Inkuru Zacu

Nurturing the seeds of transformation: A Reflection on the meaning of the International Day of the African Child

In this advancing world that never ceases to develop, the phrase “Children are the leaders of tomorrow” is far too familiar. As much as this statement is true, its prophecy can only be realised if our children are equipped with the right tools, mindset and values that will help them reach their full potential.

The International Day of the African Child, observed annually on 16 June, was established in memory of the young boys and girls killed during the 1976 Soweto Student Uprising, on this date. This international day therefore reminds us of the need to safeguard the sanctity of children’s lives and rights, while recognising institutions and causes that make sure that African children are able to reach their full potential. Furthermore, it is a call for action for the world to engage itself in making sure that these initiatives are spread, and can impact even more African children.

The theme for this year’s celebration is “To leave no child behind for Africa’s Development”, in line with the objectives of Agenda 2030, and this can be established by promoting every child rights to education and health, as the starting points to children’s development.

Understanding our context

Africa’s population is increasing at a fast rate.
In 8 years, her population has gone from 1.04 billion to 1.28 billion people, and of these 1.28 billion, 580 million are children. Africa’s child population accounts for almost a quarter of the world child population and 42.9% of Rwanda’s population is under the age of 15. These exponential numbers already predict a continuous increase but also emphasise the need for these children to have even more access to quality health and education, to become the empowered and dignified people able to drive the sustainable development of this continent.

To play our part in the realisation of this vision, we, at Imbuto Foundation, have built at the core of all our socio-economic work, a holistic model following the growth of our citizens from childhood, to adolescence, youth and adulthood.

Healthy beginnings

Imbuto Foundation’s first programme, Family Package, was launched in 2001 in response to the severe HIV and AIDS epidemic, heightened by mass rapes during the 1994 Genocide. According to the National Centre for Biomedical Information, in 2001, the rate of mother to child transmission of HIV&AIDS Virus was 30.5%. Having observed these staggering statistics, Imbuto Foundation’s call for action through Family Package, was to engage these mothers in standard health care practices that would ensure that they are in good health, and for their children to be protected from infection.

Thus, Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) services were made imperative in order to give these children a fair chance at life. Such initiatives have allowed Rwanda to spearhead the goal of reducing the rate of HIV prevalence among pregnant women to 0.8%. Other services offered in this programme include family planning, nutritional balance, psychosocial support and partner involvement. To date, 26,647 HIV+ people are followed up the PMTCT component.

A nurtured and developed mind is important for a child to grow and compete within their environment. It has been widely recognised, that children need this developmental stimulation at earlier stages of their childhood, in order to flourish in school. Having identified the need for a programme that would provide basic cognitive and language skills, Imbuto Foundation started the Early Childhood Development and Family (ECD&F) project in 2013. Currently implemented within 15 districts, this project supports children aged 0-6 years with integrated health and nutrition services offered in ECD centres, but also through home visitations and home-based services. To date, 14,434 children and 12,856 parents have benefited from these integrated ECD services, and children like Kubaho Jabo from Rwamagana ECD centre are prime examples of the benefits of these integrated services, as this young boy has since he completed this ECD programme, gone on to become top of his class in Primary 1, with an average of 90%. Thanks to the ludic interactions taught through these ECD services, we have also observed children improving their social skills, including better communication with those around them.

Knowledge as a tool for empowerment

According to the Statistical Yearbook 2017 published by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda, the dropout and repetition rates are 18.4% and 5.7% respectively. One of the reasons for these dropout rates were students being discouraged by their poor performance. Despite difficulties that may arise during a child’s educational journey, they all deserve a second chance at education. Imbuto Foundation focused on the need to reduce these dropout rates and launched the “Twige Neza Dutsinde” project, which loosely translates to “Let us study well and succeed” from Kinyarwanda. This project, still in its pilot phase, aims at improving access to remedial learning services by pairing students into learning clubs with teacher-mentors. The focus of this initiative is to help students improve their numeracy and literacy skills, and is currently operating in 10 districts with 5 primary schools in each district.

It is important for a child to be raised and educated with values and a mindset that leads to success and self-actualisation. It is even more important for these values to be instilled in them at a young age to protect them from anything that could put them at a disadvantage.

Adolescent girls in Rwanda face numerous issues related to their Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRH&R) because they sometimes lack adequate education on the notion. To ensure that these young girls are emancipated and allowed to evolve, Imbuto Foundation empowered them through the 12+ project, which equipped girls aged 10-12 years with Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH), financial fitness and leadership skills. These young girls also have mentors; young women aged 18-25 with whom they get to discuss the challenges they face, in a safe space.

Staying the course for a thriving future

Africa has made tremendous efforts towards ending AIDS. According to UNAIDS, since 2010, there has been a 56% drop in new HIV infections among children. Though these numbers are promising, there is still a lot of work to be done. Empowering the youth with information on Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (ASRH&R) as well as HIV&AIDS is the first step towards this continuous fight. Imbuto Foundation’s contribution and response is communicated through the Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (ASRH&R) and Mountain Movers projects.
The Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health & Rights project was started in 2010 and it links in and out of school youth with their health centres in order to access youth-friendly services availed at their nearest health centres. Campaign and sensitisation events are also used as an approach to communicate the importance of Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) in their lives and the need to communicate its importance to their peers.

The Mountain Movers project, equips the youth with knowledge on HIV and Tuberculosis (TB) prevention so that they can access the prevention and treatment services available at the health centres. Another component that is used in both these projects is the Parents-Adolescents Communication (PAC) forums, which gather parents and their children to discuss SRH issues. In an effort to facilitate the art of conversation between parent and child, a guide document in the format of a booklet, Tuganire Mwana Wanjye loosely translated to “Let us discuss together, my child”, was developed. These forums help break down barriers between these two generations, and allow a safe environment for conversation.
Initiatives like these do play a fundamental role in helping children access their rights to quality health and education, for a brighter future.

Thanks to various catalysing collaborations, Imbuto Foundation continues its journey to fulfil its vision of a nation made of empowered and dignified Rwandans, starting with the protection and promotion of children’s rights, while observing every year, the International Day of the African Child, as a reminder that we all have a role to play in advocating for policies and programmes leaving no child behind.