Chance for Childhood has been working in Rwanda since 2009 to support vulnerable children, including those who were orphaned by the genocide or have hearing impairments and learning difficulties.
The Rwandan genocide of 1994 continues to have a lasting impact on this country. With over 800,000 killed in just 100 days, millions of children were left orphaned. Due to the genocidaires’ policy of encouraging HIV+ people to rape victims, many more children have since been orphaned due to HIV/AIDS.
There is also a lot of stigma around deafness and disability in Rwanda and elsewhere in Africa. Parents often hide their children away at home as a result — creating a vicious cycle of exclusion, poverty and further stigma.
Supporting Child Headed Households
Post-genocide, the Rwandan government could not support the large population of orphans through traditional institutional or foster care, so instead encouraged the formation of child headed households (CHH) – groups of orphans living together with no adult guardianship.
These children have to grow up before their time – especially the older ones who, at the tender age of 13 or 14, can find themselves acting as ‘parents’ to their younger siblings.
The heads of these households are usually forced to drop out of education in order to support the younger ones. However, with little education and no training, they are at risk of sacrificing their own futures to take care of their brothers and sisters. It also leaves the young families with virtually no income and facing an uncertain future.
What we’re doing
Our vocational training centre provides training for heads of the child headed households in different vocational skills – including basket making, carving, handicrafts, tailoring and embroidery. These young people have also started to learn how to save, budget, and manage money so, once they leave, they have a practical skill and can start saving for the future and spend their money wisely for their siblings and themselves.
Counselling and mentoring
In addition to practical skills, each child in our programme nominates an adult in their community whom they trust to become their mentor. Mentors each provide counselling, advice and support for the child – helping them overcome the trauma they have experienced both in losing their parents and in the hardship involved in missing out on a normal childhood because they have to ‘grow up’ too quickly .
Education and life skills for deaf and hearing impaired children
There’s very few school facilities set up for deaf children in Rwanda, and parents often choose to spend their precious money on sending their other children to school instead.
Without any means of communication, deaf children are often trapped in a world of their own and are very vulnerable to adults who abuse or rape them knowing there’s no way the child can tell anyone.
What we’re doing
The Deaf Centre
Adjacent to our vocational training centre, we also support a school for deaf and hearing impaired children.
Our deaf school provides a safe haven and environment for learning and development for deaf and hearing impaired children. We not only teach children the national primary age syllabus but we also help them to develop sign language and lip reading (in English and Kinyarwandan!) to help them communicate better with their peers.
We’re really pleased that last year six children from our deaf school had progressed so well in their lip reading skills that they were able to integrate with the local mainstream primary school.
British Paralympian gold medalist and Chance for Childhood patron Sophie Christiansen visited our work in Rwanda. Read her blog on the Guardian here.
Education, Equality and Empowerment for children with disabilites
The number of children and youth with disabilities in Rwanda is widely debated. The lack of reliable data is just one of the many barriers that exist to enabling children and young people get access to the education and support that they need to lead a normal life, free from stigma and with access to education.
Children with special learning needs are excluded from the school system due not only to stigma, but also to inadequate school facilities and inclusive education training for state school teachers.
What we’re doing
In January 2013, we launched our Education Equality and Empowerment project which saw the expansion of our work across three northern, rural districts in Rwanda. First, we have been generating reliable statistics about children and youth with disabilities through a community mapping process.
In 2013, we found 8,117 people living with impairments. 63% were over the age of 25 years. Of the remaining 37% aged 3-25, 841 people were found to have a hearing or communication impairment (many of which were found to have multiple impairments). Download the report here.
We are supporting children with special learning needs by training teachers to provide inclusive education as well as piloting a scheme of classroom based learning support assistants – the only approach of its kind in Rwanda.
We are also working in communities to reduce stigma and improve attitudes towards children and young people with disabilities. In 2013 we reached 6,500 people through our community events and in 2014 we launched a series of school clubs and competitions, designed to promote the inclusion of children with special learning needs through music and drama.