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Pre-schoolers read in their classroom in rural Rwanda.
Alexandra Humme/GPE
Education

These Rwandan Preschools Were Built With Bitcoin

By Laura Twagirayezu

In her mother's eyes, Lucky truly is fortunate. The 5-year-old girl is learning social skills and her ABCs at a new preschool instead of playing at home or amid the maize and beans that her parents grow in Rwanda's eastern Bugesera district.

"Seeing my daughter going to school makes me so happy," said Immaculate Zihinjishi, whose three older children didn't have access to formal early childhood education. The family also has a toddler.

The preschool in the village of Kasebigege is a 10-minute walk from the family's home. It opened early this year, enrolling almost 120 youngsters ages 3 to 6.

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Like many countries around the globe, Rwanda wants to strengthen support for young children's education and development. As of 2011, the year the government announced a plan to increase the number of early childhood centers, just 10% of young children were enrolled in preschool programs — though that was up from 6% the previous year, according to the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research-Rwanda, a nonpartisan research firm. The United Nations, in an undated report, puts the participation rate at 12%.

The low-slung red brick school grew out of a joint philanthropic effort led by the heads of Paxful Inc., a US-based digital platform for bitcoin transactions, and Zam Zam Water, a humanitarian organization promoting clean water and quality education.

Paxful CEO Ray Youssef, who said he wants to encourage charitable giving in the cryptocurrency sector, launched the online #BuiltWithBitcoin fundraising initiative in 2017. He was impressed by the work of Zam Zam and its founder, Yusuf Nessary.

'A New World with Crypto'

Paxful's Youssef added that he was drawn to Rwanda as a site for the school, and specifically to Bugesera province, because it had overcome a painful history of genocide to become a model of forgiveness and living peacefully side by side.

"I thought it was very poetic," Youssef told VOA, adding that he hoped to "show people a new world with crypto."

Zam Zam had built wells in five villages in the province, earning the trust of the local government and residents. They donated land for the school, and Paxful and firms such as cryptocurrency company AnthemGold gave $50,000 worth of bitcoin for its construction. The building has three classrooms, four restrooms and a water tank.

The preschool has free tuition and all-English instruction, with its handful of teachers trained as early childhood educators, Zam Zam's Nessary said. Parents help with caring for the children and maintaining the grounds.

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Lucky's mom, Immaculate Zihinjishi, said she appreciated that her daughter is learning English, supplementing her native Kinyarwanda. Zihinjishi also praised the preschool and its benefactors.

"We're all very happy that these people came to help us and to build this school," she said, adding that they've been generous to the broader community. "They even gave goats to those in extreme poverty."

In August, Paxful and Zam Zam Water announced their partnership had begun raising funds to build a primary school nearby, intended for students age 6 through 15. Paxful gave an initial $20,000 donation toward the estimated $100,000 cost and pledged to match community donations toward that total, it said in a press release. The company also said in the press release that it has a goal of building 100 schools in Africa.

This report originated in VOA's Africa Division's Central Africa Service.