New Jersey-born Patrice Dorrall has dedicated her life to education. In her early 20s, she taught kindergarten and later set up two schools in Minnesota: Pressing Toward the Mark Christian Academy, a primary school for children aged 5-11; and then LoveWorks Academy, a community-driven public-arts school for ages 5-13. A chance encounter after a 2012 volunteer trip to Rwanda resulted in an opportunity for Patrice to take over the struggling vocational school White Dove Global Prep (formerly White Dove Girls School) in Kigali. She accepted and has since transformed the Rwandan school into a holistic college prep high school with an ESTEAM (Empowerment through Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) approach. It has been a difficult road with plenty of challenges, but Patrice remains steadfast in her vision of putting Rwandan girls in charge of their futures through education.
48-year-old Patrice Dorrall always felt a strong connection to Africa. While attending a leadership training in New Zealand in 2011, Patrice learned about a project called Build Rwanda, a volunteer program for U.K. students to work in Rwandan schools. Patrice had long wanted to visit Rwanda, and was particularly inspired after reading Left to Tell, Immaculée Ilibagiza’s story of surviving the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. Patrice travelled there in 2012 to volunteer with Build Rwanda for six weeks, helping manage logistics for its volunteer program. By the end of the six weeks, she felt at home in Rwanda and was determined to stay. She took up several volunteer opportunities with local schools, living fully off her savings.
“I kept thinking I need to leave but something always came up. I loved it here,” Patrice says.
In 2013, a friend introduced her to White Dove, a U.S.-based foundation that had set up a vocational school in Kigali. She was offered a three-month contract to help with White Dove’s English programming and support the school’s headteacher with administrative tasks for a small salary. By July 2015, she was offered the job of principal at the school. Tuition was free, which had affected the school’s sustainability. She accepted the job. With her newfound mandate as principal, Patrice decided to make some radical transformations.
She changed White Dove from a vocational school focused on computer science for 19- to 35-year-old women to a college prep high school for girls to provide students with a a strong academic foundation. Patrice believes that girls should be free to make choices about their future and not be boxed in to one path or the other.
“Being in Rwanda, it can seem like everything is kind of rigid,” she says. “You finish primary, if you pass well you get assigned a school. In ninth grade, you take another test and if you don’t do well in that test, you don’t get assigned a school, you just have to figure out life.”
She also started charging tuition to bring in income and to increase the value of the education at White Dove. Unfortunately, at the end of 2017, the White Dove Foundation board announced it would no longer fund the school due to financial constraints. Patrice was heartbroken.
She couldn’t bring herself to close the school. She worked tirelessly to keep the school open — applying for funds, knocking on donor doors, and even denying herself a salary. White Dove barely made it through 2018, operating on just $150,000 (USD). She says she’s thankful to her team for trusting her and being so dedicated when times were difficult.
Despite the school’s financial challenges, Patrice remains optimistic. White Dove has students from across Africa, from Cameroon to Burundi. The school recently organized fully funded trips to Ghana, Malawi, Malaysia, Nepal, South Korea, Uganda and the U.S., which Patrice says gives the students exposure and a global approach to learning.
Patrice has also been intentional about working with partners. White Dove has worked with Impano Sports Academy, a local center for athlete development and sports training; Girl Project UK for a leadership exchange project in Nepal; Ripple Effect Ventures in the U.S. to help the students with SAT prep; and Sarafina Projects, also in the U.S., who are helping outfit White Dove’s science labs. One of White Dove’s closest partners and champions has been Imagine We, a Kigali-based organization that publishes books by Rwandan authors, teaches public speaking, and encourages a vibrant reading culture in the country. Patrice and Imagine We’s founder Dominique Alonga share a deep bond.
When Patrice first met Dominique, she was deeply inspired by her energy and approach to life. In 2016, Imagine We offered to train the students on public speaking and creative writing. The organization’s involvement has helped the girls become more confident and articulate.
“Dominique is an advocate for our school and she has never been selfish with opportunities,” Patrice says. “She’s always quick to tell people about us.”
On days when Patrice feels like throwing in the towel, Dominique is quick to encourage her, saying “Throw it up, but not in, catch it up and keep going!”
Imagine We has also been integral to White Dove’s cool new library, which was desperately in need of an upgrade. When Dominique saw the school’s library, she told Patrice about a grant that could fund improvements. They won the grant and Imagine We stepped in to design the library. It’s now the star attraction of the school. On one side of the wall, the shades of blue give the library a calming effect. A giant READ sign also acts as a shelf for books. Students can choose to read on the sturdy desks or sit comfortably with their shoes off on the cushions.
Patrice has big hopes for her girls.
“I’m a champion for the underdog. I get the most gratification opening doors for people,” she says.
She wants African girls to be whatever they want. Patrice is committed to keeping White Dove thriving and to being a springboard for the next generation of Rwanda’s leaders. She’s encouraged by the impact they’ve already had. Last year, students from White Dove were accepted to various universities in Rwanda, Switzerland and the U.S.
“I always tell my girls their efforts have to match their dreams.”