Keeping children off the streets of Rwanda

from Catholic Relief Services
Published on 25 May 2005
In the early 1990s, Daphrose Rugamba sold vegetables at the market in Kigali. She saw street children stealing her produce and those of her neighbors. She wanted to stop the children from stealing but she did not know how. She knew the main reason they were stealing was because they were hungry. She also knew that if these children had a place where they could receive support and become productive members of society, everyone would be better off!

And so began one of Rwanda's most successful attempts to rehabilitate street children. Daphrose and her husband, Cyprien had a little money saved up. As active members of their parish, they received backing from their church, and with their own money they were able to open Kigali's first feeding center for street children. Unfortunately, both were murdered in the genocide of 1994, but their legacy stands today in the Centre Cyprien and Daphrose.

In 1995 the center re-opened and was renamed the Centre Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba. The center is popularly known as FIDESCO (Fondation Internationale pour le Développement Social et Economique au Service de la Cooperation). The Kigali center is run by Festus Niyibizi, the Director, and Simon Karekezi, who is in charge of administration and finance. The staff also includes two social workers: one to find and recruit street children, the other to assist them in rejoining society. The center handles three categories of street children: those separated from their families by war, those orphaned through war or AIDS, and those made vulnerable through poverty.

The center supports about 112 boys from 6 to 17 years old and has ample living space. The children practice good hygiene, and they learn respect for each other and for themselves. One of the primary objectives is to get the children into school. Few of them have had any schooling when they arrive, so they are coached for at least six months before enrolling. Some of the older boys opt for vocational training because they are ashamed to attend school with much younger children. They take literacy classes and then focus on their preferred vocations. After training, they are re-integrated into society, even at relatively humble vocations such as farming or running a small abanyonzi (bicycle taxi) business.

In 1996, FIDESCO received 50 boys without much donor support. When CRS joined the effort a year later, things changed immediately because through the agency, the center now had a reliable source of food. A guaranteed food supply allowed the center to expand. "Without food," says Mr. Niyibizi, "Nothing is possible. With it, anything is possible. Money is collected from Europe, but the contribution of CRS is most important, because it's the food that keeps everything going."

CRS involvement came about after FIDESCO management staff was invited to participate in a CRS training workshop on project management. After the course, FIDESCO prepared a proposal on raising hens for egg production. The proposal was approved, and CRS gave a start-up donation to get started. FIDESCO used part of the money to buy 500 egg-laying hens and to pay the costs of their maintenance. The project was an immediate success, and a surplus of FRW 1.4 million (US$ 2372) was earned.

CRS helped FIDESCO to transform street children into productive members of society and make the organization more sustainable. One boy has completed secondary education and 78 are in school now, 17 of them at the secondary level. Four others who learned vocational skills left the center and are now responsible wage earners and heads of households. Egg production and sales have provided additional food sources while also creating additional revenue.