Former street kid leads by example in Rwanda

Former street kid leads by example in Rwanda

 By Callum Henderson, Director and Founder of Comfort International

After one year the Gasanze street kids project run by an ex-street kid is proving that changed lives change other lives. A one-year evaluation indicates radically changed outcomes for previously unschooled rough-living children.

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In 2007 a young teenager called David Gasana joined Comfort International’s only Street Kids Rescue project at the time, run by partners The Living Church. David had lived in drains beside and under Kigali’s roads, been shot while breaking in to premises, and finished up in jail 14 times by the age of 12. It wasn’t a promising start to life. After entering the Street Kids Rescue Friends of Jesus project despite an occasional aberration (he managed to steal the church pastor’s car and promptly crash it), as the years went by David began to show an aptitude for helping younger project members. He became a project volunteer and showed himself capable and trustworthy in both caring and report writing.

By the time the charity was asked to consider launching further street kids rescue projects David had become an obvious choice to oversee them. The second of those new projects was for children living on, and eating from, the city dump at Gasanze in the capital, Kigali. David’s deep empathy and willingness to sacrifice himself personally to help the children there quickly won their trust.

Rwanda’s no-orphanage policy sits well with the goal of setting children in homes after an initial accommodation phase to support the transition from street life to full time education. A minority of children with no familial home or relatives are cared for longer term at the project home by a house mama. Components of the project include financial and study support for school, food support in the project home or for the familial home after reintegration, health insurance, and moral and spiritual input from the local church. The reintegration of children into homes creates a challenge of follow up, so local volunteer visiting teams have been developed and trained, and beds and mattresses supplied. Project running costs are largely covered through a child sponsorship programme.

Our aim is always to help towards self-sufficiency. There are two main exit strategies from the street kids rescue projects: the first is to encourage parents of children who had gone to streets through hunger to develop income generating activities, and the second is a school leavers development programme which supports a choice of business set-up, vocational training or further study on leaving school.

Outcomes from the Gasanze project indicate that the children’s experience of personal violence reduced from 81% to 0%, arrests from 47% to 9%, health insurance rose from 3% to 100%, school attendance rose from 1% to 98% and there has been significant improvements in self-assessed spiritual and emotional condition. But most pleasing of all is that behind the statistics lie the smiles of hope of almost 70 children. As Byiringiro Habayimana says ‘I am glad my life has been changed into good moments.’

The success of Gasanze has led to two further street kids rescue projects, one elsewhere in Kigali and one in Burundi where civil war has left many children homeless and orphaned.  David is leading four children’s and single mothers project in Rwanda and overseeing the establishment of the Burundi project with increasing vision and maturity. International development has its ups and downs but seeing a street kids rescue graduate multiply his own experience of transformation is a joy to behold.