by Vicdan Merter, Life Coach from Istanbul, Turkey.
My Rwanda journey started with a dream in 2015, where Arndt Soret, CEO of Humanium, I and couple of other friends gathered around a common stake: Creating homes for children! That was my first time I have created the possibility of going to Rwanda with Humanium’s cause: Making children rights happen! In 2019, this has been my second time in Rwanda with Humanium and AVSI, Humanium’s local partner NGO.
Rwanda is a small dot in the center of Africa, it is a country with big history and beautiful scenery as it is “a country of a thousand hills”. When I first visited Rwanda, I was positively surprised with its tropical nature; friendliness and gentleness of its people. A nation with unfortunate genocide experience and due to that 90% of people are traumatized. There is an immense intention to leave that stigma behind and create community of WE: Togetherness. You would see it in their culture of collaboration, acceptance, containing and welcoming. The community is appreciating support which is visible in such practices:
- Once a month in ‘community day’ all Rwandan’s clean their streets, their cities, they mend the roads. That’s a service of a nation to its country. On Saturday there was hardly any traffic on the streets as everyone was busy with the community service until 11:00 am.
- There are community leaders, friends and family representatives supporting villagers when needed, set up by AVSI that Humanium supports greatly.
- The schools where Humanium is present have set up parliaments that consist of the class representatives. Those who are selected are taking care of their fellow students who are in bigger need.
- Nurseries mostly exist now, which are looked after by parents taking turns. This way mothers can take care of their farms or other livelihood activities.
- There are no / hardly any orphanages, the country creates homes for orphans and families adapt children in need with the support of the local governments. One woman told me that she had adopted a 4 months old boy who was found on the street and now she takes care of him together with her own daughter.
Rwanda is leaning on power of unity and collaboration; kindness and offering help is gift of post-genocide. This looks like a paradox and it is not, human beings are naturally creative and resourceful to create with intention!
Rwanda’s biggest challenge is poverty & hunger and its impact on children’s rights. There are many villages without electricity and water! However, it is positive to see poverty rate declining. And we see more and more community leaders and families focusing on making children rights happen. I am happy to observe parents prioritizing education, community leaders taking an active role in child protection, freedom of expression and identity rights.
Also, there are efforts in creating livelihood through occupational training (tailors, coiffures), cooperative of handcrafts, vegetable gardens and families owning poultry or goat. I notice this is improving nutrition for children! There is a calling for micro finance support for Rwanda’s such efforts!
During our 3 hours workshops with various groups; community leaders, parents, young mothers, students and teachers, we come across many of the issues that Rwanda is dealing around child rights.
When we show Humanium child map to the group, Rwanda is red (2 out of 5 scale rating). After all these years of Humanium & AVSI’s interactions with communities, everyone is aware of 8 Children rights we are advocating. Child rights awareness are followed with the role plays; each group discloses their biggest child right issue in their environment. Considering the language limitation as we communicate with the help of a translator, role plays are a great channel to grasp the crux of our topics. Our workshops are designed to make sure people are heard and feel seen, I see that their mental health starts to improve. This is a unique way of communication and creating empathy. We create trust, connection and touch the heart of people. Many of them have a lot of struggles in their journey of life. We see our role as companion for the journey ahead to reduce the suffering. Let’s face it, they suffer! And in that suffering what we aim is to give them hope, empower them to create their future, allow them to be vulnerable with their struggles and ask for help when needed. We create atmosphere of togetherness in our workshops where they feel they are not alone, they are supported, they matter, and they are cared. There is huge appreciation in the culture for being for one another! That gives power, that gives hope and that holds them free from the depression!
When I look back my 15 day in Rwanda; we draw miles from one city to another and one village to another, it may sound like a drop in an ocean and still I feel gratitude to be in touch with those great souls and to sprinkle the magical hope to their lives. I have listened stories that touch my heart, I had moments challenged with circumstances and was out of my comfort zone. At the same time I felt moments of happiness when I saw hope and appreciation in their eyes, in their smiles and in their songs & dances.
My wish for Rwanda is to continue collaboration as they do and take responsibility for their own lives in pursuit of better child rights! We created small shifts in their mindset and I believe from there they gain power to create their own future. Hearing their commitments, I trust they say YES to life and YES to responsibility! That inspires me to do more work and go back to Rwanda.