Orphans in Rwanda are enthusiastic about going to school – they'll walk miles every morning to get there. But electricity is a luxury in Africa, so children cannot do homework or take extra classes to help them stay in school. Rwanda is on the equator so it is dark by 6pm each night. Yet the sun shines on its beautiful volcanic mountains and lakes every day.
Network For Africa is working with Rwandan genocide survivors to create a safe, secure learning space, with solar panels.
The Ntarama Community Center will also have a health clinic with doctors, nurses and trauma counsellors, serving genocide 3,000 orphans and widows. At the moment they have to walk five miles for so much as an aspirin.
The center will offer courses in literacy, health, hygiene, nutrition, sexual/reproductive health, vocational skills, micro-finance and gender empowerment.
There will also be an Internet café, and rooms will be rented to local groups for meetings, generating income.
The Ntarama Community Education Center and Health Clinic
We are building a community education center with a multi-purpose hall, four classrooms and a health clinic for a community of 3,000 orphans, widows and poor people in Rwanda. This is a locally-led project which will offer education, training, health, trauma counselling and community facilities in a deprived rural area of rural Rwanda. Our aim is to supplement the education currently received by orphans and others, helping them continue to secondary school and to university.
The center will offer courses in literacy, health, hygiene, nutrition, vocational courses, micro-finance and gender empowerment that will be of particular relevance to widows and other vulnerable women. On a practical level, students, widows and others will have somewhere safe with electric light to work in the evenings, after 6pm, since electricity is a luxury to which few have access.
Why build a community education centre?
In 1994 an estimated one million people were killed in the Rwandan genocide, leaving at least 800,000 orphans. The war devastated the school system, and 80% of teachers and doctors were killed. Although primary education is free in theory, the quality is disappointing and class sizes of 70 are common. Consequently there is a great need for remedial education and literacy training.
Girls in rural areas are less likely to benefit from school because of domestic and agricultural duties. In most families, boys' needs take priority. Only 15% of girls get beyond primary level, and in some traditional rural areas, female illiteracy is as high as 80%.
Orphans face extra burdens, such as caring for young siblings in child-headed households, and they often under-perform at school, making it harder to break out of the cycle of poverty. Female orphans in particular have to abandon school to earn money and care for siblings. These groups would benefit from access to remedial education, literacy classes and vocational training in the evenings and at weekends.
Many widows and orphans (especially girls in rural areas), have few choices beyond farm work and early pregnancy. One result of the genocide is that 60% of the population is female. Due to mass rape, many widows are HIV positive, and they struggle to lead their families and earn sufficient money. Learning about micro-finance would directly benefit them and allow them to become economically independent.
Like most Rwandan villages, Ntarama has no electricity or health clinic or community center. The nearest clinic is 12 miles walk away. After 6pm, when it gets dark, students have nowhere to study, widows have nowhere to work, and civic groups have no facilities. There is a great demand for sexual, reproductive and more general health training, IT skills, vocational classes, literacy training, English language classes and information about micro-finance and business skills.
During 100 days of genocide in 1994, 97% of Rwandans witnessed the violence. It is believed that trauma is a major blocking factor to learning to the students and productivity to the adults. Therefore the clinic will also offer trauma counselling, as well as providing full time doctors and nurses, with visiting specialists from the UK, USA and Canada, such as opticians and dentists.
Who will have access?
The community center will be open to all local people and the multi-purpose hall will have a capacity of 300 at any time. Those living nearest are orphans and widows of the genocide, who are in homes built by our Rwandan partner, SURF (www.survivors-fund.org.uk). Approximately 3,000 between the ages of 11 and 44 live in the immediate area. They are virtually all poor and unskilled.
Who is running the project?
The project stems from local needs as assessed by local people. Our partners are the Rwandan development groups, SURF and IBUKA, both of which were established in 1995. SURF has built four similar health and education centres in Rwanda. SURF will supervise the building and equipment of the centre and IBUKA will run the centre on a daily basis.
In the USA the project is led by Network for Africa, a small not-for-profit group focussing on international social action. It has a partner in the UK and Canada, both currently applying for tax-exempt status. Jubilee Action, a UK not-for-profit, is underwriting the cost of building 10 child headed households in the existing community of 38 SURF homes.
It will cost $400,000 to build and equip the community center and clinic. Solar panels will cost an additional $70,000 to buy and install. Annual running costs (salaries, medical tests, supplies) will be $130,000. Network for Africa USA and UK, and Inspire!Africa will run a sponsorship scheme in Canada, the UK and USA to meet the ongoing annual costs. It is hoped that the Internet café and renting out rooms will bring some income to the center.
The Tinsley Charitable Trust is funding all administrative and project management costs, meaning that 100% of donations will go towards building the center. Donations of $220,000 have already been secured.