Muhirwa means “lucky one,” and 25-year-old Olive Murikatete thinks it is an appropriate name for her three-year-old daughter. Olive lives inGatare Cell, Muhanga District– 15 km outside of the capital city of Kigali. Although not far from the capital in terms of distance, the life she and her family lead in the village where they reside is far from the urban lifestyle. She and her husband work as part-time farmers and run a small kiosk where they sell household items to neighbors and others in their small community. Although, Olive studied hospitality and completed a training course when she was younger, life in village means that employment and educational opportunities are limited. As a student Olive did okay, but she did not complete her last two years of secondary school – something that she regrets to this day. When she gave birth to her daughter she decided she would do everything she could in her power to help her succeed. So when she heard about the playgroup being organized for children under 5 from her neighbors, she was very interested.
Playgroups were established under the USAID Higa Ubeho program to help promote childhood development. The playgroups are open to all children under 5, but were created to target children from poor, rural areas and orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) who have limited learning opportunities. Young children of poor families, especially those affected by HIV and AIDS, can be isolated, under-stimulated and slow to learn. The playgroup activities are designed to engage the children and help develop their social, motor, language and cognitive thinking skills. The children also learn to build relationships with others. To date, 60 playgroups have been created across 13 districts of Rwanda.
According to Jane Mutoni, who oversees OVC Care and Support for the USAID Higa Ubeho, “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.”
Olive has been bringing her daughter, Muhirwa, to the playgroup in her village for almost a year now and she has seen a big difference in her behavior and her ability to learn. Olive explains that she used to be shy and did not like to interact with other children. Now she is more expressive and can easily play with others. She has also learned a tremendous amount, says Olive. She has learned songs, rhymes, games and traditional stories, which she is eager to share with neighbouring children and her parents at home.
Olive also explains that she has learned lot herself. Each week she brings Muhirwa to the playgroup and she stays and watches the activities and often participates. In this way, she can reinforce what Muhirwa is learning and interact with her at home singing the songs they have learned together. “It’s the best way to prepare the children for school,” says Olive.
As word has spread, most of Olive’s neighbors have started bringing their children to the playgroup as well. Some of its original members have already left the group and joined pre-primary school. Now the group has 104 children, and hopes to recruit more, according to Judith Cyuzuzo, a member of a partner organization in the district.
Olive explains that some parents came initially because they thought they would get something additional from the program, like a donation or scholarship. As parents kept on attending, they soon realized how beneficial the activities were for the children and they have kept their children in the playgroup.
As for Olive, she is committed to helping Muhirwa to live up to her name and she knows playgroups offer the first step for a solid education foundation.
The Ministry of Education and Global Communities are carrying out an awareness campaign to promote Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) for youth entrepreneurship and life skills development across the country. The 3-month communication campaign is run under the slogan “TVET Umwugawanjye, ubuzimabwiza” or “TVET My career, My future.”
“This campaign aims at helping the youth to gain employable skills that can earn them a living and support their families,” says Victor Mugarura, the communications and outreach manager at Global Communities.
Global Communities aims at expanding opportunities for youth across Rwanda and organizes one-year technical and vocational training programs. The organization intervenes in ongoing activities for career development.
Mugarura adds that over 2,600 youth have been trained in different vocations and this year, support will be given to 3,000 youths.
For the campaign to be successful, the community and parents have been involved to encourage and support youth to participate in TVET. The awareness campaign is in line with the government’s vision to reduce poverty in the country with the contribution of the education sector.
Among the priority sectors of the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) is to increase and strengthen TVET through promoting the social structure that links the content of education to the needs of the labor market.
“The government’s vision is expressed in the EDPRS targets to enhance the youth participation in TVET for economic and social development and this is why we encourage harmonization of intervention with the development partners like Mineduc, the Workforce Development Authority (WDA) and others,” Mugarura says.
He adds that they are encouraging youth to use interpersonal communication during the awareness campaign. And the 2600 trained youth are encouraged to act as models for other youth to join TVET.
The State Minister in charge of TVET, Albert Nsengiyumva, says that this campaign is vital in sensitizing Rwandans on TVET and delivering a key message that links skills, job and better living conditions. He believes that this will help to harmonize interventions and create more interactions as they invest in skills delivery.
He recommends that Global Communities, the WDA, and other TVET stakeholders harmonize their actions together in order to empower Rwandan youth to take part in improving their own futures.
To align the action with the ministry’s objectives, Global Communities has also organized a Career and Life Management (CALM) retreat where certificates will be given to TVET Graduates. And the four-day event will educate, engage and empower 250 youth with life skills to help them enter the workforce and be able to compete in the job market.
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.
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