SOS Children's Village Gikongoro

The Rwandan genocide of 1994 took thousands of lives, and it completely destroyed the country’s already poorly developed infrastructure. It also robbed the nation of a generation of teachers, doctors and public servants. Rwanda’s social fabric remains deeply ruptured to this day.

A new generation of qualified professionals is urgently needed

Two boys lying in the grass at the children’s village (photo: S. Vinamont)

The city of Gikongoro is located in Nyamagabe in Rwanda’s Southern Province. Nyamagabe District contains the eastern half of Nyungwe Forest, which brings some tourists to the region as it is home to chimpanzees and other primates.

Living conditions in the region are very tough. Only 52 per cent of Rwandans have access to clean water, and here in the south of the country, the situation is particularly critical. While in the north there is sufficient high-altitude water, in the south the population frequently faces water shortages. Drinking unclean or unsafe water is the cause of many water-borne diseases in the region.

40 per cent of all consultations in health centres are due to malaria, and HIV/AIDS also continues to severely affect the population. Illness is often the cause for a family’s descent into deeper poverty, as most people survive as subsistence farmers, and if they cannot work, they cannot eat. Welfare programmes, free health care and support networks are not sufficiently available.

In Nyamagabe District, there are 263 teachers, most of whom are qualified but are working as volunteers and are occasionally paid by the students’ parents. Because most schools were destroyed during the war, classes are often held in buildings borrowed from churches or private individuals. In most cases, there is no running water, electricity or adequate toilet facilities.

There is also a great need for teaching materials, a standardised national curriculum, and additional well-qualified teachers, as the average class size is currently around 33 pupils and not all children are attending school.

The shortage of qualified professionals is a big problem in the country. This particularly affects the agricultural sector, which sustains the majority of the population. The lack of knowledge of, and access to, modern farming methods is causing environmental degradation which, in turn, causes malnutrition.

An urgent need to provide support to families

SOS Children’s Villages began its work in Gikongoro in 1992 due to the great number of vulnerable children due to the war that culminated in the genocide of 1994. In recent years, we have expanded our efforts to reach out to vulnerable families in the surrounding community through the SOS Family Strengthening Programme.

We ensure that children have access to essential educational, nutritional and health services, and we support parents in protecting and caring for their children, for example by offering guidance on income-generating skills and parenting practices. We provide counselling and psychological support to both children and their caregivers, and we assist families affected by HIV/AIDS.

In cooperation with local authorities, we also work towards strengthening the support systems available within the community. Over 320 children and their caregivers currently benefit from these services.

What we do in Gikongoro

In the computer lab at the SOS school (photo: M. Peru)

For children from the region who are no longer able to live with their parents, twelve SOS families can provide a loving home for up to 120 children. In each family, the children live with their brothers and sisters, affectionately cared for by their SOS mother.

Around 75 children from SOS families and the neighbourhood attend the SOS Kindergarten, ensuring that children in our care make friends and are integrated into the local community from a young age.

Due to the great need for teaching facilities in the region, the opening of an SOS Hermann Gmeiner primary school was a very important contribution towards improving children’s lives in Gikongoro. More than 430 pupils attend the school today.

When young people who grew up in one of the SOS families feel ready to move out of the family home in order to study, receive training or find work, the SOS Youth Programme continues to support them as they make the transition into independent adulthood. Of course the young people also maintain close contact with their SOS mother and siblings.