What do you think of when you think of Rwanda – giraffes? Genocide? Poverty?
In all honesty, if you answered any of those items, you’d be accurate to some extent – but my experience with Giving Hope, a CWS program implemented by the YWCA of Rwanda at a grassroots level, allowed me to experience so much more than these superficial aspects of the country and its people. I had the amazing fortune of working with them this past summer as a Notre Dame-sponsored intern; in particular, I focused on the Giving Hope program in a marketing capacity.
Following the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, thousands of orphans were left to fend for themselves, missing a family unit. The Giving Hope program targets these orphans and other vulnerable children, grouping them into units based on proximity and allowing the groups to select a responsible and concerned community member as a mentor to advocate for them and generally teach them about how to clean, cook, work, etc.
The groups have weekly meetings, working to reform the familial bonds they lost, and are encouraged to “draw their dreams” – a practice that allows the children and adolescents to outline their likes, dislikes, fears, and wishes in an art form to be displayed in their humble homes. Next, the beneficiaries as individuals and the groups as a whole are given startup capital to achieve these dreams and they work together to grow sustainably and achieve independence.
Best of all, this program truly works.
One beneficiary I met was Jean Baptiste, who shared how he had started from nothing, not knowing how to feed himself or clean or farm, orphaned at age 12; however, with the help of his mentor, he had ultimately come to build his own house, bed, and start raising cattle. His sincerity was amazing, and his mentor spoke particularly of Jean Baptiste's perseverance, which she said made other children in his group look up to him.
Oftentimes, once a group of beneficiaries no longer need Giving Hope support, they start their own programs, which are affectionately named "Baby Giving Hopes." There have even been "Grand-Baby Giving Hopes" documented.
Giving Hope is the YWCA's biggest program, having helped nearly 17,000 children in approximately 5,000 families since its inception in 2005. All of this has been achieved with just 17 full-time workers and the volunteer power of YWCA Rwanda members.
More than all this, though, the program could not have a more appropriate name. I saw the “before” and “after” sides of its beneficiaries, and “giving hope” is exactly what it does. I can honestly say that I have no idea what I would do if put in these children’s situations. I felt that every single beneficiary that I met was stronger than I am. It was humbling, to be sure; but at the same time, I felt the need to nurture them all. I really can’t even describe the number of times I was moved to tears by the abounding resilience and quiet strength of Giving Hope beneficiaries and mentors.
By Caroline Kuse, University of Notre Dame student
For more information, you can check out the blog that Caroline kept while in Rwanda, at http://caroline-giving-hope.blogspot.com. It has near-daily postings about the YWCA and its beneficiaries of both Giving Hope and other programs from her two-month summer adventure. The Giving Hope program is also outlined in further detail at http://www.ywcaofrwanda.org/.