Driven by love and passion to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable children, Cheez Muragwa and Patrick Kiruhura are making their mark in society, giving children in Kagugu, a Kigali suburb, the confidence to dream again and secure a bright future.
The two are the co-founders of Root Foundation, a non-government organisation that aims at creating a world where vulnerable children realise their potential and grow to become valuable community members.
The kids, who are mostly from poverty stricken and broken homes, often run to the streets to find solace. It is from these streets that they find them and take them in.
In a spacious home down the slopes of Kagugu, these kids are dreaming and aiming for greatness. The once frail and desperate are now resolute and unwavering.
The kids the centre are nurtured and cared for.
Take Joel Tuyisenge, for example, who is soon joining the Police force. A few years ago when the streets were his home, he attached little meaning to life, he thought success was for the ‘chosen ones’, he never understood why.
His family was a broken one. He had dropped out of school in primary six when his father went to prison. With no choice left, Tuyisenge chose to seek survival on the streets.
Luckily when Root Foundation opened its doors in 2012, he was welcomed with open arms. They catered for his education needs right from senior one till he completed high school last year.
The 20-year-old says he is proud of the person he has turned out to be.
“Root Foundation has done a lot for me and I am grateful. I didn’t have a sense of direction in life but I am different now. I know what I want to achieve in life and who I want to be, and I am proud that I am slowly becoming a person I admire,” he says.
Children at Root Foundation are imparted with cultural values as well.
He says joining Police is one way he is going to give back to his country. “This is what I have always wanted, to serve my country the best way I can.”
Tuyisenge also plans to join university to further his education.
Oliva Akingeneye is another beneficiary of the foundation. She joined four years ago.
Akingeneye had led a desolate life after dropping out of school in primary five because her mother couldn’t afford school fees any more.
Dance is also encouraged at the centre.
Through a friend, she was connected to Root Foundation. In 2015 she was taken back to school, though when she reached senior two, she decided to take a different lane with vocational studies.
“I want to get hair dressing skills because I have always had a passion for this,” she says. The 19-year-old promises to work hard and take good care of herself and her mother as well.
Root Foundation has over 300 beneficiaries who have access to three fundamental programmes.
The first one is personal development that focuses on the needs of the child after being received at the foundation. Through trust and a close relationship, the children are able to develop their social and mental skills.
The kids have a good time at the centre in Kagugu.
The programme also serves to support children in regaining their faith, self-confidence, passion, and the will to regularly attend school and leave the streets behind.
There is the education programme where the foundation works closely with the parents to avail a favourable environment for the kids’ education.
The third one is the parents’ programme where parents work as intermediators. Parents are reminded of their responsibility and are called upon to encourage their children, work hand-in-hand with the foundation towards achieving healthy development of the children. And together, they strive to rebuild a steady relationship between parents and their children based on mutual respect.
Some of the kids during a painting class.
Why family values come first
Having been raised from this same neighbourhood, Muragwa and Kiruhura decided, out of responsibility, to take part in addressing the issue of street children.
Muragwa says the most valuable asset they impart the kids with is teaching them how valuable family is.
“We want them to know the importance of family, and that it is not the best choice to run away because there is no food at home. They need to know the relevance of sticking together as a family regardless of the circumstances,” he says.
At Root Foundation, kids are encouraged to pursue their passion.
He observes that if kids lack such values, the problems will in turn become a cycle.
“We want to handle this issue from the root, we don’t want to solve the consequences. We need to know why kids choose to go to streets instead of school or home and when you look closer you realise every cause is family-related,” Muragwa says.
“We want them to understand that it does not really matter how much one has, but a matter of believing in family. Let them be willing to fight together, be hungry together, that kind of thinking is what is lacking here,” he says.
“We tell them that being born in poverty is not their choice but dying in poverty is their choice. We show them all the chances they have to make things right, that they can have an education and unlock their talents.”
Kiruhura can’t help but emphasise the beauty of a child growing up with parents where they trust each other and share everything. This, he says, is very important in grooming the future generation.
He also notes that as long as children develop the right mindset such issues will become history. They need to stop wanting to survive for the now and think of the future, he says.
“They need to understand that it is not a matter of what is not there but appreciating the little you have. But kids need guidance to understand how life works; parents therefore need to communicate with them,” he notes.
The kids have a band, Root Brass Team.
Kiruhura goes on to emphasise that these situations are not really about money. He believes the kids are only in lack of someone who can understand them and give them guidance.
“Not even the parents are in the position to play this role, because if they don’t trust them anymore it is difficult to be guided by them. We serve as the models for the kids and mentor them by trying to calm them down and help them realise that they need to be fighters, they need to know that Rwandans are supposed to be resilient.”
Though the journey at times gets tough, he says it’s the success stories that keep them going.
Muragwa says they have come this far because of the success stories they see, the growing together makes them feel super proud and the fact that it’s Rwandans helping fellow Rwandans makes it even more remarkable.
“It’s hard to document everything but I think the deep stories are the ones where the kids weren’t happy but now they are. To some of them, it’s a family, or friends, some of the kids here are best friends. This is the biggest impact of Root Foundation, seeing these kids smile again,” he adds.
Muragwa beams with pride after one of the children was among the top performers in A level exams in 2018.
Kiruhura says that when they see these kids have their lives changed; it pushes them to do even more.
“It is not because we have a lot, we do this out of love. We want to share our hearts with the children and their families. This is why our programmes emphasise inner potential; we train children to understand that whatever they want to achieve it only comes from within, and the commitment to work on it,” Kiruhura says.
YOUR VOICE: CHILDREN SHARE THEIR DREAMS
I want to grow up and become a president. I know that when I study well and complete my studies I am sure I can achieve my dreams. And when I do become president I hope to lead the people well towards development.
Because I love my culture, I want to be ‘Intore’. I want to live a life that depicts Rwandan values at best. I also dream of becoming a doctor such that I treat people just like how they treat me when I fall sick.
Christian Obama Mugisha
I want to be a band leader or trainer; I want to grow in this field such that I go to play in other countries. I also want to study hard; it is my dream to complete my studies. My other wish is that I get proper upbringing.