Grace Rwanda: Providing educational support for children and youth

In 2009, two genocide survivors and members of the Rwandan Diaspora, Elizabeth Mujawamalia Johnson and Marie-Louise Kaligirwa, established ‘Grace Rwanda’, a volunteer-run charity based in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. 

It then evolved into a stable organisation, having financed an eight classroom metal roof structure, a 16 room latrine facility, built six mini-libraries and a large kitchen facility for over 1,500 children at Groupe Scolaire Rwinkwavu in Kayonza District, Eastern Province.

“After the classrooms were set, we thought of also giving them a small library. And we started installing one shelf of books in seven schools upcountry.

“It was then that the idea popped and we thought of providing more books in the libraries. In 2013, we met the Mayor of Muhanga around the time they had started building youth centres. We set up the library at Muhanga Youth Centre. Seeing that it would create a big impact, it motivated us to provide more books in all the libraries,” Mujawamalia explains.

Grace Rwanda was involved in a number of projects in schools, including a pilot programme called Kamwa Initiative in 2011, where an elementary school is given two cows to produce milk to boost the health of the children.  

The organisation, however, decided to focus on literacy. Mujawamaliya and her co-founder signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Youth and ICT to equip 21 community libraries across the country under their respective district youth centres. 

15 youth centres have since received books. They hope to have supplied books to the rest of the youth centres by the end of the year before the time frame elapses.

In 2014, the co-founders decided to create a sister organisation that would act as a local NGO, hence, the birth of Ineza Foundation — Grace Rwanda, a philanthropic social enterprise in Rwanda through which Grace Rwanda’s projects are implemented.

Its current programmes aim to improve the quality of education by refining reading skills for children in Rwandan schools through the literacy programme Mini-libraries- Let’s Read Together.

After registering Ineza Foundation, Mujawamalia and her husband decided to leave Canada and move to Rwanda full-time to increase their capacity and be able to assemble an operational team in Rwanda for the Ineza Foundation, so they could be able to implement all the projects for Grace Rwanda.

“Luckily, my husband was retired and he agreed to move back home with me, because we realised it was hard to implement anything when you are not physically present. We had purchased land where we are currently based and in January 2016, we decided to come back.

“We have a lot of equipment and books as donations from Canada. My goal is to continue doing charity through literacy by promoting a reading culture for children, youth and women, and providing reading books and literacy resources to rural elementary and high schools, and through district youth centre libraries,” Mujawamalia says.

However, regarding the books that are donated from Canada, the founders don’t have a say over what they receive.

“This is why we have volunteers to select the right reading material, while the ones that are not appropriate are left. Most of the books that we distribute are self-help books,  or about life in general,” she says.

She adds that they include books in Kinyarwanda given to them by Editions Bakame, a Kinyarwanda Publishing company, so that Rwandans can read the local language.

Despite the fully packed boxes of books that they have in store, Mujawamaliya notes that they still do not have enough books to supply to all the libraries.

“Beyond the libraries, Ineza Foundation still continues to supply these books and go further into development projects. However, we need to replace old books that get torn and we need to be able to deliver a variety of them for the readers,” she says.

More projects underway

While Mujawamalia is running the NGO in Rwanda, her partner Kaligirwa runs the operations of Grace Rwanda in Canada, which strives hard to transform each community school, one at a time, by providing solutions for education, wellbeing, health and life skills for children and youth.

Using the land that the NGO acquired, they will be building a multipurpose hall, bistro shop and big library. The social enterprise will aid in building capacity for women and youth through trainings, and providing microloans for cooperatives and small business/enterprise start-ups.

“Through Ineza, the plan is to create and operate an ‘Employment Training Centre’ and ‘Ecolodge’ called the Centre de Formation Twifashe, in Kigali. This centre will funnel proceeds to sustainably fund Grace Rwanda’s literacy and community development work within Rwanda.

“It will provide youth and women with entrepreneurship skills so that these trainees in turn can find employment. This way, we could improve education, empower the youth and women, and increase literacy and social equality for participants,” Mujawamalia explains.

In the meantime, they are creating small reading clubs where kids and the youth can go and read, and they provide sports equipment to promote game competitions.

Mujawamalia is also a certified ambassador for ‘Days for Girls International’, a global movement that prepares and distributes sustainable menstrual health solutions to girls.

She intends to use her skills to train other women in making reusable sanitary pads that are ecofriendly and are a solution to girls who cannot afford sanitary pads.

“I did my first training in Kimisagara but I intend to involve other women to make money from it by teaching them how to sew the towels using the sewing machines that were donated to us. We also trained women to sew bags to regenerate money for themselves,” she says.

Esperance Mushimiyimana began volunteering at Ineza Foundation in 2016. A painter, she says she decided to volunteer at the organisation after she was taught how to read and make crafts.

“I can now generate more income through the bags that I make and I read to the children, because I have learned the value of reading,” she says.

Joel Anderson, a Swedish student volunteer with Ineza Foundation, commends the literacy initiative by the organisation and is inspired by the results, even when the organisation is not yet financially set.

“I believe that education is key for every country and the first step is being able to absorb knowledge through reading. The fact that this organisation is charity-based but is able to teach children how to read and write is impressive, and it’s nice seeing the children enjoy themselves on sports day. I believe that if Ineza Foundation could get more funding it would make a huge difference in people’s lives,” he says.

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