How one young woman is giving hope to vulnerable school girls

Small acts of kindness can make a huge difference in the world; indeed this is the story of 22-year-old Fionah Umulisa, a university student who has transformed lives of rural girls through small deeds like mobilising scholastic materials and other basic needs.
Umulisa (at the back) with some of the girls who recieved school requirements. (Photos by D. Mbabazi)
Umulisa (at the back) with some of the girls who recieved school requirements. (Photos by D. Mbabazi)

Small acts of kindness can make a huge difference in the world; indeed this is the story of 22-year-old Fionah Umulisa, a university student who has transformed lives of rural girls through small deeds like mobilising scholastic materials and other basic needs.

Having grown up in a humble setting, Umulisa witnessed the struggle her parents went through to give her an education, and this became her biggest motivation later in life. She understands what vulnerable girls in rural areas go through and is working towards making a difference in their lives.

Her project has so far helped ten girls from Rutsiro District; she particularly focuses on young ambitious girls who come from less privileged families. The girls receive school materials such as pens, books, sets and other essentials like pads, soap and Vaseline, among others. Umulisa dreamt of doing this since she was in high school.

 “This initiative came to my mind when I was still in high school, I came from a not-so-privileged family, my parents were not educated and they struggled to meet my education needs and general welfare, but what they wanted more than anything was to see me attain an education,” Umulisa says.

Umulisa, at some point, put her own struggles aside and focused on what other girls were going through, as their parents didn’t have any source of income and few made it to class as a result of not having certain basic materials.

This motivated her even more, because, she believes, such obstacles force young women to lose focus and steer away from their ambitions.

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Umulisa posing with one of the girls

Umulisa says that some of her classmates in high school would go to school without essentials like sanitary pads or soap, sometimes almost nothing. She thought it was the reason they didn’t do well in class, or utilise their full potential. It saddened her and this is how she thought of helping rural girls.

“I felt like I had a debt to pay towards building my community and wondered how I would do it. When I got a scholarship to study in Mauritius, I knew I had to give back to my country, however small my initiative would be, as long as it made a difference to society and that’s how I came up with this idea,” she says.

Umulisa believes that when you educate a girl, you educate society, that’s why she is determined to see young women access the necessary education.

“I am passionate about girls; that’s why I chose to help vulnerable school going girls. I believe we can build communities, be change makers, though there are still some gaps to be filled,” she says.

Starting off the initiative was not a walk in the park since she had no funds or an income to facilitate her, but, she took a leap of faith.

Securing an internship late last year at Rwandaonline paved way to bringing her initiative to reality. She has been helping the girls during her three-month long internship and recently returned to Mauritius to finish her course.

“When I reached the second week of my internship, I asked for the floor to pitch an idea, fortunately, the company had the same vision of building the community, everyone was supportive and that’s how I raised funds.

“I value education a lot, that’s why I did something about it; I looked for ten girls who are evidently full of potential but lacked resources to get education. I started with those in Rutsiro but I want to cover the whole country God willing,” she adds.

She hopes to do this once every year but also plans on structuring how to help these girls become self-reliant through training them on being job creators.

Umulisa says that she is doing this because of the undying love she holds for her country and that she will put all the ideas and knowledge she has just to see that the youth utilise the country’s good governance to build the nation.

“I love helping. I love building a community. I believe that girls should have an education, they should be heard and be given a floor to express their ideas,” she says.

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The girls lacked necessities such as sanitary pads. 

What the beneficiaries say    

13-year-old Agnes Uwikuze says that if only there were more people like Umulisa, the world would be a better place. She truly appreciates her work, saying that if people would understand what girls in rural areas go through, may be more would lend a helping hand.

“It is hard getting such requirements that’s why what Fiona did was really helpful to us. We have lots of challenges, most of our parents are mostly peasants and have no income; they can’t afford such to the extent that we study on empty stomachs with barely anything to eat,” she says.

Though life is hard, Uwikuze is determined to only aim for the sky. She has dreams of becoming a medical doctor.

“I have the courage and hope that I will make it, I want to study hard and become a medical doctor to help treat the sick, and I want this because I see many people suffering with sickness yet I feel I can help when I study and qualify as a doctor. Girls should be courageous and determined to never let the hurdles they meet challenge them,” she says.

Elizabeth Uwiragiye has been raised solely by her mother because her father is in prison; life hasn’t been easy for them either. She says that Umulisa’s initiative was timely because she offered help at a time when they needed it the most.

“I am so happy and I wish more people with such caring hearts would reach out to us. I really want to study and go to university only that I am faced with a lot of challenges, however, my dream is to finish school and become someone responsible who can be helpful to my family,” the 18-year-old says.

16-year-old Josiane Niyishirimbere also commends what Umulisa did for them, saying that if there is anything hard for girls in rural areas, it is requirements for school, most especially sanitary pads.

“Our parents have lots of responsibilities yet with few resources, like at school, we go hungry and study on empty stomachs, and this obviously affects our studies. When we have our periods, we have to skip school because we don’t have sanitary pads. Home is very far from school, I get there late, it is risky for me to be out after dark,” Niyishirimbere narrates.

She hopes that one day, things will turn out for the better and that they’ll have better living conditions.

“I want to be helpful to society, to my family and my fellow girls who are not lucky enough to have resources. I will do this because I have experienced the same and know how hard it is,” she says.

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School materials given to the girls. 

Parents applaud the initiative

Manihira Mpayabandi, one of the parents of the girls appreciates what Umulisa did for her daughter, saying that she put a heavy burden off him and that he can only wish her the best.

 “That young girl helped me a lot as a parent; you know catering for all these children is hard since I have no stable income but my dream is to see my children go to school. We wish more kind-hearted people can come up to help us,” Mpayabandi says.

Jean de dieu Ntawigenera, a father to one of the girls applauds the generous actions of Umulisa.

He says life in the rural area is really hard because even getting seedlings for farming is a hustle. His children sometimes go without certain requirements and it hurts seeing them suffer.

“I have four kids, three are in school and one is not, it’s hard taking care of them, I am very happy about Umulisa’s initiative, because some children are brilliant and need all the assistance they can get.

“My child is a very brilliant girl, ever since she started school she has always been the first in class. I wish she gets all the luck to complete her studies. And I also wish more people come up to help us,” he says.

Umulisa returned to Mauritius but plans to continue with her initiative when she is done with her course.

Umulisa is pursuing a degree in social sciences at African Leadership University in Mauritius.

 

How best can rural girls get assistance?

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Umutoniwase

Well, I think a little mobilisation can be of great help towards these girls. Because it’s hard for one person to provide them with all the resources they need, one can always make use of social media to mobilise for funds. This way, you can reach out to so many and make a huge impact.

Flora Umutoniwase, former Miss Rwanda contestant

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Kyomugisha

I think more non-government organisations should come up to look out for these girls. Just as they cater for children or women, they should come out to help these girls because it is evident they go through a lot. Important issues like education should be prioritised for them since it’s the only way they can transform their lives.

Rose Kyomugisha, Businesswoman

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Mwangachuchu

The only way rural girls can be empowered is by training them in vocational skills like weaving, tailoring, catering and so many other things. And for those who want to continue with education, they should be given small loans or grants to study and later, they can pay back the organisation that sponsored them.

Claudine Mwangachuchu, makeup artist

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Karungi

Those girls should be educated because this way, they will gain skills that will help them avoid poverty. Also, sensitising them on important topics like sexual education can help them avoid unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Scovia Karungi, housewife

 

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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