geographic photographer Annie Griffiths to capture what Gashora would look like, and the girls it would help. These were shared with prospective donors, becoming an invaluable part of Gashora’s first successful fundraising effort. The results allowed McGill and Foster to finish constructing the school and begin its journey in earnest.
We doubled down on our support three years later, in 2012, once Gashora had its first class of students. With the help of renowned filmmaker Michael Davie, we produced a short film documenting all the incredible work that’d already happened. Shown at galas around the world, the film contributed to Gashora raising an astonishing 700 percent more than the previous year.
We would eventually create a total of four films, all of which continued to raise money while documenting this incredible case study in what happens when young women are given a chance to succeed. In a country where just 16 percent of girls graduate from high school, Gashora has prepared more than 600 young women to attend 162 different universities in 25 countries thus far.
But one of the things we love most about deploying the power of visual storytelling is that the most profound impacts are often also the most unexpected. Years later, we learned from admissions officers at several elite universities that our films continue to play a critical role in getting Gashora’s students accepted. By serving as undeniable visual evidence of the students’ ambition and potential, as well as the rigorousness of their secondary education, the films prove to admissions committees what’s already obvious to anyone after mere moments on the Gashora campus: These girls aren’t just ready to transform their communities. They’re already changing the world.