Stuck at the crossroads: Centre Marembo’s cry for help falling on deaf ears

Centre Marembo survives on a budget of Rwf3,000,000 a month for all of these far-reaching projects. This is less than half of what many similar centres in Kigali cost to run. But the charity is feeling the pinch and a hike in rent which is due to kick-in in May, could push them over the edge.  A CENTRE which carries out vital work caring for street children is at risk of closure if it does not get more funding.   
L-R : Homeless youth find a safe haven at Centre Marembo which, has become a home away from home ; Women are trained to support themselves through the basket weaving ; The card-making workshop is one of the skills learnt at the centre.
L-R : Homeless youth find a safe haven at Centre Marembo which, has become a home away from home ; Women are trained to support themselves through the basket weaving ; The card-making workshop is one of the skills learnt at the centre.

Centre Marembo survives on a budget of Rwf3,000,000 a month for all of these far-reaching projects. This is less than half of what many similar centres in Kigali cost to run. But the charity is feeling the pinch and a hike in rent which is due to kick-in in May, could push them over the edge.

A CENTRE which carries out vital work caring for street children is at risk of closure if it does not get more funding.           

Centre Marembo, which is based in Gishushu, near Remera, is desperately seeking more money to carry on the work it does with more than 300 street children and vulnerable youths each week.          

It has not been able to run its weekly drop-in centre – where the city’s poorest children can get food, medical treatment and showers - since October last year because it could not raise the money.          

Nicolette Nsabimana, 39, a trained lawyer and centre co-ordinator who has been running the centre for two years,called for support from those who could. 
“Here at the centre we are young and we work hard, we have the workforce and the determination to make the centre a success but we need support.”

“We have had so much impact already with the work we have done and it would be terrible if we had to close,” Nsabimana emphasized, adding, “We are helping to reduce poverty and we need support.”

She is looking for private donors who can help the Centre build a new home, and promises that anyone who does help will have the new building named after them.
Besides the drop-in service, Centre Marembo runs two other important projects:

- a series of training programmes where vulnerable young people can take lessons in mechanics, driving and English and become trained in skills like weaving, sewing and making beads and cards so they can generate an income for themselves.

- and Umongongo House in Kicyiru, a residence for 35 former street boys aged between five and 17 who have been taken in from the streets around the busy Kisimenti shopping district.

The boys are given a home in a safe and clean environment, as well as food, clothing, medical treatment and access to recreational activities. Their school fees are also paid. 

Centre Marembo was set up in 2005 by two students from Sussex University in Brighton, England, Nicola Palmer and Vivenie Niragira. When they graduated they decided to found a project which would help the street children of Kigali and hence Centre Marembo was started with around 50 boys who visited the building every day.

But they quickly realised there was a need to help the young people of Kigali who are over 18 as well, and decided to set up professional training classes to give them a chance of making their way out of poverty.       

Nsabimana said, “To tell someone who is very poor and who needs professional help that because he’s now 18 he has to go, was very difficult.

She said that the centre was unhappy at having to turn vulnerable people back on to the streets. As a result they decided to start a programme for older youths.

“It wasn’t a large programme – we started with just three activities – but now it has been five years and we have built something that expands every year.”

The centre now boasts twice-weekly ‘discussion groups’ where young people meet to debate issues on the genocide, family planning, HIV, the environment, gender and children and youth rights.

“The youth need a relaxed place where they can exchange ideas to help them articulate their thoughts and become more rounded people and think about their futures.”

“It is also a good way to share information with the other young people about health and sex education,” Nsabimana said.

The centre also launched its important Umongongo House project later in 2005.

Nsabimana, who is also part of the Forum for Street Children said, they started with the aim of providing an alternative lifestyle for 35 street boys.

“Many of these vulnerable children did not have anywhere to sleep at night and were living on the streets in Kisimenti, Kimironko market and Sonatube area.

“Some are orphans, some are from families who’s parents are in prison while others come from big familes who are very poor.

“We are like parents to them, and also try to teach them that you can be poor but be respected.

“The boys are very happy here. Before joining us they didn’t have hope and they weren’t proper children. They were just people with no one to love them.

“But they need love and we are trying to change their mentality so they can become children again.”           

The Umungongo House boys – who chose the name of the building themselves - largely joined the project through the Centre Marembo’s drop-in centre, but some were referred by the district and sector authorities and police.

The Centre recently reached a deal with a secondary school in Cyangugu to pay half of the boys’ school fees if they agreed to provide some science text books and volunteer English teachers.

Centre Marembo survives on a budget of Rwf3,000,000 a month for all of these far-reaching projects. This is less than half of what many similar centres in Kigali cost to run. But the charity is feeling the pinch and a hike in rent which is due to kick-in in May, could push them over the edge.           

“What we need most of all is a new building to house all our projects in one place. We are ready to name the centre after anyone who can help us raise the money,” Nsabimana said adding, “We think with £50,000 we can build somewhere big enough for all our projects to grow; it would be easier for us to access government funds for our work if we had our own building.”         

And she is definite about the value of Centre Marembo.
“If we cannot carry on, the 300 people who come to us would lose their future,” she emphasized. “The Umongongo House children who we are putting through school, their lives would be stopped.

“We have made such an impact already, we can’t stop now.”

jennyclover@hotmail.com

 

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