On June 16, the International Day of the African Child was celebrated in Rwanda under the theme “Isibo: A pivot to child development”. “Isibo” is an administrative system under a village composed of a few households. According to children’s rights activists, there is still more to be done in terms of promoting children’s rights in society, by use of a trauma-informed care approach to help children. Patrick Rutikanga, Director of Programs at Gisimba Memorial Centre, said that there is need for a trauma-informed policy, considering that many children whose rights are violated face trauma that needs healing. The centre located in Nyamirambo is an after-school centre for disadvantaged children. Formerly, it was the oldest and best-known orphanage in Rwanda set up during the 80s by Peter and Dancilla Gisimba. It also catered for children who were orphaned during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. However, in 2016, the government began closing orphanages, placing the children under foster care and adoption in families. The centre has since become an after-school centre for disadvantaged children. Kids take a snack at the centre. On International Day of the African Child, the centre celebrated the day by taking into account nutrition in children’s development. According to Rutikanga (the oldest son of Gisimba), the centre has a trauma-informed after school programme with about 150 children from the surrounding community aged 7 to 18, and 54 kids up to the age of six in the early childhood programme mainly from single parent households. “These children have a variety of issues. We have kids who were abandoned by their parents, and some whose parents had split because of conflict, and they suffered mental problems caused by abandonment. Such kids need a safe haven. They need caregivers to heal from the trauma. “We have children who have been sexually abused either by their family members or people in the community. We have kids from single mother homes. They receive care through after-school programme activities that help them learn and behave. Some have trans-generational trauma,” Rutikanga said. The centre celebrated the day by taking into account the importance of nutrition. A child’s life matters, he said, and children’s rights continue to be violated which requires society to understand and play a role in keeping them safe. “As Rwanda transitions from orphanages to foster-care schemes, it is important in our system of child care in Rwanda to adopt a trauma-informed approach. That means caregivers should be well equipped with knowledge and scientific backgrounds that help them understand a traumatic brain of the child so that they are able to track their behaviours and be able to help them,” he said. Educators at school, foster families and biological families, should have a trauma-informed approach because that would help them manage issues around children like sexual abuse, he said. Nutrition According to Rutikanga, International Day of the African Child should remind society that children are the future managers of the world and that nutrition plays a big role in brain development. “This is a day to remind ourselves that children are very important in our lives in the entire world. We have a nutrition component as part of the Early Childhood Programme and after-school programme. Our intervention is really based on a trauma-informed approach. We are using trust-based intervention which has three main principles, namely, connecting principles, empowering principles and correcting principles,” he said. He explained that the empowering principle has a physiological strategy which allows caregivers to understand that children must have nutritious meals. “For example, it is important for such kids to drink water and take healthy snacks after two hours to help their brain. Parents in the community have to understand nutrition value and that a village kitchen is a very good initiative to eradicate malnutrition. Parents come to the centre every Saturday to learn how to improve nutrition for children in the community by preparing meals,” he said. He explained that if kids are malnourished in the first years of their life, it negatively impacts their overall development. “It is important that they have nutritious meals. If not, it can affect the five Bs. These Bs are brain, biology, behaviour, belief and body. This means overall development and cognitive skills are hindered,” he said. Solange Nyambo, a caregiver, says that malnourished and hungry children struggle with learning, adding that children whose parents are in conflict also do not perform well in school. She urged foster families to learn about the kids’ behaviours so as to learn how to raise them based on their history. “The way you manage a kid raised in a family and in an orphanage requires learning their behaviours and managing them,” she said.