Rwandan culture, among many things, nurtures poise and confidence in society. Such values were instilled in children right from a tender age such that they grew up to be responsible men and women.
It was in this line that Urubohero (peer learning centre) came into existence in pre-colonial times. It was where girls encountered their channel from childhood to adulthood.
The elders, especially mothers and aunts, would convene the girls in a cosy place and the learning would then begin. This was always done in the evening when they were through with house chores. Girls were usually around the age of 13.
Though girls and women have assumed more responsibilities today, Urubohero proved to be a great tool in grooming women with the right values, and with this society, commends a comeback for the platform because of the many advantages associated with it.
Clotilde Umubyeyi, a historian, explains that girls learnt a lot during these sessions, adding that it was through Urubohero, among other platforms, that ethics and values were instilled in society.
The girls learnt about etiquette, hygiene, self-esteem, among other aspects, she says.
“Women were taught to be respectful to all people regardless of their status; they were also trained to always be trustworthy and patient such that they made good wives and mothers,” she adds.
Umubyeyi says that such preparations signified a lot for the family because a girl was able to get proper parenting that equipped her with the right skills to establish a firm home.
“Urubohero was a place where girls were raised right from childhood to when they became young women. They would only graduate from the centre when they started courtship, Umubyeyi says.
Rooting for a comeback
Umubyeyi notes that though the platform was one of the facets that colonialists banned from Rwandan society, there is a possibility of a comeback because some people and institutions are taking initiative to revive it.
Fiona Doreen Ashimwe, one of the finalists during last year’s Miss Rwanda beauty pageant, established a project that aimed at empowering girls through this platform.
With the help of mentors, Ashimwe visits different schools through her project ‘Urubohero’ with the aim of teaching teen girls about sexual and reproductive health and most importantly, core Rwandan values.
In a previous interview with The New Times, Ashimwe said that since society has evolved, it is hard to apply all the things that they used to do back then in Urubohero, however, some aspects are still applicable.
“The purpose of this platform is to nurture girls as future mothers of their homes, with the guidance of their own mothers and aunts. Through this project we could bring back this culture,” she said.
Dr Jacques Nzabonimpa, the director of culture at Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture, applauds all who are taking a step in bringing back this significant tradition, saying that society is yet to reap numerous benefits.
He points out Government initiatives like the evening parents’ forum (though held in a different format), that still reflect values and practices that were held in Urubohero, which is a good step in preserving the country’s tradition.
Nzabonimpa, however, says that as this platform is being revived, it should be set up in a way that fits today’s society.
“It should make an adaptation on how society is, not like how it was before where a girl was trained to be a wife, but to impart her with the skills to be the empowered woman society needs today, and it should not only should focus on girls but boys as well,” he says.
Nzabonimpa believes the programme’s revival will be of great importance for it will come to help address challenges such as prostitution, teenage pregnancy, and drug abuse, among other things.
Umubyeyi agrees with Nzabonimpa, saying that there will indeed be a huge impact on society because the young generation suffers from ignorance.
“This will help us raise young ones based on culture because there is a big difference between someone who was raised in the Rwandan culture and one who wasn’t,” Umubyeyi says.
Francis Wasswa, a traditionalist, says that just like the platform was a place where young girls would meet and learn different skills, the same could still be done today.
“Girls had a chance to interact with each other, something that helped address a number of challenges they encountered on a day-to-day basis. We still need this, women are mothers of the nation and if they are standing firm right from the get-go it means a lot to all of us,” he says.
Many people thought that in the peer learning centre, girls were only taught about sex education, however, it went beyond that. Young girls were equipped with skills for survival, like weaving. Today, a lot can be made out of such a platform, Wasswa adds.
Former Miss Rwanda finalist, Doreen Ashimwe, with SOS Technical School students in Kinyinya after a discussion. / Courtesy photo
What parents say
Florence Numukobwa, a mother, says that tradition is what makes a culture stand out, hence, reviving Urubohero is a remarkable stride in preserving the Rwandan culture.
“It is evident that these centres helped raise well-disciplined mothers and wives, and so society still needs this for our women and men. Without proper up-bringing, values and ethics are at stake and this is why we need more of these platforms,” she says.
Paul Kalema, a parent, is of the view that with the busy schedule that many parents work around in today’s society, the revival of Urubohero would be a solution to many problems.
“Parents barely have time to equip their children with social skills but with this, I believe a stage for a brighter future is set. Our children will learn more of the Rwandan culture and most importantly, be raised to represent our unique values as Rwandans.”