Monday, July 28, 2014

Shelving books for a local school

We donated library furnitures to GS Gasogi; a school educating most children sponsored by our  EDUBWIZA program.

When I asked the management of the school the concerns which needed help, a long list of them was presented to us. It was clear that the school can use more help. But at that moment, there was one project that captured our attention.

The schools' library project interested us the most. The librarian requested for a desk and shelves to keep her library neat.
Then, I took a glimpse of the library..

As I walked into the library, it was jam-packed with boxes of old and new books. There was literally no place to step along. For clarifications, by old books, I mean textbooks which were printed during the previous regime, a regime that favoured French as the main foreign and official language. While the subject matter in these previous textbooks to a certain extent continue to be relevant, new English textbooks have been published to replace the old ones.

The current Rwandan government is breaking new grounds in its education system. They are convinced, as we all do that education will help the government reach its short and long term development targets. The  Rwandan leadership dreams to become a middle income country by 2020. In this vision, English language is seen to be an important key to integrating with the rest of the world and as well in doing business. For those reasons, students countrywide are being initiated into English language courses, teachers and professors who did not have English background are busy at learning English language.

With the arrival of new books and little room-space GS Gasogi has, all the old and new books were piled up in a smallish library room. Frankly, it was a little messy place! The library room itself looked dim and smelled moldy and earthy. Its coarse internal wall plastering had prints of greasy hands. The library lacked organisation, it seemed like an abandoned little place that actually has a wealth of knowledge- books.

Scrutinizing further, I also discovered that the library was not only for books, but also a temporary storage of laboratory equipments.
This is how the library originally looked
There were two large padlocked blue metallic casings. From what I could learn on the nicely printed top labels, they contained materials for the school's science lab. These materials were centrally donated by the Belgian Technical Cooperation. My good guess is that BTC does not know that their donations are not being used, and that they are idle in the trunks picking up dust.

Our association facilitated the school to organise the school library. We purchased wooden shelves and donated them to schools' library. We had initially insisted that the shelves must be set up immediately. We did not want to donate shelves and just leave. We wanted to be sure that our donation will be put into use. And indeed they were put into use.

Although this project came on a short notice, the lady teacher overseeing the library assured me that she and some students will do cleaning up. She was full of excitement because her work place was soon to get a new face. If that will mean an extra motivation to her job, no one knows.
When we drove-in with a car loaded with shelves, teachers and students were busy at work, cleaning and cleaning. The room floor was clean, but was still wet, students were also helping with unpacking the idle books from the boxes on the ground to the shelves.
The team that helped in setting up the library.
Some students could get taken up with exploring the materials in these books. I don't blame them for that, for it was their first time and an opportunity to be in the library, and actually getting to touch and exploring the books. I overhead a few teachers surprised too with a variety of books the school actually has.

To some it looked like we brought the books as well, yet we assisted only in putting their books from boxes to shelves. In the process of unpacking them, the hidden sources of knowledge was being revealed.
This is how it looked after

Our support was not that big, but we believe it makes a difference. We helped the school turning the library into a functional unit. The books are well organized; it serves time and it will make it easy for everyone using it.

I believe there many small initiatives like this one, that are always overlooked, yet they are equally essential.

We keep a close follow up on how the library runs.

Monday, March 31, 2014

One girl at a time

This is a story, a journey of a young woman, who for good reasons is capturing the attention because she is the "most" educated individual of her village. 
Josephine is one of the girls we are helping to attend secondary education through our project. Without our help and the financial support from her wonderful and loving sponsors, she would not make this. She remains the most senior beneficiary of our education programme which she has been on since 2009.

In two years, Josephine will graduate from a high school as an accountant. We believe that education will transform her life, and of those close to her to ameliorate. We are convinced that this way we are aiding her in finding a long term solution for her future life. We cant thank enough everyone who is part of this project.

According to Josephine, growing up with her entrepreneurial parents has influenced her to study accounting courses. 

Her parents work hard daily to earn a living, but they can only feed their family and nothing extra. Sometimes her family can eat only once a day. That is why we are assisting her into the boarding school so that she can live on-campus, and get sufficient water, electricity, meals and a comfortable bed. And above all, she gets education. All these comes at a cost. A cost which families of the village cannot afford themselves. Our non profit with the help of various individual donors, we are able to make this an achievable goal. We are always thankful for the trust and money sponsors put into this project.

Josephine's education level is the highest compared to every person who lives in her village. Her family, her village members and ourselves, we are all delighted with her current status. 

 We are encouraging her to go further with her studies, and  we will assist her in every possible way to meet what she has always aspired. That said, it is sad that other girls who are within the same age range as Josephine, and who did not have a chance like hers, are mothering two or three children. This makes the life of these poor, uneducated and jobless young mothers more precarious. For those reasons we are engaged with this community to prevent this if we can.

 Not only is Josephine seen as an important person within her tiny disadvantaged community, but also the general local authorities around her village acknowledges her worth. Recently, Josephine was nominated and supported to run the youth social welfare programme of neighbourhood
. It is a volunteer work for her but it is an indication that more good opportunities are yet to come for her.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The first EDUBWIZA Open day

On December 22, 2013 we organised an open day. It was the first since 2010 when we started functioning as a nonprofit. We are thanking everybody who showed up for this information sharing and socialising afternoon with us. Our team genuinely appreciates everyone's contribution. 

Supporter's assistance continues to play an important role in helping women, children and men whom we work with in Rwanda. We definitely would not have achieved much without them.

During the open day we held discussions with sponsors of children who are on our education programme in Rwanda. Supporters donate money to our EDUBWIZA programme, then we send every eligible needing child from the Cyaruzinge - village, in Rwanda in schools.

 The discussions were amicable and constructive. We learned so much from each other. It was one of those moments you feel inspired to continue helping needy people... We are definitely not giving up on these people, we will keep pushing.

Although many challenges still exist in each home within the locality where we work, we continue taking baby-steps at a time, starting small and funding low-cost projects. 

In addition to the EDUBWIZA programme, we further assist the entire village members subscribe to the Mutuelle de sante. This health insurance policy by the Rwandan government plays a major role in bringing health care to the poor. 

Due to the approaches we use and the two projects we are implementing in this particular community, we are getting encouraging feedback and impressive results. Besides beneficiaries of our programmes are showing positive changes. Moreover, children are going to school and the beneficiary members of the entire group look healthier than earlier.  We are happy with achievements gained so far, but it could be better!

We pride ourselves to use the little means at hand in a cost-effective way. Frankly, we are not going to solve every issue affecting people we are working with. But for sure we can prove that our service is reaching the intended people and delivering positive results. We believe that our collaboration with this community is helping them craft a future they wish for themselves. 

In the past we have relied on word of mouth to market ourselves. But after this day's experience we realise open days are alternatives to market our work. We will plan many more in future.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

One Love

I came across an article on Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Radio National"Songs of the Voiceless" which was recorded in a village we work with in Rwanda. At the beginning of the video, there are children singing. It is amazing seeing how in just a span of two years these kids have grown. Presently, these children are able to attend school because of the help our project EDUBWIZA extends to them.

 For those who didnt know, we have a music CDs for sale from this village for a good cause. If interested in knowing more about this music, follow this link.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Health insurances

An old man showing Mutuelles for his family
For 19 years, Rwanda is actively drafting and implementing a series of essential and pro poor reforms within its various sectors of development. 
The Rwandan leadership under President Paul Kagame is committed to transform Rwanda into a middle income nation by the year 2020 also commonly known as the Vision 2020. Recently, the World bank's envoy to Rwanda Mr Denny Kalyalya praised Rwanda to be an example of all the countries in terms of using granted support. In his word, he said
"The things you are doing in Rwanda are not only seen here but also outside, your achievements make us proud, you have made progress and it this makes sense to support this progress."

This midget country of a thousand hills in the East Africa, is notable among others to be operating the most effective community based health insurance. The formulation of this community based health insurance is meant to facilitate easy access to health care nationwide. Rwandans particularly those from informal and rural economies are praising this scheme. Through risk pooling mechanism of this program, every Rwandan can get access to health care. However, not every Rwandan can afford the annual subscription to this scheme. Through our non profit, we are facilitating a community of poor in the outskirts of Kigali- Rwanda to benefit from this wonderful policy.
Subscription to the Rwanda's community based health insurance (also called mutuelle de sante) is voluntary and its premiums are priced and payable according to individuals' wealth status. Some media outlets in Rwanda reports of the poor being forced to pay their health insurances, but Rwanda's prime minister has ever since promised to address the issue. The scheme is highly subsidised by the central government itself and through her development partners.
Every year, improvements are being made on this program to respond to discovered glitches. Clearly, It is not a problem free, but what can be referred to as a good work in progress. The ministry of health in Rwanda shows how health indicators are being improved and there is a general rating that the scheme has helped all citizens get access to care irrespective of how much they earn. That said, there are still some pockets of communities who are still unable to buy their yearly premiums like the Cyaruzinge (formerly Bwiza) community which we work with. Each year and every day, families of this community are confronted with many competing ends to keep their families alive, getting food, water, clothing and sanitation is not at its best either. Saving for healthcare has not taken ground for this community live on hand to mouth basis. This assertion does not signify that this community does not plan for their future, but due to many competing ends to meet their day-to-day life they remain penniless. All that said, I personally consider them to be the most sophisticated economists. We are encouraged by the desire and local initiatives established by this community to develop themselves, we will continue working with them to achieve their goals. Till now we have been busy helping this community to purchase their health insurances and helping their children with school supplies needed on a yearly basis.
Some of the Bwiza community members showing their health insurance cards
Broadly speaking, we are aware that helping this community with health insurances, does not entirely remove their barriers to accessing health care. Difficulties remain for if a member of a family falls sick, he/she still have to pay an out of pocket equal to 10% of the care they receive at the local clinic, a demand which is most of the times remains latent. However, the solidarity and camaraderie among this community is playing a key role in supporting each other in case one falls ill and does not have immediate money to cover the costs of services. We are busy working with the community on a feasible plan to finding the lasting solution to this particular case so that the community members can be able to purchase their insurance on their own and become able to pay for services when they fall sick. I am optimistic that we will see some real change in this community. 


Thursday, August 1, 2013

An evolving community

In a previous post I detailed how the village we are supporting with access to health care and education in Rwanda was relocated to a new locality in better housing conditions, and how it is presently perceived to be on a right path of prosperity. Looking back where this community comes from, a lot has been achieved and the Rwandan local government should take credit for this even though there remain many unresolved difficulties faced by this community. 

Through a community action, communities of Kigali city came together to help indigent people of Bwiza acquire new housings. As a result, each family and every single parent of the village who previously lived in pitiable dwelling received a better brick walled with typical shiny tin roofed house. At the end of this action, 50 families benefited from this scheme.

Community gathering in former village of Bwiza (left photo)- Chief's house in the background.

Same village in their new village (Right photo)- see their new homes in the background 
Marie, a single mother of three was among those who benefited a house. The acquiring of a house meant that it was time for her to live independent of her extended family of 8 which all shared a house of 3 dark tiny cubicles. At the age of 23 with 3 children, and not having any predictable source of income it was time for Marie to actively play the mother role and taking care of her children in her own home. Marie has to make sure that feeds her three children; which is always complicated to achieve and subject to a lot of uncertainties. 

Like any other person of her village, we are supporting her and her children to acquire their annual subscription to health insurance, and one of her son and other children of the village are able to attend school because we are helping them. We are doing this with hope that our small interventions will help the community unlock their potentials to develop themselves.
Three months ago, when we were following up the progress of students in the program which we jointly initiated with the village, we learnt that Marie’s son (Hakizimana) was not attending school. Village volunteers informed us that Marie and her children were nowhere to be seen in the village except for the few speculations of their whereabouts. Seemingly, Marie and her children, left their gifted home following a theft of 5 kg of beans and a pagne (which I will explain its importance in their life shortly). The theft happened in the night when they were asleep. Like I mentioned before, this community is constrained economy and so 5kg of beans is hardly to come by for many in Marie's village and the reason it is taken to be a valuable commodity. To get all these, Marie might have worked very hard and by hard, I mean hard sweaty job! In an event that followed this theft, Marie run out of options to feed herself and the children, and without any guarantee that she may get some work to do. She found herself being forced to free her home to a friend a distance away from the village.
Marie is looking at her new fabric which we helped her buy
Marie's pagne which she wears when she is going out of their community was all taken! Partly, this meant that her interaction with the larger communities around them was to some degree affected. I am saying this because, when you visit around the markets or other social places in Rwanda, you notice the majority of people are dressed-up and looking sharp! This external neatness however has nothing in common with their financial capabilities, in most cases it is a contrast. In some other villages and maybe in some towns and cities, people are still borrowing clothing if they are going somewhere outside their community. People do not want to be judged as poor from the way they present themselves even though in their minds they might be questioning themselves how they will survive that day. 
Marie with her children on their day they came back in the village
Despite of Marie's community being relocated in a new locality with better housing, life remains a struggle for each member of the village, who still show little collective initiatives to solve their problems. The few projects which they are collaboratively working on, have not paid dividends fast enough to give them confidence. The fact that Marie left the village even without approaching her own family members for help is an indication that everyone is for him/her self. Well there is a saying “every man for himself and God for us all” , I began to think it was applicable in this circumstance.
We (I mean our non profit) believe that the community we work with can find ways getting around their problems, and there is a huge potential as we are continually learning how the poorest make the choices they do to live their life. That said, we did not let Marie disappearance slip out of our hands. Recalling the events In 2010, there was a teenager girl who disappeared from the village while we were in a process of enumerating all school going pupils who had dropped out of school for either lack of materials or fees. The disappeared girl showed up a year later pregnant.

Fearing of the worst, but not knowing what could happen to Marie with her three lovely children, we used all the contacts we could get in the village to trace Marie’s' whereabouts. When we got a lead location, we facilitated transportation for an individual from her village to go where she had taken “refuge” and talk to her if she could consider coming back into her village. We succeeded in this aspect and we helped her and her children come back.
Because Marie is mute and deaf, she is commonly known as the “mute” in her village, we believe she is more at risk among her already vulnerable community for she cannot communicate well with the rest in her village. We have helped her re-gain what was stolen in her house, helped her buying padlocks to reinforce security on her doors. Now that we managed to bring Marie and her family back into their own house in their village, we cannot claim to have solved underlying problems, it was rather a short term alternative of the situation and we take it as a moral obligation. Having said that, we are trying to keep our energies and resources by focusing on the two projects in the village.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Polepole = Slowly

Eddy went to Rwanda to visit the projects we support there. The beneficiaries of our educational  projects are increasing their school attendence! They are proud and happy to have all the scholastic materials they need for each school year. We are always thankful to the sponsors of our projects because, through them, we have been able to fulfill this lasting commitment. The on-ground implementation of this project has been running efficiently, as most of the field volunteers working on this project are beneficiaries themselves. The on-ground team follows up on the kids in their homes, and also with their parents. They liase with the school to ensure that they attend every day. Through this kind of collaboration and cooperation we have been getting valuable feedback from the beneficiaries, which has been useful in refining and confirming that the support we give them works in an efficient manner. 
Some sponsored children saying- Thank you
The children supported on this project are studying hard and their efforts are paying off as we have recorded an improvement in their exam scores at the end of each academic year. Supporting this education project also includes basic health improvement, whereby the entire community to which the children belong benefit from health insurance. This kind of all inclusive strategy is useful in reducing the number of kids absent from school due to illness. The short term objective of this project is to help the kids acquire basic arithmetic and literacy skills. We will then build on those basic skills to further expand and support their educational opportunities and life skills training.

            There is a general feeling amongst the children supported through this program that they are loved. But they equally do not want to take the genorosity of their sponsors from the West for granted.

            At the inception of this project, we learned that even though education is free in Rwanda, many people still find it hard to cover the basic costs needed to enroll in school. This is what we have been attempting to address since 2010. In the community supported by our project, the number of pupils attending school rose from 6 in 2010, to 41 students total in 2013, of which 4 are now in secondary schools. This achievement is significant and we consider it a major success, given the conditions and the extent of poverty in which these people live. Individuals from the community we support do not have enough resources to meet their daily needs; a factor which has an adverse effect on the kids' concentration levels during class. The government of Rwanda is pulling all the stops to lift many people up out of poverty, a goal which seems to be attainable so far. According to recent World Bank reports and the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda about 1 million Rwandans have been raised up out of poverty in a span of 5 years. According to the World Bank Publications: Doing Business report of 2011, Rwanda was the top reformer in 2010. This is an indication that the country is an increasingly conducive environment for foreign investiments and determined to generate wealth. It ranks 52nd globally, the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa after South Africa.

            Despite these accomplishments of the Rwandan Government, there are still many people and communities in Rwanda who live in poverty. They still need our support and cooperation. Our project started helping out these communities, hoping to give their children access to a proper education. We believe this is essential for their future social and economic growth. As UNESCO puts it, “Not only is education important in reducing poverty, it is also a key to wealth creation”. We have no doubts that we are on the right track!  Our work mesh with the Rwandan Government's strategic plans of forming a modern knowledge base, a competitive economy, and the development of the nation's human resources. We are always interested in hearing from individuals, associations, or companies who share our passion for educating the poor and vulnerable children of Rwanda. If you want to lend a helping hand, you can always get in touch with us or help spread the word by forwading this post to people who might consider becoming a VZW Mama na Mtoto supporter.