Emmanuel Nshimimana was intent as he focused on cutting out a shape to make a Christmas card. He was trying to make as many cards as he could to sell so that he could get money to take him through this year’s festive season.
Unlike many other children, 18 year old Nshimimana is one of the 180 children who live at Gisimba Memorial Centre, an orphanage located in Nyamirambo.
Weeks prior to Christmas, activity filled the classrooms with children and youth who were engrossed in various artistic and creative activities that ranged from making paper necklaces, bracelets, Christmas cards and toys to painting.
“I use papers to make these Christmas and New Year cards. I learnt how to make different cards last year. We sell them to visitors or look for market in shops outside,” Nshimimana said.
Nshimimana said that his Christmas wish was, “for people to come and buy their cards for gifts.”
These children had their Christmas spirit about as they crafted various accessories, with high hopes that someone would come and buy a gift or card to give back to their loved ones.
Bosco Bakunzi, a 24 year old professional Rwandan artist said the children were all under, the ‘Imena Project’ meaning, ‘A new beginning.’ Being a creative artist and painter, Bakunzi initiated the project and has been working with the children for over a year and a half now.
Over this period of time, they have been meeting three times weekly in groups of three who specialize in card designing, painting and making necklaces.
“I have been teaching them to paint, to make creative accessories like the paper necklaces and bracelets as well as designing handmade cards,” Bakunzi said.
An orphan of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi Bakunzi says Gisimba Memorial Centre (GMC) has been his home since childhood.
In 1994 Bakunzi was sheltered with dozens of other fugitives. Established in the 1970’s within the Gisimba family home, by grandfather Gisimba, the orphanage looked after orphans in the community.
At the time of Gisimba’s death, his son Pierre Chrysilogue continued his father’s tradition and took up other 18 orphans. When he died, he left them in the care of Damas Mutezintare Gisimba who has kept his grandfather’s legacy to this day of helping destitute children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, the Genocide and other issues.
“These children not only need financial support, they also need to know that people outside the GMC walls care for them,” Bakunzi said.
Bakunzi emphasized that the ‘Imena Project’ was introduced not only to keep the children and youth busy during the long vacation, but to empower them to develop their various skills while at the same time earned financially.
As a result, an exhibition room was established to showcase the children’s finished work. Bakunzi also said a children’s art exhibition will be organized in February 2010.
According Ildephonse Niyongana, the caretaker of GMC, the idea behind this creativity was to let the youth become business minded by learning various ways of generating income.
“We do not want children to be completely dependent on donations but we encourage them to get involved in creativity because it generates side income for the,” said Niyongana.
Already their hard work is paying off slowly; after selling their products, these young talents have purchased their own paper cutter that simplifies their work.
“I appreciate all the efforts of those in the community who have been helping and supporting the vulnerable children. During this festive season, I encourage those who are well placed to always think of the children, get involved and buy their quality products as a way of support,” the caretaker said.
Among the challenges faced by the GMC children, Niyongana said was the financial crisis that crippled donor support as well as the lack of awareness of the situation of the children.
“Compared to the general population, these children are very few. If every individual contributed as little as they could, they can make a big difference in the lives of these children,” he said.
On a brighter note, Niyongana revealed that they will be celebrating 13 years of existence tomorrow Saturday.
With various musicians, artists and well wishers, all those who passed through the orphanage will be partying at GMC grounds.