(Brooks Newmark at Umbano Primary School in Rwanda, a school that was built by Brooks' organization, A Partner in Education.)
When Brooks Newmark embarked on the very first Project Umubano trip to Kigali, Rwanda in 2007, he could never have anticipated the positive impact the journey would have on the next decade of his life.
The initial trip was organised by the Conservative party and brought together forty-three uniquely-qualified volunteers, each with their own specialties and experiences to share. All aimed to do what they could to share their professional expertise with their Rwandan hosts and increase access to the skills and resources needed to cultivate positive growth in the Kigali community.
Over the span of a few short days, the trip planted the first seeds of international partnerships in fields ranging from education to health to the private sector. Within the next few years, the number of volunteers burgeoned from a few dozen to well over a hundred, and the programme’s impact grew accordingly. Within five years, the group had refurbished a local school, began a youth football coaching programme, and launched a rural health clinic that would provide quality healthcare services to those who lacked easy access to medical care.
For Brooks, there was little more engaging than sparking positive change and seeing the good that Umubano project created firsthand; as one volunteer put it in a retrospective article on the project: “It is an experience that keeps people coming back every year to do more. I know for many of the old hands, there’s a sense of home when they arrive in Kigali.”
But for Brooks Newmark, nothing was so impactful as the school.
As a member of the first cohort of Umubano volunteers, Newmark had a hand in refurbishing the Girubuntu primary school for local children. The project was initially launched as a way to provide a better educational experience for eager young students — Newmark, however, had a more complex dream in mind. Inspired by the programme's work in Kigari, Brooks Newmark connected with fellow philanthropist Kitty Llewellyn; together, the two launched A Partner in Education, a charity dedicated to implementing high-quality education initiatives in Rwanda.
The pair's vision was ambitious. For Newmark and Llewellyn, it wasn't enough to merely polish a school; they wanted to create an educational space that could serve as a model of excellence, one that would both provide high-quality, inclusive education to children and offer supportive training environment for teachers. After years of work, Newmark and Llewellyn officially opened Girubuntu Primary School's doors to eager students, parents, and teachers. Rwandan president Paul Kagame attended the opening ceremony in 2011 and remarked that Girubuntu Primary School was not just an academic institution, but "a symbol of something much bigger — the strong relationship that exists between the people and the government of Rwanda and those of the UK."
Accomplishment aside, APIE was not ready to rest on its laurels. Newmark knew that the school could not support all of the students who wanted to attend, and so insisted on expanding the premises enough to accommodate all interested students comfortably. Once construction concluded in 2013, Girubuntu reopened as the Umubano Primary School — just in time to welcome a new class of 115 students and 13 teachers.
Over the next few years, the school grew into its potential as a model for academic excellence. Working hand-in-hand with APIE, administrators at Umubano Primary School developed an advanced teacher training strategy and forged partnerships with local, national, and international players who could provide expertise and practical support to local teachers. By 2016, the school had established a scholarship programme which would provide financial assistance to up to 30 children who might not otherwise be able to afford their education.
By 2016, the school had 242 enrolled pupils and had been formally recognised by the government as an exemplary educational centre; a year later, APIE had begun construction on a community centre to serve as a central hub for ICT, sports, and the arts. Looking ahead, APIE hopes that the school will become so self-sufficient as to enable APIE to scale back into the role of a supportive partner rather than that of a directing force.
Brooks Newmark remains on the Board of Trustees for APIE to this day and he has little doubt that APIE’s potential to enact positive change in Rwanda will continue to grow.