The rehabilitation of street children in Rwanda. By Chaste Uwihoreye

Groups that create a sense of ‘belonging’ are important in this process; scout camps are being used as venues for the groups.

Introduction

The camp activities were launched by the executive Director of UYISENGA NI IMANZI on Sunday evening. He welcomed all participants and explained to them objectives the camp intended to achieve. He also briefed the participants on the mission and vision of UYISENGA NI IMANZI as the organization chairing the camp in partnership with other stakeholders like MAREMBA organization, ASR( association des Scouts du Rwanda), Saint Charles LWANGA scouts unit based at Nyamirambo. He eventually hailed the good will of the direction of Groupe Scolaire de Kanyinya for having accepted to host that camp. The activities conducted in the camp have been done in three phases:

 

  1. ENVIRONMENT IN THE CAMP

As a matter of fact the camp brought together 139 youth aged between 8 and 22 years old of which 35 were former street children and the rest was composed of the children supported by UNM through its education programme and scouts that mainly came from the city of Kigali. The children were sleeping in three rooms, 2 for the boys and one room for the girls. Besides, there were 7 tents that were erected in the courtyard where the senior scouts and invigilators were sleeping.

As per the agenda for activities, the youth were getting up at 5 a. m., and everybody was rushing for doing sports that was lasting for one hour. At six, they took a bath and mopped the hostels concomitantly before having the porridge breakfast at 7am. Classes were starting from 8 in the morning and continued until 15 hours in the afternoon. Thereafter came the time for laundry, and leisure shows such as doing sports, twisting one’s body through modern and traditional dances. This traditional dance was going hand in hand with displaying the values that are embodied in the Rwandan culture and this event is commonly known in Rwanda as Kitamaduni. Needless to say is that throughout this event, children were given stern warnings against the taboos.

It is worth noting that children themselves cooked all of their meals. A group of 8-11 fellows was being selected to prepare lunch and dinner and a group of more or about 4 persons was chosen to prepare the breakfast porridge. These exercises were carried out on the shift basis, which means that everyone got the opportunity to familiarize himself/herself with the cooking skills. Not only were the children involved in the cooking activity but they also fulfill other activities that they could be assigned to in the kitchen: they were igniting fire themselves; they were washing the kitchenware, peeling potatoes, etc.

With regard to the organization of the youth in groups, the minor children, aged between 8 and 14, were given their own classroom for carrying out all activities. They were grouped in 5 sizeines’ whereby each sizeine’ comprised of 8-11 members. This age range is known as louvetaux. Each sizeine was named after an animal role model and the first sizeine was referred to as LION, the second known as IMPALA etc. The junior scouts were also organized in 11 patrols which were named after different animals: ANACONDA, DRAGON, COBRA, LION, TIGER, DINOSAUR, PUMA, PIGEON,  HIPPOPOTAMUS, FALCON and PUMA. Each and every time these patrols were summoned, they chanted these animals sounds.

 

  1. LESSONS LEARNED IN CLASSROOMS

It must be recalled that the children had been grouped in to classes according to their age. The first class comprised of children aged between 8 and 14 years whereas the second group ranged between 15 and 22 years of age. The children have been briefed by speakers from various institutions such the official from the Ministry of gender and family promotion, the officer from the National Commission for the Children (NCC), the coordinator of GITAGATA centre for rehabilitation and production, the superintendant from the Rwanda National Police, the gender officer and the mentor of Intore in Nyarugenge district and the staff of UYISENGA NI IMANZI.

All of their speeches converged toward two themes: urging the children to have a healthy mind and to take the right decision; and sensitize the children about their rights.

Children were reminded that they have skills and capacity in themselves that they have to continue nurturing. Speakers told them that times are ripe for them to give an orientation to their lives. The youth should be polite, live a purposeful life, be smart in their thinking, in their physical appearances and should avoid a bad language. They were given a stern warning against assimilating bad behaviours form foreign culture and uphold their culture, instead. According to the speakers, if the youth does not abide by the good values that we find in our culture, they are running the risk of becoming prostitutes, houseboys, and burglars. Again, if the youth does not feel satisfied with the means within their parents’ reach, and feel eager and greedy to own things that their parents cannot afford, they can be tempted to get them through crooked channels and this is likely to jeopardize their lives, as they may be contaminated with sexually transmitted diseases, may be arrested or shot.

With regard to the second theme, children have been provided with rights they are entitled to. These rights include the right to life, the right to family, the right to nationality, the right to education, the right to justice, the right to be registered and the right to leisure. Legal provisions that protect those rights have also been referred to such as the constitution of the republic of Rwanda and law Number 54/2011 of 14/12/2011 relating to the rights and the protection of the child. Children were also explained that they are not only right holders but they are also duty bearers in certain circumstances. At the end of these learning sessions, trainees committed themselves to pursue their studies until the highest level; to bear with difficult times they may come across; to detect talents that they embody and to obey their parents and make their parents feel proud of having exemplary children.( Ukwibyara gutera ababyeyi ineza).

UWABA INTORE YABA NKAWE, UWABA NKAWE YABA INTORE. AHOOOO. AHO NI HO HO!( This is how children were chanting bidding farewell to the speaker)

 

  1. SESSION OF CHILDREN, PROFESSIONALS AND PARENTS

The louvetaux were summoned from their class room for meeting their parents. As it has become a daily practice, each sizeine introduced themselves by the animal sounds and exhibited their knowledge in scout’s skills to their parents. They also made a brief recap of lessons they learned during the four day camp. Children stated that they have most importantly learned how difficult moments should be borne, in other words, how to cope with tough moments and experiences in their daily life, whether at home or at school (to be resilient). Children said that they have also learnt how to be obedient to their parents, to ask for permission when they want to go outside the classroom, causes that push a child to go to the street and learned mission and vision of scouts.  After this show, the children left the room and came time for parents to exchange views over the children’s performance and behaviours. Parents were much impressed with what the children showed to them and some of them could not withhold tears because of emotions. Parents have been impressed with the swift integration of their children. It should be recalled that these sizeines were encompassing both former street children and other children who grew up in the family care environment. The professionals (UNM staff and the Director of family in the ministry of gender and family promotion) elicited from the parents what deduced from the children’s show.

Each and every parent agrees to recognize that children have built confidence in themselves, they have developed  the culture of team spirit, their behavior have outstandingly improved and parents were amazed at seeing how these children mastered the lessons they have been administered in a very short time. Parents stated that the child who did not attend that camp missed terrific experience. They suggested that these camps should be held on a regular basis and they are eager to attend those camps that might be held in the future.

Having been impressed with the ability of their children in terms of behaviour, skills and performance, parents who had been invited to attend the closing ceremonies of the camp, pledged their continuous and tireless support to their children’s endeavours. They committed themselves to cooperate with UNM in all issues; they vowed to have regular follow up of their children and to do everything so as to retain the children in the family care environment. Parents committed themselves to halt family conflicts as they are the root causes that make the child runs away of the family. They promised to be good friends with their children, give them good pieces of advice and guide them through their various religious beliefs. They fully understand that the children need care and affection, that they are the first duty bearer. They have grasped that children need to be motivated in their daily activities by giving them stimuli and rewards. Parents acknowledged that UNM spent a lot of money on holding that camp, and consequently parents should give due weight to the unequalled initiatives of that organization by endorsing the positive parenting. Parents committed themselves to strengthen the parents’ groups. Parents apologized for their failure to live up their responsibilities. They eventually thanked UNM for what they did and the GITAGATA centre for rehabilitation for having hosted their children. They thanked all stakeholders that worked tirelessly for disconnecting the children from the street and reuniting them with their families. Finally, special thanks went to the scout movement in Rwanda, which accepted to integrate their children in the membership groups.

The director of family in the ministry of gender and family promotion upheld family conflicts as the main cause for children’s vagrancy, but dismissed poverty as a sound cause for not caring for the child. Though resources may be limited, it does not mean that the solution is to let the child go on the street. In this line, the government of Rwanda supports the poor through the VUP programme, therefore poverty cannot be a ground for not caring for the child.  She urged the parents to adopt birth control. She cherished the idea of IBIMINA that has been initiated by those parents and she pledged continuous support for those IBIMINA. She pledged the support of the ministry in this endeavour.

After this session, some parents were tasked with cleaning the school yard where the closing ceremonies were to take place whereas other embarked on preparing lunch that was to be served in the farewell ceremony. 11 mothers, mostly Muslim ladies, prepared the lunch. The food was terrific and comprised of chips, rice, beans, meat (two goats were slaughtered) and vegetables.

 

Closing camp phase

This function started at 11:54 by raising the attendees’ morale. The louvetaux and junior scouts rallied in an archway. The morale was raised using songs in Kinyarwanda, French, English and Swahili. Everybody was delightful. Flowers were given to different people.

A junior scout was the first to be given the flow. He made a summary of the activities they have been involved in during the four days. According to him, they learned a wide range of experiences, new skills, and many lessons including how to be INTORE. He went on to say that the experience will serve as an impetus in positioning their future life. He noted that the camp has been an added value to the classical lessons they follow at school. He concluded suggesting that the minicamp should be organized in all holidays.

The representative of girls was given the flow and said that they enjoyed family warmth though they were not at home. She noted that there was no difference between life at home and life in the camp. She thanked UNM for having administered what children gained. She also thanked different leaders, parents and comrades who played a role in the smooth running of the camp.

The representative of the louvetaux gave a brief picture of the activities that have been carried out in the camp. He said that they were shown affection and care in the camp, they learned child’s rights, how to keep time, how to wash kitchenware and clean sleeping rooms and they learned how to peel potatoes and how to cook. He summed up thanking UNM and other stakeholders.

Subsequently, the junior scouts performed a drama entitled Imbuto y’umugisha yera ku giti cy’umuruho. Through their play, they depicted how children from poor families do well at school, they do not spare any effort in studying but strikingly children who come from families that are better-off lag behind, they are addicted to alcohol and have been engulfed by drug abuse. They drop out of school because of those bad behaviours. They choose life on the street and prostitution. They end up being rounded up by the police, arrested and detained in the vagrants centres. As the play showed, the child form the poor family pursued her studies, graduated and got a job in the company that was run by the father of the children who dropped out of school. This father and his wife were very disappointed by the behaviour of their children and were overwhelmed with sorrow despite being renowned wealthy people in the area.

The next flow came to the representative of the parents. She thanked the children for the inspiring drama. She stressed out that bad children may come from both poor and rich families. She urged parents to be good friends of their children. She hailed the Association des Scouts du Rwanda for their effort in reintegrating the children in the membership groups and she cherished the education the children acquired in the scout movement. It is worthwhile noting that 40 parents had turned out for the event.

The delegate from Saint Charles LWANGA scouts units gave a testimony on how they welcomed the new members from the transit centers.

Thereafter, the representative of Association des Scouts du Rwanda explained how outstanding scouts get promoted according to their achievements.

The louvetaux performed a drama on the bad life on the street and the audience was impressed with that play and could not help laugh.

The legal representative of UYISENGA NI IMANZI took the flow and thanked everybody who played a role in making the minicamp a success. He drew on the play performed by the junior scout to brief the child to be able to cope with tough moments as he himself went through difficult times when he was in the refugee camp. He explained that he managed to bounce back from that bad life, pursued his studies and now he is a high ranking government official because he knew how to bear bad moments. He urged them to be resilient and emulate him. He officially closed the minicamp at 14:20 and the lunch was served with sodas.

Leave a Comment