In 2008, Margaret Butler went to work in a small village in Rwanda as a health educator.
Every morning, she would go for a run on the dirt roads of Rwinkwavu. Some days the local boys would join her, but the girls would only watch.
So, Butler decided to organize a run just for the girls.
“It was a great way of starting the conversation around girls’ empowerment,” says Butler.
Four hundred girls came out for the run while the boys cheered them on. They would shout “Komera.” In the local dialect, it means strong and courageous.
Komera would become the name of Butler’s organization.
The run was just the beginning. She realized the girls were being left behind in so many ways.
A 13-year-old girl approached Butler and told her that she wanted to go to secondary school, but she knew she would be expected to help in the home raising the other children or working in the fields to support the family.
“The boys are seen as a better return,” Butler explained.
Butler called her friends and family back home in West Vancouver. She was determined to send that 13-year-old to school and she raised enough funds to do it.
Then, she looked around. There were others pleading to go beyond primary school.
“I thought this isn’t fair,” says Butler.
According to UNICEF, only 15 per cent of girls in Rwanda will go onto secondary school.
Komera’s goal is fine tuned: it wants to help one girl at a time.
“Young women just need an opportunity,” says Butler. “They have self-confidence but need someone to build it up.”
Butler’s mother Hilary joined and began the Canadian chapter of Komera.
Every summer, Komera Canada holds a run on Bowen Island, near West Vancouver, to raise money for 10 scholarships. There are similar runs in major cities like Boston and New York.
So far, Komera has sent 75 girls to high school. The money pays for room and board, health insurance, and teachers.
“These girls are very deserving,” says Hilary Butler.”They wouldn’t have a chance if it weren’t for Komera.”
David Boehmer, a high school friend, has also joined the cause. He’s the chairman of Komera’s board.
“When I met the girls, they didn’t look you in the eye or even say ‘hello’. They had no dreams whatsoever,” says Boehmer. “Now, they’re running businesses and giving back. That’s because of Margaret.”
Komera has gone to the next level helping women in Rwanda go to university and start their own businesses. It’s a sense of empowerment that First Lady Michelle Obama recently recognized.
Butler is obviously thrilled to be recognized by Obama’s “Let Girls Learn” initiative.
Boehmer credits all the hard work to Margaret Butler.
“She’s so in awe of these girls and what they go through,” says Boehmer. “She finds them to be the real heroes.”
Butler never imagined that first run in Rwinkwavu would lead to a marathon of hope for all her students.
“My hope for Komera is that they become leaders, presidents, mothers who send their daughters to school.”
There are many people trying to make a difference who rarely receive the media attention they deserve. Everyday Hero is our attempt to provide better balance in our newscast. We profile Canadians who don’t go looking for attention, but deserve it. People who through their ideas, efforts and dedication are making a difference in the lives of others.
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