Rwanda’s population is currently at 11 million. The ongoing ‘In a world of 7 billion and 7 billion actions’ campaign, is addressing different issues concerning Rwanda’s population.
Victoria Akyeampong is the Resident Representative of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Rwanda. Ghanaian by birth, she has widely travelled and worked in Rwanda since July 2010.
In an exclusive interview Akyeampong explains the different issues affecting population growth in Rwanda.
On the projected statistics that Rwanda’s population would double by 2025, she said: “It’s not an issue of numbers or space; it’s an issue of how the country will be able to meet the needs of the double population within the space available.”
“It’s the social, cultural and economic development available that matters. This must match the needs of the growing population and that is when the rights and the dignity of the people are observed.”
While addressing population growth, it is the social and economic policies put in place by the government that is part of substantive development.
“The importance of population studies is that it allows the country to have a better perception on how various components of population growth influence policy decision making. Informed decisions are made after the data collected during population studies is used to determine what is required to meet the needs of the population,” Akyeampong explains.
She adds that UNFPA is working with the National University of Rwanda, so that students can integrate population studies in their ongoing courses.
“We are planning to design a concept paper which is like a proposal to the National University of Rwanda to help them establish population studies at the Masters level,” she disclosed.
Akyeampong says that she is a living example of the approach and policies that supports women empowerment as a solution to controlling population growth.
“Indirectly, when a woman is empowered in terms of education, skills and opportunities to get jobs and all this delays the time a girl would want to have a baby. The delay allows the woman not only to develop physically but also to have a career and an income thus gives them the ability to raise the child adequately,” she expresses.
The way culture and social norms pressurize women to procreate is challenging whether they are strong physically to get married or not.
“There are instances where we deal with women that are HIV positive who still insist on having children despite the risk involved. This is due to cultural norms that have made them feel that without having a child, you are nothing. Therefore, they prefer having children and die in the process than not having any at all,” Akyeampong said.
She speaks about the challenges she meets in her work.
She said: “I wouldn’t call them challenges but I consider them opportunities. For instance, 60 percent of the Rwandan population is under the age of 24 years, therefore finding people who have experience in the different fields is a challenge. This gives me the opportunity to work with individuals that I come across to build their capacity.”
The joyful and eloquent Akyeampong is fascinated with the passion her colleagues put in their work.
“The special thing that keeps me going in my work is to know that I have impacted a life. I am not thinking about big things but small things. For instance, knowing that I have influenced the life of a boy or girl, who prays to God thanking Him for what I have been able to do for them, such as protection from sexual abuse because of the advocacy we make. Making the difference is what keeps me going,” Akyeampong expresses.
Akyeampong says her dreams shaped her life for the best.
“I was a rebel in the making (she laughs); I always wanted to go to United States of America because everybody in my family did their Bachelors Degree in Ghana but for further studies, my parents would send you abroad,” she said.
She wanted to pursue her first degree in the USA because she would not stand the kind of lifestyle girls at University (in Ghana) led in order to live up to society’s expectations.
“Most girls even those from a humble background would end up going out with sugar daddies. Seeing people who I knew ending up like that, I vowed that there is no way has to conform to such things. Going to USA answered my prayers and I’m thankful to God,” she recalls. She got married at 30 while staying in the USA although she divorced later due to circumstances.
“Sometimes one makes choices, and the cultural issues and different background comes to play, but when you are in USA one can’t see that. However, when you go home you realize that a different background influences your relationship. In Africa marriage is not with only the person but it’s also with the family and for me that didn’t workout very well,” Akyeampong said.
After her divorce, she had to look after her children single handedly and says it was challenging to raise children as a single mother.
“I have been a single mother for over twenty years. I think when you see my daughter and son; anyone will be able to judge how well I have done. I believe that I have risen to the occasion of single motherhood,” Akyeampong expresses.
She further adds that it is not easy to be a single parent and it is something she does not recommend for anyone to go through.
“For me it has been a life sacrifice in the sense that I had my children when I was in my early thirties and at the same time I was a professional. In this respect, I was everything to my children. I had to live with them in seven different countries,” she explains.
Despite all the challenges, Akyeampong attributes her success to the will of God determination and a sense of purpose, the direction one wants to take in life and being ready to fight all odds.
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