Sixty children, 10 professional journalists and 15 days was the requirement needed to train child journalists in Gatsibo district in the Eastern province of Rwanda.
They would be empowered at the end of these days to in turn produce sensible news stories. These are not just any stories, but stories that can pass for publication in a newspaper or, on the airwaves of a radio station.
In a cultural setting where children cannot speak in the presence of elders unless summoned to, Rwandan children had for long been denied their rights and freedom of expression.
At a time when Rwanda is fast tracking towards development, children cannot be ignored. Being the majority since they take up 60 percent of the population, empowering children and youths is inevitable for Rwanda to achieve its vision hence, the need to train and empower them in Child rights and reconciliation through the Media.
In 2008, thirty youth were also trained in a programme dubbed, ‘Youth Empowerment Through Arts and Media’ (YETAM) where children in this district were given the opportunity to express themselves through drama, songs and film.
Under the umbrella of Plan Rwanda International, a Non-Governmental Organisation that advocates for children’s rights, children’s voices can be heard.
According to Chrystel Intaramirwa, the Child Rights Advisor for Plan Rwanda, the need to actively involve children in Media programmes as a tool to empower them is a sure way towards promoting children rights and reconciliation.
“Given the context of our country, radio and print are the most accessible and effective channels of communication and this makes them the quickest way to reach all people,” Intaramirwa said.
Gatsibo district according to the Child Rights Advisor is just one of the selected regions with many vulnerable children. Its selection was based on a needs analysis.
In the needs analysis, an area was chosen after comparison was made on the number of vulnerable children present. In other words, as compared to Kigali city, there are more vulnerable children in Gatsibo district than in Kigali city.
With the sole purpose of helping children advocate for their own rights, Intaramirwa said, “Active participation is what we needed. That’s why the involvement of trained journalists who specialized in Child Media programmes was necessary.”
A 10 man team of both print and radio journalists were capacitated through intensive trainings as a way of equipping them to effectively train the child journalists.
Furaha Hakizimana one of the trainers who works with Heza, a radio and print media house that is specializes in youth and children issues in Rwanda said that she was impressed that the children from upcountry who are usually not given much attention could learn and master the basic skills of journalism.
“Every child is able to express themselves through media,” Halizimana said, “…all they need is an opportunity to do so.”
For the sixty child journalists, the experience was so new and interesting. What was most inspiring was the hunger and willingness they had to learn how to report stories.
These children were trained in basic reporting skills, ethics of journalism, photography, information gathering, radio production as well as how to report on Child Rights and reconciliation.
By the end of the training, the children were expected to produce or write an article that would be broadcasted on a radio station or printed in a newspaper.
Modeste Indashimwe, one of the student child journalists, studies at Kiziguro Secondary School, in Gatsibo. He was able to compile a radio news story that focused on former school dropouts who are now studying English at a catch up centre.
“Learning how to report is a big opportunity for me to speak out on behalf of other children. If we as children report on issues that affect children rights and reconciliation, then more people will understand why it’s important for us as children to be heard and given our rights,” he said.
Partricia Ingabire, another child journalist, said that being able to report is a onetime experience that she would never have gotten elsewhere at her age.
“I intend to use what I have learnt to also let other children in my village know that they can be able to do anything as long as they are given a chance to learn,” she said.
For most of the child journalists, the dream they had was almost the same, to become professional and ethical journalists in the future. They want their voices to be heard not only in Rwanda but around the world.
However, these young dreams to become a reality will require more than just training. The challenge according to Intaramirwa, the Child Rights Advisor, is keeping the child journalists motivated, inspired and sustained.
“Training these children alone is not enough. They need to in turn develop and sustain the skill they have learnt and that’s why a Media Centre will be established in a school setting towards the end of this year.”
The information centre will be fully equipped with the Internet as a tool of learning and with materials that facilitate news production. Equipment like computers, cameras, recorders among others will be available for the child journalists to use.
Besides these, the centre will also include staff and mentors, who will assist the children to produce a print newspaper or magazine and run radio shows that will be aired on various radio stations.
With all the available resources, these young journalists will be the link that will keep all Rwandan children across the country connected as they voice out their issues loud and clear through the Media.