Thousands of youngsters have benefited from Esther’s Aid by attaining training in culinary art, tailoring and arts and craft. Paul Mukeshinema, who currently works at Kigali Serena Hotel, is one of them.
27-year-old Mukeshinema has been working as a chef at Kigali Serena Hotel for the last three years.
“When I completed senior six in 2009, I didn’t have the resources to further my studies in university. But one lucky day in 2011, I happened to pass by Esther’s Aid premises in Kcyiru when I saw huge pictures displayed at the windows of the premises that attracted my attention. When I walked into the gate to take a look at the pictures, I was welcomed by Mama Clare,” Mukeshinema narrates.
Video: NGO Esther's Aid Culinary Arts School changing lives. Source: The New Times/YouTube
“I greeted her in Kinyarwanda and her response immediately made me realise that she was not fluent in the language so I switched to English. I asked her about the pictures and what Esther’s Aid was about and she was patient enough to explain to me all I wanted to know. I expressed the desire to join and she told me the programme was only for orphans and disadvantaged children”.
Mukeshinema, who was an orphan himself, had to bring a document from his village, cell and sector to prove that he was indeed an orphan and fit to be enrolled at Esther’s Aid during the 2011 intake.
“After a few months of training, I was able to secure an internship at Kigali Serena Hotel and later attained a full time job before I graduated at Esther’s Aid in 2012. I’m so grateful for the offer I was given at no cost because now I’m earning a living from it. I’m also happy to say that I’m what I am today, thanks to Mama Clare,” Mukeshinema says.
Esther’s Aid, a non-government organisation, was founded by Clare Effiong, fondly referred to as Mama Clare, who first came to Rwanda in 2000 with a calling to carry out missionary work.
Thousands of vulnerable youth in Kigali, especially orphans, have been nurtured by her for the last 15 years.
“When I came to Rwanda, I can honestly tell you that I didn’t know anyone here nor did I know too much about Rwanda. Nobody invited me, it was just a calling I had as a Christian to come and serve here,” Mama Clare narrates.
She was born in Nigeria and studied in the United Kingdom but has spent most of her years in New Rochelle, New York as she was a diplomat before starting Esther’s Aid. She is not married but she adopted two sons.
“The first two weeks I spent here, I visited different places and this is when I had different encounters with street children. With another Christian friend that I had met in Kigali, I decided to follow these children to see where they lived. We walked into a bush and realised it was a dumping site and I saw hundreds of them. This broke my heart and I started talking to them with my friend who translated for us,” Mama Clare explains.
“One of the children, Justus Uwayesu, told me he wanted to go to school. So I brought this child from the Nyanza dumping site and requested my Christian friends to take care of him when I went back to New Rochelle. He started school and I made it my business to get a way to help the other children I had seen at the dumping site.”
Last year, Justus Uwayesu was enrolled as a freshman with a full-scholarship at Harvard University.
“When some of the street children saw Justus in uniform, going to school, they asked him what had happened to him; he explained to them that I was helping him. They asked him when I was coming back to Kigali so that they could meet me; he told them he would alert them when I came back.
“One day in 2002 when I got back from America, hundreds of street children from Nyanza dumping site came to our offices in Kicukiro and even blocked the roads that even police tried to intervene. When I talked to them, they told me they also wanted to go to school. Media outlets came to cover what was happening and officials even asked me how I was able to attract all those street children. This is when the idea of skills development, trainings and empowering programmes came into existence. These street children became the pioneers of Esther’s Aid educational programme,” Mama Clare reveals.
Each year, over 120 youth enrol for a 15-month training course in culinary art, tailoring and art craft , with a three month internship training arranged with hotels and restaurants in order for students to gain hands-on experience in an actual working environment.
“We work with the sector and district officials of Kacyiru Sector, Gasabo District, who provide us with a list of vulnerable youth that require the trainings. Before the youth come here, they have to come with a document to attest they are orphans and then we interview them before they enrol in the programme,” says Mama Clare.
Some of the youth are either school dropouts, while others are students who have failed to secure admission at university because of a variety of reasons.
“This programme targets youth between the ages of 15-25 to help them get employed in either hospitality or design industry, to generate their own income. When the youth are empowered, they empower their community and the nation. It has been a successful and sustainable programme that 60 per cent of the students get permanent jobs immediately after internship,” Mama Clare excitedly adds.
Esther’s Aid employs about 15 permanent staff and the youth benefit from the trainings at no cost.