As a symbolic gesture to celebrate 20 years of serving and transforming the Rwandan community, over 200 VSO volunteers (including staff members) planted more than 8,000 trees across the 30 districts of Rwanda. In a special Umuganda exercise carried out a couple of weeks ago, at least 200 trees in each district (at government schools’ premises), were planted during a single day. This particular tree planting exercise was symbolic in a way that it connected the current volunteers with the communities that VSO serves in Rwanda. At the same time volunteers came together with the same communities to celebrate VSO’s achievements since it started operations 20 years ago in Rwanda. The exercise that took place on 30th of November 2018 was ran under the theme, “Valuing Volunteering for Development in Rwanda.” It attracted different partners, district and government officials. In Rulindo (EP Rwiri), in Nyamasheke, Rusizi, Nyagatare and even Gasabo, students (mostly from the schools that VSO works with) joined by teachers, cell executive secretaries, parents and the vice-Mayors jointly planted more than 1,500 trees. While the same activity was done across the country, the main tree planting, ‘Umuganda’ activity was carried out in Muhanga at St Etienne Shyogwe and was presided over by the Country Director of VSO Rwanda, Papa Diouf. It was also attended Kangwagye Justus the Head of Political Parties, and Civil Society Department and Fortunee Mukagatana, the Vice Mayor-in-charge of Social Affairs. What VSO volunteers do in Rwanda? Globally VSO made 60 years old moving from a shoe-string operation dreamt up by founders Alec and Mora Dickson, at their kitchen table in 1958, to become an international organization. Globally VSO is working in 23 countries, helping millions of people each year. However since it started its operations in Rwanda in 1998, VSO has heavily invested in inclusive education working across all 30 districts and all 416 sectors in the country. Today VSO volunteers works with all 2,877 government, primaryschools and reaches over 4,500 pre-primary students and more than 1,600,000 primary school learners. This is done through the Building Learning Foundation project, the Strengthening Schools Readiness in Rwanda project and the Itegure Gusoma (Get-Ready-To Read) project. “In the last 20 years we have worked across Rwanda with thousands of children, parents, teachers, head teachers, teacher-trainers, education managers and leaders at local and national level to improve access to quality and inclusive education,” says Papa Diouf the Country Director VSO Rwanda. The institution is funded by institutional donors and foundations including DfID, USAID, UNICEF, and Dubai Cares. Today VSO Rwanda is also engaged with young people through the ‘Adolescent Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights’ project focusing on young people with disabilities, supporting them to take control of their reproductive lives. Additionally VSO is implementing a youth programme to promote active citizenship and employment potential of young Rwandans through volunteering. This program is targeting 10,000 young people in the next 5 years mostly those in rural areas. According to Mr. Diouf, “It’s been 20 great years contributing to the fight against poverty. “We bring people together to fight poverty. Everything we do is mainly because of the power of volunteers that is why we are celebrating them today.” What international and national volunteers have to say! Juanito Estrada (Philippine) “In the hills of the Ruhango District, I learnt more about the process of communal volunteering. I have been volunteering here in Rwanda for just a few months and yet I feel like I have been here all my life. As for what we did this morning, the tree planting and the spirit in which we did it, I can only say that this is a great country”. Hategekimana Jean Claude (Rwanda) “I have worked for VSO as a national volunteer in Muhanga for the last two years and my case is a bit different from other volunteers who are loaded with lots of experience. Before as students, we used to think that volunteering is only for the Foreigners but today we are doing it and that is great for us as Rwandese” Karabo Candera It is three years now as a volunteer. It doesn’t really workout for anyone who is lazy or money hungry. But for me there is fulfillment getting involved in the community. As a volunteer, we try to play a big role in helping the disadvantaged find a place in life by going to them especially in the field of education where I happen to be more involved.