Fulgence Nkurunziza, 13, has always had a dream of becoming a doctor but the doors seemed to have closed because his family was very poor to the extent of not having capacity to provide him basic needs.
His parents had to search for petty jobs in order to find something to put to the table.
Nkurunziza, who studies in Senior 1 at Groupe Scolaire Kivumu in Rutsiro District, said he felt his dream was slipping away.
He and his three siblings used to go to school without having anything for breakfast, and most of the time they were turned away from school due to lack of school feeding fees, he said.
“We didn’t have uniforms and needed school materials and that would discourage me”, he said.
However, when his family was put under Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP), things changed. VUP is a social protection initiative designed to improve the welfare of the most vulnerable.
“My father has since bought some animals thanks to VUP. My siblings and I can easily get scholastic materials and are now able to eat at school. Now, I have hope that my dream of becoming a medical doctor is alive once again; I only have to work hard in school which I am ready to do,” he said.
“We still have very few medical professionals compared to the needed number. If I become a doctor, I will do everything possible to preserve people’s lives and teach them how to fight malnutrition and stunting using what they have in their gardens,” he added.
An unpaved route
Gilbert Habimana, a senior four student at Groupe Scolaire Rutunga in Gasabo District, met various challenges because of the poverty within his family.
His father lives with disability from the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and his mother was forced to work alone in order to feed the family and find basic needs for them.
“It was very sad to be chased from school because we didn’t pay the little fees needed to eat at school. Even at home, we didn’t eat every day. Many times, I thought about dropping out but I don’t know what held me back,” he said.
Many times, he would go home at noon and refuse to go back to school on an empty stomach. His performance at school was very poor, he recalled.
“But now it is different. My father works in VUP and he tries to pay for school feeding and give me school materials. Now I can plan my future which was not the same case before, thanks to VUP,” he said.
Habimana dreams of helping his family to get out of the first Ubudehe category (reserved for the most vulnerable citizens) to at least the third one, he said.
“I aspire to become an IT engineer and hope I will make it. I wish other kids like me could be put under VUP to be able to continue their studies and achieve their dreams,” he said.
However, some parents under VUP refuse to pay the required fees for their children at school due to poor mindset.
“I know some children who dropped out while their parents are under VUP. I would like to ask parents and the Government in general to make education a priority,” he said.
Some drop out
Charlotte Musabyimana, 17, decided to drop out of school after she failed to overcome many challenges she used to meet in her daily life at school.
Her father has a mental illness and is not able to fend for the family, while her mother has a two-year-old baby, and she is the one who provides everything.
“I dropped out when I was in Senior 2. My mother gave birth to our last born and I saw that she was not able to give me what I needed to continue with my studies,” she said.
When her mother became pregnant, Musabyimana put school aside, she said.
“The salary would go directly to my father’s account and he spent it all without thinking about us. It was impossible to continue with school,” she said.
Later on, her mother started to receive the money as the new head of household, but all these good changes came later, she said.
“I wish I could return to school but still the money we receive from VUP is very little to meet all our needs. I’ve decided to search for better future through other ways like doing petty jobs and participating in saving groups and buying livestock like pigs and goats. My main goal is to buy a cow of my own,” she said.
However, her younger siblings don’t meet the same challenges any more. At least they will attain their dreams and develop themselves though school, she said.
Justine Gatsinzi, the Social Protection Division Manager at LODA, said various studies showed how VUP helped poor families put their children in schools and get school materials.
“When children don’t eat adequately at home, most of the time they drop out or even go into child labour or begging on the street. Helping households to put food on the table and participate in school feeding, children become aspirant and go to school with energy,” he said.