Tuesday 31 March 2020
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newtimes - 6 days ago

A Genocide survivor’s will to empower former street children

As a Genocide survivor, Maurice Kwizerimana witnessed what most children had to go through during and after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. He saw the suffering they had to endure to sustain themselves, especially those who had lost parents.  The kids had to endure dangerous living conditions, violence and abuse, among other harsh circumstances, he says. This is what pushed him to start up Gira Ubumuntu, a non-government organisation that aims at transforming the social and economic status of homeless children in Kigali. When he started out five years ago, his dream was to see these children live a purposeful and fulfilling life. He believes that every child has potential and that it is every one’s obligation to be their voice. Kwizerimana observes that these children are victims of unfortunate circumstances such as conflict in families, poverty, drug addiction, and prostitution. Kwizermana believes it is every one’s obligation to be the children’s voice.  This, he says, directly affects their livelihood because this vulnerability excludes them from gaining access to basic health care, education, nutrition and psychological support, which they need to develop into empowered, educated and committed citizens in society.   “These are simply children who have been deprived of basic rights, this is why providing them with necessities is what is needed. Without this support network, homeless youth often form strong ties with others in their situation and are easily attracted to juvenile delinquency to alleviate their situation. This is why we intend to educate and develop their critical thinking to make them active members in society,” he says. How it started  He started off by investigating different places in Kigali, especially those where homeless children gathered.  It took him months to get close to the kids, but after sometime they learnt to trust him.  In him, they saw a friend and they started opening up by sharing their stories. They also confided in him about their dreams and what they wished to become when they grew up. Kwizerimana started with helping 12 children who were basically around where he stayed in Nyamirambo. He gave them meals at his home but after, he thought of reaching out to more children. Homeless children are silent victims of unfortunate circumstances.  And in his home, he set up a safe space where these children could have access to meals, clothing, shelter, tutoring, extracurricular activities and guidance. He also trained them on basic concepts such as sanitation, hygiene, nutrition and everyday life skills such as principles on morality. Another important aspect for his programme was nurturing and connecting these children for society integration. He did this by engaging them in community projects such as Umuganda (community work). His mission, however, was to help reintegrate these children back into their families and in the process, support the government’s programme of removing children from the street. Achievements  After some time, some of the children asked to return to school and others agreed to be reunited with their families. As of today, some are pursuing their education in primary and secondary schools, while others are trying their luck in other areas — such as getting driving lessons. His programme nurtures and connects children for society integration. “Last year I also started reaching out to these children’s mothers, this is because some of them ended up using school fees that was offered to their kids. What they needed was economic support, so I started giving them loans (without interest) so that they start up small businesses,” Kwizerimana says. Future plans  Kwizerimana, who also works as an engagement officer at Aegis Trust/Kigali Genocide Memorial, has made it his mission to make every child realise their intellectual potential.  Through education, he is empowering and hopes to develop ambition in each of the children.  “The objective is to equip these children to be self-sustaining individuals and to avoid the burden of over dependence on non-profit programmes and donor fatigue.” Some of the children have gone back to school while others have been integrated in their families.  Courtesy photos To achieve this, he says, he will put emphasis on improving the skills of these children to generate income. The 30-year-old has plans for a bigger reintegration centre for the homeless, where Rwandans can easily trace their loved ones. And, he wants the centre to be a cradle for those who want to adopt children.w His long term projection involves provision of basic education and necessities for more orphans and other homeless, vulnerable people. 


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