Irene and Felicien are the husband and wife co-founders of the newly opened, Maranatha Academy. Having both served in roles in public service for a number of years, find out how this busy and inspiring couple partner together to raise their family while managing a budding social enterprise.
Tell us about yourselves.
We've been married 5 years, proud parents to Caleb, who is 3 and a half, and Noa-Katherine who is 13 months. We are working parents, and like many other parents in Kigali, we are still trying to figure out how to squeeze what feels like 30 hours of activity into a 24 hour day!
How long have you lived in Kigali? What brought you both here?
Both of us came to Rwanda as teens with our families, returning after the Genocide. Although we were young, there was a strong pull to this country we hadn't been able to grow up in, but which we could now call home.
Why did you decide to start The Maranatha Academy?
Like many Rwandans, we often had conversations about education in the country - the challenges of meeting such need with finite resources but also what opportunities there are to make a contribution to the ongoing efforts of the government and other actors.
Our interest in education became more personal when we started looking for a preschool for our son, Caleb. We would have wished to have more options for excellent quality early childhood education, particularly with a Christian focus as that is important to our family. Eventually we decided that rather than feeling frustrated that we couldn't find what we thought was best for our son, we should go ahead and create it, and hopefully in so doing, meet the needs of other parents and families as well. That is how The Maranatha Academy came to be!
What is unique about The Maranatha Academy?
We have tried to organise each facet of the school to respond to the real needs and desires parents have, because we are in the same position as they are, and our own child attends the school. Excellent standards are important – in all aspects of education, from the learning, to activities, to the food they eat…even aesthetics! A child should be inspired and motivated by their surroundings. So we’ve tried hard to aspire towards excellence, and keep pushing ourselves and the great team of educators that we have. Holistic learning is a hallmark of our program - we focus on mental, physical, social and spiritual development of young children. It is important to us that the children in our care are challenged mentally, get sufficient exercise, spend time outdoors, and eat healthy. Another thing that is key to what The Maranatha Academy stands for is value based learning. We are a Christian school, and that identity is reflected in our staff as well as our curriculum. We aim for our kids to be book smart, but also to be empathetic, community minded and bold in their faith.
Through your roles in public service, what lessons or knowledge have you taken from those experiences and how did these experiences help to prepare you to start The Maranatha Academy?
Public service is humbling in the sense that you often get to see from various perspectives the challenges that come with governing our country. It is also incredibly inspiring to see what progress is made by our government on a daily basis despite these challenges. Being, in a small way, connected to this work, creates a sense of commitment and energises you to be part of the solution. We have had the opportunity to see some of what works and what doesn't when it comes to quality of education, professionalism, stakeholder engagement and customer service, and we are using this experience to do the best job we can with The Maranatha Academy.
With such rewarding and demanding careers and now, starting a new school, I'm sure you must both be very busy. How do you balance your jobs with raising kids and family life?
Working parents all over the world are still figuring out that balance, and we're no different haha!
It isn't easy, and as we've heard many say, sometimes you feel like you're doing well on all fronts, and sometimes you feel one area of your life is thriving at the expense of another. We try to plan ahead as well as we can to try to make the best of the time we have. And we have also learned to ask for help when we need it - our family is very important in supporting us, especially with the children, and now, with the school as well.
Interestingly enough, having the school has turned out to not be just an added activity among the many we're juggling, but more of an enabler. Having our children in a safe, enriching environment that nurtures them and provides holistic learning opportunities gives us the peace of mind we need to concentrate better on our jobs and other tasks!
What advice would you give to other working parents raising kids in the city?
Try not to be too hard on yourselves. It has taken us some time to accept that with the constraints on our time and energy, things can't always be the way we would wish them to be. But if you do your best to make time to connect meaningfully with your children and meet their needs, you have done the most important thing for them - they will appreciate it. Prayer, faith and a strong spiritual/church community that can provide support has been key for us. We are still kind of new at all this and pretty much need this kind of advice as much as the next couple!
What advice would you give to parents who want to co-found a business together?
Although we aren't approaching this as a business but more as a social enterprise, it has still been a major project we embarked on together. As a couple though, we're partners anyway, and this has just added another dimension to it. Recognize, appreciate and draw on each other's strengths. Make up for weaknesses. Try to chase that elusive 'balance' when it comes to this activity and home life!
What is your favorite kid-friendly thing to do in Kigali?
We like to spend time with our wider family because the kids enjoy being with their grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunties. They get tons of attention and we get to relax a bit - that's a win-win in our book. We do like to eat out every now and then for a treat, and enjoy restaurants that have activities or playgrounds for children. We can't wait until there are parks in the city for more outdoor activities.
(See Kigali Moms and Dads' picks for activities and playgrounds in Kigali)
What is your favorite thing about raising kids here?
There are so many, it's hard to single out just one! We love being in our home country, and that our children were born and have the privilege of growing up here - something we didn't experience and do not take for granted. We love the safety, tranquility, cleanliness and order that our children will know as the norm. Having a family support system has made all the difference and not only does it make things easier for us, it enrichens our children's lives.
What do you do when you need time for just the two of you?
We're still working on taking that time more regularly, and that has inspired several New Year’s resolutions that we're trying to honour. Wish us luck!