In 2008, Egide Ruzindana got ‘a vision from God’ — as he calls it — to reach out to homeless children and get them off the streets. Not sure how to go about it, he approached a couple of street kids, hoping to understand them better, and the circumstances that led to their situation.
“At first I didn’t know how to go about it and so I spent the first six months interacting with the kids and building a relationship with them to win their trust.
“I started with 26 kids because I didn’t have the means and was still learning about them. In our discussions, I realised that most them were on the streets mainly because of family conflicts and poverty,” he says.
Together, they thought of something that would unite them, something they could all engage in. They started a football team, and Ruzindana says that the sport eventually exposed the children’s other hidden talents, like dancing and singing.
“The kids were talented, but lacked basic education. They were eager to unleash their talent but failed to because they hadn’t gone very far in school and so no one was interested in them.
“I encouraged the younger ones to continue with school while the older ones took on Technical and Vocational Education and Training related courses, using the available resources,” he says.
During this time, Ruzindana founded ‘Love for Hope’, a Christian-based, non-profit organisation that was established to help rehabilitate street children.
Currently, the organisation takes care of children of different age groups; these include primary, high school and university students. Some graduated and became technicians, artists and hairdressers.
“One of the challenges we face is that we have children who have completed college but they are still unemployed. Some go back to the streets while others join youth centres. They are given tools to use but they are still not prepared to compete in the labour market because they are not fully equipped with skills,” Ruzindana says.
38-year-old Ruzindana, in his research—Youth rehabilitation programmes and their self-reliance, looks at the impact self-reliance can have on the children.
To help them stay off the streets, he set up a salon and other small businesses to measure how ready they were for the job market, enabling them to deal with the problems that took them to the streets in the first place, like poverty.
Last year, in one of their outreach programmes, staff from Kigali Marriot Hotel visited the children at their centre. The children shared their stories, and, they were given tips on life in general, and working in the hospitality sector.
“Staff was touched by the happy faces of the children who seemed more optimistic than disadvantaged. This is one of the principles we instil in these children because we want them to be confident that wherever they are, they can be self-reliant,” he says.
The five-star hotel offered to give the organisation space for the duration of a year to sell crafts made by the children that included paintings and jewellery. The children also used their time at the hotel to learn more about business and hospitality.
“We were able to get Rwf3.4 million as profit which provided tuition for more kids and we were able to get health insurance for 100 kids. This, for me, is an indication that we do not need foreign donations to help our own. We can own up to our problems as Rwandans,” he says.
To expand the centre, Ruzindana partnered with vulnerable women artisans. He felt compelled to empower the women because they were also going through financial problems.
“Family conflicts and poverty were the main reasons the children run away from home, so I realised that it was also important to support the families by teaching the women to empower themselves economically and improve the wellbeing of their families, as opposed to relying on their husbands for everything. This was another way that I could support their children indirectly. I believe that the welfare of families is important,” he says.
Ruzindana is currently seeking to secure garden space to bring more women on board.
He also bought a piece of land in Bugesera, Eastern Province, on which he plans to set up a rehabilitation centre for more vulnerable children. The centre, he says, will include facilities like vocational and training midpoints to equip youngsters with tangible skills that can be used to compete favourably once they join the labour market.