Cooking up a way to change lives still under death’s shadow

Kari Spence is helping to change lives in Rwanda
Kari Spence is helping to change lives in Rwanda
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WORK to build a kitchen to give pupils at an African school a nutritious meal every day has started thanks to big -hearted backers.

PE teacher Kari Spence set up an appeal to raise money for the project so that starving children at a school in Rwanda were guaranteed a hot dish every day.

The 24-year-old from East Lothian was aiming to raise more than £2,000 to build a kitchen at the Faith and Hope Academy, as well as kit it out with pots, pans and plates.

Many of the children at the school are living in extreme poverty - under the shadow of the 1994 genocide which saw the mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu’s.

Now a substantial donation from a company, Removal Services Scotland (RSS) has meant she has achieved her target far faster than she thought.

At the end of March, the teacher from North Berwick is heading out to the Academy in the village of Gako, in the rural district of Bugasera, to see the newly constructed kitchen for herself.

Ms Spence, who works at the Spartans Alternative Academy in Edinburgh with teenagers who are disengaged with main-stream education, said many of the pupils lives at the Rwandan school had been effected by a dark chapter in the country’s history when in just 100 days some 80,000 men women and children were slaughtered by ethnic Hutu extremists.

“The majority of pupils at Faith and Hope Academy live in severe poverty, where they are most likely to only get one meal a day.

“Many of the pupils parents do not work, and those who do are usually working in the fields with the crops, and have a extremely small wage,” she said.

“Many of the pupils live in mud huts where they may live alongside many others in a very small space. Although due to the age of the pupils, they themselves were not alive during the 1994 genocide, many are still very affected due to the trauma faced by their parents who may have seen their own family and friends killed during that awful time.

She added: Many of the pupils have lost their parents, or have parents who are suffering from HIV.”

The kitchen building project, called The Food Programme, is just the latest in a line of initiatives for the African school the inspirational teacher has come up with.

Back in 2012 Kari Spence founded a project called Together in Sport, Rwanda, which aims to improve the life opportunities open to school children in the country.

She started the project after a life-changing school trip to the country when she was at North Berwick High School in 2009.

Ms Spence also started an initiative to get every child in the school sponsored.

£35 per year provides one pupil with education, health insurance, school supplies and uniform.

So far 80 pupils out of 579 have benefitted from the project and she is hoping that eventually every student will have a helping hand.

She has also raised money to buy land to build sports facilities for the pupils.

The Academy now has a football pitch and also offers basket ball and volleyball.

She said her idea to provide a kitchen was born during a trip to the school in October last year.

“I wanted to tackle the issue of pupils coming to school with empty stomachs and set a goal of raising enough money to build a kitchen so each student could have a nutritious meal,” she said.

“My goal was to raise £2,500 to built a kitchen and equip it with all the supplies needed.

“Once I announced my latest project some donations were made, but once RSS got involved I hit my target and work has already begun,” she added.

“The aim is to start small – cook porridge for pupils – but if I can get enough money together then that will become something like beans and rice.”

Speaking about her initiative, Together in Sport, Rwanda, which is currently waiting for charity status, Ms Spence said:

“Words can’t describe how it makes me feel driving up to Faith and Hope Academy seeing the smiling faces, and the pupils playing sports on our sport field.

“The relationship which I have gained with Felix the head teacher, the children and some of the local families makes every second of my hard work worth while.

“Rwanda is now a home away from home and I am so passionate about my project and ensuring we reach all of our goals.”

A spokesman for RSS said they were delighted to help out.

“We were only too happy to make a donation to such a worthwile cause,” he said.

For more information go to

RSS is also updating its website with the latest information from the project at