Muhire Azarias was just four years old when he and his two younger siblings became orphans during the Rwandan genocide. From that day forward they were essentially on their own, living with extended family when they were very young, and then fending for themselves from the time he was 13. School was out of the question as he took odd jobs to be able to support himself, his brother, and sister.
At 18 he began a livelihood training program through Higa Ubeho with the intention of becoming a mechanic, and began to build financial skills. He also received training on internal savings and lending processes. As he succeeded in his training, he was encouraged by program staff to join a savings and lending group comprised of other orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) his own age. Muhire joined the group and was quickly elected president based on his leadership and financial skills. With the financial support of the savings and lending group, he began to invest in his dream of owning his own business while he continued working as a mechanic.
Today, Muhire works full-time as the owner of a successful convenience store. With the income that he generates, he is able to support himself as well as his younger siblings who are now in school. He has also purchased land and begun construction of a house. But according to Muhire, the best part of his current life is the support he gets from the internal savings and lending group which also functions as a social group. Says Muhire, “Through this group I have a family. I can share my thoughts and not feel lonely. We will stay together and are willing to support each other. No matter what happens, I will not lose faith and I will continue to build my life.”
In Kinyarwanda, Higa Ubeho means “be determined and live”. For Rwanda’s most vulnerable populations, such as people living with HIV and AIDS (PLHA), orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC), and their families, it takes much determination to live to the fullest. The Higa Ubeho program being implemented by CHF International through support of USAID, is helping them do just that. The program is helping by building the resilience of families to economic shocks, providing health and social services, and building the capacity of local organizations that will support them in the future.
When families are vulnerable due to these challenges, it is often the smallest children who suffer most. In rural Rwanda in particular, it is common for young children of poor families affected by HIV and AIDS to be isolated, inactive, under-stimulated, and slow to begin speaking. By the time they reach six years old and begin to attend school, they often have problems learning and developing at the same rates as their peers. Higa Ubeho is addressing this challenge by hosting play groups for children under five years old.
According to Janet Mutoni, who oversees OVC Care and Support for the Higa Ubeho program, “Each of these children comes from a difficult situation at home. You see kids in these situations not happy and not learning anything. We help teach them to play, and get the parents involved. We use games and activities that are traditional in our culture, so it feels natural for them. The parents can’t afford to put them in nursery school, so we do activities that get them learning while playing and being active. This stimulates them, prepares them for school, and makes them happy.”
During the groups the children sing and dance, play games, play with such basic things as clapping and jumping. Each child also receives a play group kit to take home. The kit contains toys hand-made by cooperatives of artisans that are supported by Higa Ubeho, and are made from local and recycled materials. Says Jane, “This way the parents can see that they don’t have to buy expensive, plastic toys from overseas. These toys are beautiful, affordable, and make the children very happy.”
The playgroups have become very popular with children and parents alike. News of lives being changed through simply playing has spread through the communities, and parents will sometimes send their children with their neighbors if they cannot attend themselves. Muhoza Adraphine, 30, is a mother who has been bringing her four year old son to the play group for one year. When he started, he was not speaking at all. Now, says Muhoza, “he speaks all the time, repeating what he learns at the group, and singing songs. I wanted him to have other children to play with. As a parent, I feel happy inside that I get to play with him and that he is learning new things. At home, we go through what he has learned, and I feel proud.”
Janet Tuisenge, 26, is a full-time nursery school teacher, but volunteers her time to lead the playgroups and work with the children. She says, “I felt it was important do something for kids who are normally isolated. I saw that I had the chance to do something for them. They are now so happy that when I am with them I forget everything else in my life. I am happy that they are happy.”
Janet Mutoni of CHF International has seen the impact of the groups not just on the children, but on the parents as well. She says, “The playgroup is actually a demonstration to the parents of how to play with their children. We show them that their children can learn, speak, laugh, and smile. Some of the parents say, ‘I didn’t know my child could smile that big. I love to see the face of my child smiling.’ Then they go home and do similar activities with them. It changes them as parents and is making the next generation of Rwandans better people and more prepared for the future.”
Helping Vulnerable Children Stay in School
The Bushara School, located in the Kamara sector just 13 kilometers from the Uganda border, is host to roughly 2000 students. Over the years the school has seen many of its students forced to drop out for a variety of reasons. These students include orphans who have had to cultivate their fields and support their families; children sent across the border by their mothers to sell their products and others who decide to drop out to look for odd jobs.
Recently, USAID/Higa Ubeho program through its Rwandan Partners Organizations (RPOs) offered various trainings to community psychosocial workers (CPWs) and Parent Teacher Committees (PTC). The PTCs were trained on how to identify the reasons why students drop out and how to brainstorm and implement creative solutions to fix those problems in the future. At the same time. the CPWs were trained in active listening and creative problem solving. The goal of these groups is to come up with unique solutions to help vulnerable children stay in school.
Claudine is a special example of just how successful and rewarding the work of the CPW is in this region. Claudine is 16 years old and was out of school for an entire semester. One day Claudine went into town with a friend to look for a job and was hired as a maid. After two weeks of not seeing Claudine, her mother solicited the help of the CPW to go into town and find Claudine. To bring Claudine home and get her back into school the CPW made sure that Claudine’s employer did not pay her the full amount that she was promised. This unique technique strengthened the message that the CPW was telling her and stressed the importance to her of going back to school.
Once back in school the PTC has a program to give vulnerable children a source of income so that they can stay in school and provide for themselves, all at the same time. The way this is accomplished is through giving each child their own rabbit. Every two months these rabbits have offspring and the owners are able to sell them with a small profit. “It is a great way to teach responsibility to children at a young age”, said the headmaster. Each small rabbit is usually sold to someone else in the community for one thousand Rwandan francs, but can be sold for as much as three thousand in the nearby towns. The rabbits also have benefits outside of creating an income for the students. The manure from the rabbits can be used as a natural fertilizer for the home gardens. The fertile soil allows for better harvests from the garden and easier planting.
Since getting her rabbit, Claudine has already sold sixteen rabbits. The profits from these sales have allowed Claudine to buy herself a school uniform, school pictures and other clothing for outside of school. In addition, Claudine can now pay the fee to sit for the national exam at the end of each school year. “Being able to afford these things has made school more enjoyable and less stressful” says Claudine. Since returning to school Claudine ranks third in her class of 25 students and aspires to be a doctor when she finishes school. The dramatic change in Claudine’s life has her thankful for the programs run by the PTC and CPW. Today Claudine has returned the favor by donating three rabbits to kids who are facing similar dilemmas to the one she was once in.
During this quarter, the program focused on the following key areas:
~Government of Rwanda and USAID field visit to USAID/Higa Ubeho beneficiaries in Bugesera and Muhanga
~Progress towards graduating Farmer Field Schools and Nutrition Groups (Positive Deviance Hearth)
~Assessed all Rwandan Partner Organizations to evaluate readiness for Graduation
~Provided an in-depth training in proposal writing for local civil society organizations
~Produced and disseminated Service Directories for all of the program’s 20 districts
~Completed assessment of playgroups in nursery schools (pilot program)
~Supported 585 Orphans and Vulnerable Children to join Technical & Vocational Training
~Participated in national technical working groups to bring attention to the growing problem of obesity in Rwanda
~Participated in Districts’ meetings, Joint Action Development Forums (JADF) and accountability day/ open day
CHF helps thousands of children in Rwanda with school materials
The pride on the children’s faces as they carried boxes and bags of school materials was unmistakable. The children were not only excited about the school materials and hygiene kits that they would receive; they were also excited to be volunteers in assembling and distributing the kits to their fellow peers.
Under the USAID/Higa Ubeho program, led by CHF, and ten local organizations, orphans and other vulnerable children receive scholastic materials, tuition, and hygiene kits to enable them to go to school, stay in school, and to perform well in school.
The 350+ children who gathered at Groupe Scolaire Indangamirwa in Kamonyi district are among 46,986 children in primary and secondary school who are supported by CHF’s program in Rwanda. The kits are valued at over US $ 900,000.
This year, CHF is undertaking a major new initiative to both test the sustainability of its social, economic, and health interventions over the past two years by asking families to manage some of the costs of the school and hygiene kits. Instead of providing the usual 100% subsidy, the program is beginning to reduce the total package of support – encouraging families to save for and to meet these needs. ‘Going beyond aid’ is a new slogan across Rwanda as the Government of Rwanda encourages its citizens to participate in their own development. CHF is proud to partner with Rwandan communities in these efforts towards self-reliance.
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