On a Wednesday morning, girls are seen cultivating a small plot at the Hameau des Jeunes orphanage in Musha, Rwamagana District, to plant the seeds of five different varieties of vegetables.
They are members of the worldwide ‘Girl Guides’ movement, under the programme ‘YESS’ (The Youth Exchange South to South) that is hosted by the Rwanda Girl Guides Association (RGGA).
The ‘YESS’ programme is where they exchange young leaders aged 18 to 25 from different countries in a bid to share knowledge.
The girls from across Africa are working with girls living in the orphanage to establish a kitchen garden in one of association’s various initiatives to work with community to improve lives.
Besides working with communities to address different issues, the six-month programme is designed to encourage them to develop their own special personalities, contribute to their communities and form friendships in a positive environment.
Being a girl guide
24-year-old Benedicte Busira from Kamembe, Rusizi District joined the association 13 years ago.
She says, “Ninety per cent of the confidence I have today I gained from being a girl guide. I may have known some things before, but explaining them to people was impossible because my public speaking ability was too low.
“When they find potential in you, they don’t stop pushing you until you develop your talent, regardless of where you come from.
“Girl guides kept pushing me, I tried, maybe I failed sometimes, but they never stopped encouraging me.”
Following international experience from a six-month long youth exchange programme in Uganda, Busira says it helped her land a job at Compassion International a few years later, child sponsorship and Christian humanitarian aid organisation.
Busira is now based in Nkombo, an island situated on Lake Kivu, and because not all the girls got the opportunity to be girl guides, she personally made it her mission to help them.
“I created a group of 13 girls who dropped out of school, and I share with them some of the things I learned with the girl guides regarding reproductive health.”
Alice Marie Claude Bamwe, 28, a girl guide from Kamonyi District, Southern Province, has been a girl guide for 10 years, and it was during her days at Notre Dame du Bon Conseil that her life changed forever.
“I was too shy to talk in front of people even for two minutes,” she says.
Being in the girl guides community raised her confidence, and she became a master of ceremony. After graduation, she worked with the association’s office in Kigali.
During the exchange programme in 2016 that took her to Zimbabwe, she says she “represented Rwanda exceptionally, especially in a programme they call ‘Free Being Me’, which aims at improving self-esteem.
She says being a girl guide gave her understanding, and she eventually got a job as a logistics coordinator and translator at Bersama International, a woman-owned and managed firm that works on fundamental changes to the practices, policies and behaviours that impact young people globally.
Girl guides are not affiliated to any religion, says Bamwe, and that is why the association has members of various religious backgrounds.
23-year old Joy Chilumbu from Zambia came to Rwanda on January 31 this year. She says, “Our initiatives are about improving lives, so, for example, when we came we were doing ‘Green Tech Generation’, we were encouraging people to harvest rainwater for extra use in the house.”
Mitchell Akinyi Oluoch from Kenya chips in, saying that they could not wait for the lockdown to end to start working on the kitchen garden project; as soon as the lockdown was eased, they started in the districts of Kamonyi, Bugesera, Rwamagana and Rusizi.
They, among other things, encourage young people to be the agents of nutrition improvement in the family. Many beneficiaries say the programme has taught them things that they didn’t learn in school.
“Kitchen garden is mainly for food supply, you also get quantity and quality, it is mainly for your health because they are fresh and organic vegetables from your own garden,” Oluoch says.
Being a leader
Germaine Umuraza, the programmes manager at Rwanda Girl Guides Association, says “The association is made of girls and women, it mainly focuses on girls’ education through empowering them to be good leaders. Girl guiding is about being a leader.”
“We train girls so they play a role in building of the country, we partner in implementation of different government programmes, but we also have our own initiatives.
“We sensitise the youth against drug abuse, promote reproductive health education, we also have programmes advocating for environment protection, which we call ‘Green Tech Generation’, covering rainwater harvesting and tree planting,” Umuraza says.
Girl guides in Rwanda have access to different international exchange programmes, which gives the association capacity to send Rwandan girls abroad and host girl guides from different countries.
“Activities before Covid-19 included going to the field to sensitise the youth on different topics, but we did not stop during lockdown.
“During lockdown, the association kept engaging girls via digital platforms.
“We carried out different trainings online, including career guidance, and some learned how to write resumes and create blogs.
“We also continued with our campaigns on hygiene management, and fighting gender-based violence.
Currently, there are five Rwandan girls in the YESS exchange programme abroad, and the association is hosting eight from other African countries.
“No girl should be left out, they should join guides,” says Alice Iradukunda, a Rwandan teen living in the orphanage in Musha. She adds, “We learn to work, we learn to help others, and it is a space for entertainment too.”
Chilumbu says she had no idea that in Rwanda, Kinyarwanda is the language that is mostly spoken, and she has had to learn and embrace various African cultures, through the exchange programme.
“When you join girl guides, you are exposed to many opportunities, and you are taught many skills to help you in your lives,” says Chilumbu who joined the girl guides in 2002.
For 22-year old Aina Cedrine from Madagascar, being a girl guide has helped her be the person she is now. “It is my life,” she says.
Cedrine adds that staying in Rwanda has been a “rich experience” for her, and she wants to take the best practices she has learned from Rwanda back home.
“We are about 13,000 girl guides in Madagascar, and I am happy to be one of them,” she says.
Girl Guides was founded by Baden-Powell in 1909 and was introduced in Rwanda in 1980, it is currently in 145 countries worldwide. So far, Rwanda has 16,000 girl guides.
“Girl guiding is mainly about building your values, and your values transfer to your character and your character transfers to your habit, and that is you, so being a girl guide has strengthened my values.
“We build each other, we interact with each other, and we build our values, our confidence, and our public speaking, we learn to appreciate culture and leadership.
“We have an impact on the future, impact on the young ones — guiding them to walk with good values so that we can make our community a harmonious place to live in,” explains Oluoch.
It is in girl guides’ tradition to give a girl an animal nickname that reflects her character.
Bamwe is called “gazelle eloquente”, or “eloquent gazelle”, and Busira was named “hirondelle calme”, which is loosely translated as “calm swallow”.Follow DeDiosNsabimana