(Apologies: this post was written during our last week on placement, but due to poor internet connection and plenty of things to do, we haven't been able to publish it until now)
As you all might know, for the last 12 weeks, we have been volunteering for ICS, in a project partnered with AMU (Association Mwana Ukundwa). The organisation is based in Kigali, with other offices in Huye and other districts. We got to visit the office in Huye, as there is another ICS team there: it was good for our motivation and our spirits to be able to see their office and the work they are doing.
During the last three months we worked with the children and with the women in the SHGs. These are women that AMU organised in groups in order to develop support networks and help them economically. We also did home visits, during which we conducted surveys about child rights. We also managed to teach English to the women that come daily to AMU to learn how to sew clothes. While this was a last-minute thing, it was useful for us to see an impact of our work and to bond with the local community. Speaking English will be particularly beneficial for them, as Rwanda is part of the Commonwealth and English will enhance their business and marketing opportunities. Everyone in the team was happy to teach them as it was fun and educational at the same time: some of them did not know how to write or read properly, but we managed to teach them and bring them to the same level. We hope that the next cohorts will continue the work and get them to a good level within six months.
Working with the SHGs was also a really good experience. We got to be part of a group of people that are working on personal development and it was good to know that we were able to support them through AMU and ICS. We taught them about finance, how to collect money among themselves and the basics of accounting for how to keep records of this all. We also helped them buy goats as a way of providing them with a starting capital to develop their own small business in the future. Hopefully the next ICS cohorts will continue supporting them and seeing an even bigger development, building a stable business and improving their lives.
We also spent a lot of time working with the children. When we started we had more than 300 kids from primary to secondary. Our goal was to teach them about their rights, and to do so sometimes we used realistic scenarios for them to discuss and understand what the rights really mean. We also taught them school subjects like Science, Mathematics, English – this was fun, but also very useful for them as it was exam time at the end of October. We also spent time playing sports, singing songs and dancing all together. On Saturdays, we worked with the HIV support group: we had a special programme for them, to be able to discuss HIV prevention and other sensible topics. We also prepared lunch for them every Saturday, to provide them with a healthy meal.
We organised debates for the older boys and girls on relevant issues, and workshops for the younger ones to have fun and think about their dreams and their future. We told them stories about successful people and African heroes they can relate to, to inspire and motivate them: our goal was to make them understand that they can help the society in many ways and that all heroes were once kids. We asked all of them to write down what they think they can do to help the world and the feedback was really great. We also talked about puberty with them and HIV prevention to try to make sure that they know what it is, how to avoid it and how to treat people with HIV, to fight stereotypes and discrimination.
During the home visits, we usually took rice, flour and porridge with us as a gift for the families. We got to meet them, talk to them and ask different questions. The families really appreciated the visits and enjoy having us over as guests. It was also a great opportunity for the volunteers to get to know the community and see with our own eyes the living conditions of the people we work with daily.
One of the volunteers also wrote a report on AMU, to gather our suggestions on how the organisation can improve and offer more services for the children and the women. For example, we suggested the creation of a counselling service for children and parents with HIV.
In general, the whole team got to experience a lot of different things, and it was a good situation as we wanted to help people in every possible way. Eventually, we also realised that a lot of kids that were coming to AMU daily could not afford school materials and uniforms, so we organised a charity car wash to raise money for them. This is going to be our last activity, on Saturday, to say goodbye to AMU and this community.