Miss France 2000 and founder of Maisha Africa Association, Sonia Rolland Uwitonze, is helping Gisimba Memorial Centre, a former orphanage in Nyamirambo Sector, Nyarugenge District, continue its initial mission of preserving child rights.
Since 2001, the actress and fashion model has participated in various activities aimed at helping children in Rwanda, especially Genocide survivors.
The inspiration, she said, came during her visit to Rwanda in 2000 as Miss France – when she was touched by orphans who headed families.
When she returned to France, Uwitonze started Maisha Africa Association, which has since organised events and conducted fundraising toward various children activities.
Ntarama in Bugesera and Kinyinya and Kimironko in Gasabo District and other parts of the country are neighbourhoods where Maisha Africa Association has touched people’s lives.
Uwitonze was born in Rwanda in 1981, from the union of a French father and a Rwandan mother. They fled the country in 1990 due to safety concerns, especially since her mother was Tutsi.
“I’ve been inspired by the fact that I’m Rwandan. We left this country in bad conditions. This is my way of contributing towards national development,” she said.
A basketball/volleyball court and the renovation of the existing compound at Gisimba Memorial Centre were officially launched yesterday, thanks to Maisha Africa Association.
“I hope it’s going to help children to develop their inner talents, the idea was to turn this centre which used to serve as an orphanage into something useful for the children,” she said.
The money that has been used to rehabilitate the centre has been raised during the gala event of celebrating 15 years of Maisha Africa Association, Uwitonze said.
Gisimba Memorial Centre has been home for vulnerable children for 36 years, including Genocide survivors after 1994. In 2015, it was closed in line with the national programme of “tubarere mu muryango.”
“This was just a ground, it was not paved. When it rained, children would play in the mud. Fortunately, Maisha for Africa has come and helped us to do the necessary changes in order to make the centre more modern and child friendly,” said Damas Gisimba, the head of Gisimba Memorial Centre.
Everyday, at least 150 children aged between four and 18 years freely access various activities of the centre.
“We most of the times receive children from poor families, their parents go to search for food and they remain alone in the streets. We tell them to bring them here and we look after them while developing their minds,” Gisamba said.
During holidays, the centre hosts children camping programmes with various activities destined to detect talents and help them relax, he added.
Ingrase Marebe, a 12-year-old who frequents the centre, said they have many activities and schedule to follow under the guidance of supervisors.
“We are trained in different fields like traditional dance, drawing, basketball, volleyball, how to behave in public and other different domains,” she said.