A 300-metre ride on a motorbike from Kabuga town in Gasabo district, Eastern Province, leads one to Hope Vocational Training Centre. This establishment is rectangular in shape, with a small, well manicured garden right in the centre. In brief, it looks like an ordinary Rwandan upcountry high school.
On arrival at this place, I go straight to the director’s office. Innocent Hahirwa, a lanky, soft-spoken fellow, leads me to the tailoring class, which comprises mainly women. Some of them are bent on their respective sewing machines, trying to come up with various creations. Others are standing over tables somewhere in the corner, making necessary measurements on fabrics. All under the watchful eyes of a tutor, they seem too engrossed in their work to even notice our presence.
From here we head to the carpentry class, where we find a bunch of teenage students splitting wood using a heavy duty-motorized saw. Outside, another bunch of students are scrubbing wooden stools using sand paper. These ones, too, are under keen supervision of their trainer.
I visit a few more classrooms before sitting down to quiz Hahirwa on the background of this institution. I later learn that Hope Vocational Training Centre was not established by some business people for purposes of making money. No. It was a noble cause.
The school was founded in 2006 by a nonprofit Christian NGO called Equipping, Restoring and Multiplying Ministries Rwanda (ERM) with an overriding objective of providing survival skills to orphans, widows and generally young people from financially challenged backgrounds. The subjects offered here include carpentry, welding, hair dressing, tailoring, construction and masonry.
“There is no financial gain in this project. For us this is God’s calling to help society’s underprivileged. Students here pay only Rwf1o,600 per term (a term is nine months) and that also caters for their school uniforms and health insurance packages. And upon completion of their courses we award them certificates,” says Hahirwa.
He goes on: “When these young people join us, we not only equip them with life skills, but also try to impart Christian principles in them. So, they leave this place when they are wholly transformed.”
Lionel Uwamariya, a tailoring student, testifies: “Before joining this institution I had practically lost hope in life. Everything seemed to be falling apart. However, I have not only acquired survival skills but also learnt about the existence of God and His kindness. I hope to start a fashion and design store after here.”
The school now wants to apply for a license at the Work Force Development Authority (WDA), so that they can start offering diploma programmers. A plan to open branches countrywide is also in the pipeline.
However, Hahirwa says their biggest challenge right now is lack of enough funds. Hope Vocational Training Centre has inadequate facilities so they cannot handle the overwhelming number of people who apply to join the school, which currently has over 190 students. About the same number of students graduate every year.