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State College Women on a Mission for Rwanda

by and on June 12, 2013 3:00 PM

After already opening nine primary school classrooms and a sewing school in Rwanda, two local women look to build more classrooms and open more schools.

Mama Arlene Brown and Carol Falke went to Urukundo, Rwanda in March to continue opening classrooms and train local community members on how to teach and farm.

“Each time I see people growing,” Falke said.

Falke retired from her work as an associate director for development at Penn State and director of development at the State Theatre in 2010 and then became involved as a humanitarian in Africa through St. Paul’s Methodist Church in State College.

Brown first went to Rwanda to work in refugee camps in 1996 just after the genocide. She returned in 2001 in hopes of opening a children’s home, which finally happened in 2006. She helped start Urukundo Foundation that led to the Urukundo Children's Home and Learning Center.

Three more classrooms were built by the time Falke arrived in Urukundo in March. she says three more will be built by January 2014.

To build three complete classrooms — which includes furniture, a water tank, a bathroom facility and classroom equipment — it costs about $54,000, Brown said.

That money is raised mostly through donations from community member and organizations, Falke and Brown said.

Three more teachers have recently been added to the primary school along with the new classrooms, Falke said, making a total of nine teachers and one administrator. Since more classrooms are being added more jobs are being created, which Brown and Falke say helps the economy in Urukundo.

“Each time you’re hiring workers to build the school,” Falke said, “You’re hiring people to build the desks and furniture and you’re buying supplies for the school.”

“So far we have been able to stay local, which helps the economy and the community,” Brown said, “and it’s giving the people a purpose.”

Falke brings teachers with her on her trips to work with the Rwandan teachers in the primary school. They share different ways of teaching, which Falke said she finds exciting because new concepts can be introduced to the curriculum.

“It’s a new way of teaching,” Brown said. “We use the culture there and the teachings there along with our own.”

Brown and Falke says that more preschool age students will be added to the primary school as more classrooms are built.

“We’re just trying to stay ahead of them and keep adding classes so the kids can keep graduating and we have more classrooms to teach in,” Falke says.

There is a backlog of children waiting for admission to Urukundo, Brown says, but more classrooms need to be built before more students can be accepted.

“We have to know what our limitations are and what we can do well,” she says. “If you get too many children you’re not going to do a good job because you don’t have the facility and you don’t have the teachers.”

There are 157 students from a variety of economic backgrounds enrolled in the primary school.

When Falke went to Rwanda in March, she helped open the Urukundo Tech Sewing School. She brought with her about 100 pounds of sewing materials people donated, and has about 50 more pounds to send over with the group traveling to Rwanda in June.

One of the things Brown would like to see in the future is a daycare for young children whose parents work and need a place for their kids to be safe.

She would like to build a culinary arts technical school as well, beginning with a bakery which is a possibility because the Urukundo Foundation already has a farm.

“We have cows and we have chickens so we have eggs and milk,” she said, “which are two of the main products needed to have a bakery. We are in a perfect position to start a culinary arts school.”

Falke and Brown are also looking for volunteers, including general school teachers and gym teachers, to go with them to Rwanda and continue to provide educational support.

For more information about humanitarian work in Urukundo or to volunteer you can contact Falke at

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Brittany is the staff writer for The Centre County Gazette.
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