Amazing Kid: Jessica Markowitz

Filed under: Amazing Kids

Jessica Markowitz started raising money to help send Rwandan girls to school when she was just 11 years old. Credit: Lori Markowitz


Amazing Kid: Jessica Markowitz
Age: 15
Grade: 10th
Home Town: Seattle
School: Garfield High School, Seattle
Favorite Ice Cream: Cookie Dough

Why Jessica is Amazing: When Jessica was just 11 years old, she founded Richard's Rwanda-IMPUHWE, a nonprofit organization that helps girls in Rwanda receive the education they deserve. To date, IMPUHWE has raised $80,000 to help support 22 Rwandan girls in their educational pursuits, supplying them with shoes, school fees, uniforms, lunches, insurance and school materials.

Jessica tells ParentDish she was inspired to help the girls after meeting a Rwandan man, Richard Kananga, who stayed with her family while he was visiting Seattle in October 2006. Jessica was deeply affected by the stories Richard shared with her family about the horrific 1994 Rwandan genocide, during which at least 800,000 people were killed -- especially tales of children orphaned by the genocide.

"That was the first time I had really heard about the genocide," Jessica tells ParentDish. "Hearing that there were young kids, and especially girls, who couldn't afford to go to school anymore really shocked me."

Before Kananga left, Jessica asked him to let her know how she could help. He connected her with 22 girls who had lost their parents and really needed the support with schooling. From there, Jessica started a club at her middle school with 10 other girls, and that's where Richard's Rwanda-IMPUHWE began. (Impuhwe means compassion in Kinyarwanda.)

That summer, Jessica travelled to Rwanda to work with the girls IMPUHWE has been supporting, and she has continued to do so each year since. This past summer, Jessica and the 11 founding members from various Seattle high schools traveled to Rwanda to teach English literacy to impoverished high school girls in the rural district of Nyamata. They also worked to strengthen their partnership with FAWE (Forum African Women Educationalist Girls School), a girls' boarding school in the capital city of Kigali, which started an IMPUHWE chapter to help support their Rwandan sisters.

The cross-cultural trip was so successful that it has now become an annual program.

Jessica and the IMPUHWE chapters raise money through individual donations and grants, as well as bake sales, apparel sales and various organized fundraising events. In addition to buying school supplies and helping the girls afford to go to school, they are now looking at building a library in Rwanda so the girls, and their community, can have access to books and computers.

"People are really surprised when they hear that it takes just $40 to send a girl to primary school in Rwanda for a year," says Jessica, "which is very little compared to what people spend $40 on here in the U.S."

Recent Recognition: Member of 2010 Parade All-America High School Service Team; UNICEF 2009 World of Children Founders Award; Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Award 2008; Introduction of Nobel Peace Prize winner: Dalia Lama April, 2008; Presenter CARE International conference 2008; Introduction of Nobel Peace Prize winner: Archbishop Desmond Tutu May, 2006

Jessica's Advice to Kids: Don't think you have to go out in the world and create a huge organization in order to make a difference. It's really about the small impact that you can make as a youth, so just go out in your world and see how you, individually, can make a difference.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.