Gisimba after-school program: Grooming learners for success beyond academics

Children from vulnerable families in Kimisigara and Nyamirambo, in Nyarugenge District  have an opportunity to explore their talents. They are also fortunate to be equipped with life skills that are grooming them for proficiency, thanks to the Gisimba after School Programme Initiative (GASPI).

The beneficiaries, who are mostly learners from the age of three to eighteen years, are students from primary, secondary and higher learning institutions. They have access to activities such as arts, painting, handicraft, modern music, sports such as basketball, traditional dance among others.

17-year-old Sam Shaban Kirenga, one of the beneficiaries, says he discovered his talent in music and drumming after joining the programme four years ago.

He says being raised by a single mother didn’t give him the opportunity to enrol in a good school for even accessing basic needs was hard as well.

Beneficiaries are mostly learners from the age of three to eighteen years. Courtesy.

“When I joined the programme, I got to learn a lot, something I was not getting from my school. This has helped me discover my inner talent which I believe together with formal education, will help me fulfil my dreams in future,” he says.

Kirenga is just one of the beneficiaries of the programme that has seen a number of children acquire skills beyond academics.

The programme started after Gisimba orphanage was closed in 2012 after the Government introduced a policy to integrate children who lived in orphanages into foster families.

This programme hence morphed into existence with a purpose of having these children meet daily from their respective foster families while accessing different activities.

Beneficiaries are children from vulnerable families and have mostly experienced traumatic experiences such as abuse, neglect, rejection by their parents, whose parents are alcoholic, family conflicts, exposed to street life among other vices.

With the Government providing access to education to every child, the programme is working to supplement these efforts by ensuring that children (in the programme) are all enrolled in schools. It also ensures to work with public schools with the aim of enhancing the quality of education that could help a child succeed.

Robinson Munonozi, the site coordinator of the programme says in regards with education, they have an early childhood programme that attends to over 60 kids between the ages of three to six.

With this, he says the children get free education and also have access to the nutrition programme as well.

“We believe for any child to excel in academics, nutrition also plays a role especially with young children where malnutrition is common, some of the parents find it hard to afford some of these necessities,” he says.

Under the nutrition programmes, parents too are invited once a week and are taught on how to prepare a balanced meal for their children at home, since some of them don’t have enough knowledge on how to go about that.

For older children in high school and above, the programme has facilities such as a library, computer lab and others for students to come and study at their convenient time, which is mostly after school. Students also have evening preps where they can go for revision and do their homework.

Munonozi explains that since most of their beneficiaries attend public schools that barely have ample infrastructure, this programme serves as an opportunity for them to access what they can’t get from their respective schools and communities, and that this is one way of boosting their education in general.

“We have experts to monitor, guide and teach them basics on all our services that we provide. The programme as well provides tuition fees and some scholastic materials for some learners,” he adds.

He says this is all done to ensure that learners don’t drop out of school because of financial issues as well as other necessities needed for them to be at school.

A safe space for children

GASPI is a place where children from different backgrounds have space where they feel safe. They also have access to counselling services that guide them in the healing process, plus nutritional programmes as well as other educational programmes.

These activities are mostly benefiting learners who come from vulnerable families and hence find it hard to access such services.

Patrick Rutikanga, director of the programme says children have their behaviours monitored too on a daily basis.

Also, because these kids are from different backgrounds where some are orphans, raised by single parents and others were exposed to abuse, neglect among other issues, the programme has its focus on how to deal with trauma.

“We provide services that help such kids be able to learn just like colleagues brought up in a safe environment,” he says.

He explains that for those learners with trauma-related issues, they help them by engaging them in different activities, it helps redress their behaviour.

Most activities are hence meant to equip learners with physical, psychological, and mental abilities as well as social skills.

For instance, he says that music, dance, and art are important because they reshape the child thus helping them have a better way of behaving.

Still on trauma, Rutikanga says they are using a trauma-informed approach to help the victims.

“Children with traumatic experiences need a safe place where they can develop trust, positive relationships and a way of seeing things in a positive way,” he says.

He therefore notes that with the programme, children feel safe and at the same time being in such spaces protects them in a way that after school, they are not idle or find themselves in bad company that might lead them to abuse drugs or get involved in other bad vices.

“We also involve the parents, because they are the ones with the sole responsibility to help children reach their potential. But sometimes this is hard that’s why we involve them to get guidance on the way forward. This is especially necessary for those parents who have adopted kids and they don’t know how to handle them well, the programme comes in to help them understand,” he says.

“If we don’t involve them, we will not be doing a sustainable job. It’s developmental when we come out together as a community to help these young people better their lives and become responsible parents in the future,” he says.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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