The remarkable story of Never Again Rwanda
Rwanda’s post genocide development initiatives have realized tremendous achievements in rebuilding societies and broken linkages to better livelihoods through development initiatives including peace building and reconciliation efforts combined with socio-economic and political growth and development programs. Initiatives have been embarked on through a public – private partnership involving the public sector, private sector and civil society, which has witnessed combined efforts to support various socio-economic and political sectors and structures. However, with the socio-economic and political recovery and growth initiatives in the country, youth participation and civic engagement has continued to be limited and passive despite multiple institutions’ endeavors to engage youth in socio-economic, political and development agendas.
With youth making up the majority of the population in Rwanda (67%), the need for youth civic engagement, participation and decision making involvement extends beyond being only a social issue but also an economic and political issue, which has far reaching implications for on-going efforts of reconciliation and peace building, income generation, political stability, economic growth and development. In Rwanda today, despite numerous efforts by different actors, youth still remain passive in decision making processes and public policy formulation processes are not representative either; with youth being represented by only 2 legislators n parliament, limited capacity to make informed decisions, with minimal involvement in advocacy and lobbying drives, all the above is aggravated by a lack of or limited access to information for informed engagement in decision making processes and public policy formulation.
Never Again Rwanda (NAR) is a human-right, peace-building organization that was founded by 3 university students in 2002 and is registered as a Rwandan non-governmental organization. The founding members recognized that the minds of young people were used to destroy Rwanda leading up to and during the 1994 Tutsi genocide. Even as a post-genocide society, they observed that divisions continued to exist between young Rwandans based on ethnicity (Hutu vs Tutsi), spoken foreign language (Anglophone vs Francophone), history of residency in Rwanda (returnees vs non-returnees) and returnees’ previous residence (Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, DRC, etc). Guided by a vision of a nation where young people are agents of positive change and work together towards unity and sustainable peace, the founding members established Never Again Rwanda to promote constructive exchange of ideas among youth regarding conflict resolution, peace building and fostering leadership skills.
With the project titled as “Promotion of evidence based advocacy and planning initiatives in Bugesera District in Eastern province Grant No: 004/AUF/CFP/RA/2011 – USD 10,000.00” NAR undertook the task of increasing opportunities for young people to own and participate in grassroots-based development and poverty reduction initiatives and also increase their access to information. The main objective of this project was to increase dialogue between youth in Bugesera District and governement officials regarding poverty reduction initiatives and strategies through youth discussion forums and a debate competition by June 2011.
Youth Mobilisation and Sensistization
The project carried out sensitization meetings within five secondary schools gathering an average of 400 students from all levels of secondary school education. The project coordinator presented background information about NAR’s vision, mission and programs and also discussed the importance of student participation in bottom up approaches to poverty reduction initiatives . During these meetings, the youth decided to call the government officials and have open dialogues about how they can sit together and discuss poverty reduction strategies. Students also decided to form listening groups after being convinced with the utility of thr NAR radio shows which gave them an opportunity to air the view of youth from across the country.
Youth Awareness Creation through National Radio Shows
Through this project, NAR aired its weekly radio shows for 3 months on saturdays from 4.00-4.30 pm and on wednesdays from 6.30-7.00 pm on radio ISANGO star. The shows included interviews with youth, experts and government officials and covered a variety of topics such as human rights versus poverty, youth involvement in development as well as youth involvement in decision making processes. The youth listened to the shows through their listening groups in school and provided feedback to NAR about the radio shows content and airing time through a NAR designated and administered survey. Students liked the radio shows because they were a way of bringing them together to hear views about poverty reduction strategies from youth of different parts of rwanda. They became more aware of poverty reduction strategies like starting income-generating projects and ideas about youth engagement in decision-making processes shared by youth and experts alike. The radio show listeners were given a knowledge test at the end of the project to test the level of knowledge they acquired about poverty reduction and youth’s active particiaption in society. Thirty four out of 40 listeners who took the knowledge test scored 75% or above. These forty listeners received radios at the debate competition in July.
Youth Engagement in Public Policy Formulation through Youth Discussion Forums
NAR hosted two youth discussion forums attended by at least 140 students from the five target secondary schools, teachers from these schools, the principal, AJPRODHO’s secretary and the representative of ministry of youth,sports & culture in Bugesera district. In the first forum the youth discussed their participation in community activities, formation of cooperatives and the Rwandan local government involvement of the youth in development policies and strategies. In response to these questions, the representative of the National Youth Council in Bugesera District, who was delegated by the district mayor, explained different strategies used in his district to support youth-led initiatives. Among different ways, he mentioned cooperatives created by the non-schooling youth for their development and a bank which funds for the youth lead projects known as COOJAD. He urged youth to be job creators instead of job seekers; they should join a cooperative, develop a clear plan for their initiatives, and collaborate with the government. The second forum saw an addition of 45 non-schooling youth from 4 associations working in Bugesera District to share their success stories about job creation. This youth in this forum discussed various problems they faced as young people and suggested possible remedies. Representatives of COOJAD invited the youth to join and also explained to them the various loans they had to offer. At the end of the forums the youth filled out evaluation forms and also requested NAR to to take a copy of their suggestions and questions to the minister of youth, sports and culture.
Youth Engagement in Public Policy Formulation through Debate Competition
The NAR Project Coordinator, Programs Director and two Debate Trainers conducted a 2-day training for 5 schoolteachers and 29 students from the 5 secondary schools in Bugesera District using the“Debate Handbook” and “Guide on Debate Societies & Tournaments.” The training was conducted at a centrally located conference hall. Upon completion of the training, Nyamata High School hosted a debate competition on July 27. Six teams of 3 debaters representing the 5 secondary schools competed. This competition involved 9 judges, an audience of 400 students and a representative from the Ministry of Education. The motions for debate included: 1) That modern agriculture technology is bad for traditional communities, 2) That we should support population control, and 3) That democracy is necessary for development. At the end of the competition, each participant received a dictionary and a certificate of participation. The first and second place teams received trophies for their success. The competition day was also an opportunity to bring together all the radio listeners and to acknowledge their active participation in the project. Each listener received a radio with both electrical and battery power systems, to help students operate radios even with lack of electricity.
Following the success of the first project, NAR sought to cement the work begun with the youth by undertaking another project supported by AUF under Grant No: 002/AUF/CFP/RA/2012 – USD 10,000.00 closely linked to the first. They set out to conduct a project titled “Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship Policy Initiatives (YEEPI) Advocacy Project” in Bugesera District, Eastern Province, Rwanda with the main goal of ensuring that the youth actively participate in the elaboration, implementation and monitoring of the 2013-2017 District Development Plan for increased number of sustainable youth income-generating initiatives in Bugesera District and that generally Rwandan youth are active participants in democratic decision-making processes at the decentralized local level. Among the things achieved were:
YEEPI Advocacy Mobilization
NAR conducted 4 meetings with the Bugesera District officials in April and May to sensitize them about the project. The meetings involved the district mayor, some of the councillors and 8 youth leaders from 6 sectors of the district.
On september NAR recruited 18 youth from 6 sectors in Bugesera District, two youth cooperative representatives as well as 1 national youth council representative of the sector level. The training tackled the review of 2008-2012 BDDP, the exploration of possible district-level youth employment and entrepreneurship policy initiatives, questionnaire data collection techniques and advocacy techniques.
From July 2012, NAR hired a Socio-Economic Development Consultant who worked with NAR Governance and rights Program Coordinator and developed a bilingual questionnaire about the outgoing 2008-2012 BDDP and of possible future youth employment and entrepreneurship policy initiatives and the existing challenges and opportunities. The questionnaire was administered to 302 people including 294 youth and 10 key informants, including 3 largest youth cooperatives, 3 representatives of the youth and 2 district council members. 53% of the informants were female.
District-Level Youth Discussion Forum
The YEEPI report was shared with the district level policy makers and the youth for input. A platform was opened for at least 60 youth leaders and district authorities as well as development partners to hear each other about BDDP issues.
A team of 6 youth with equal numbers of women and men was facilitated to conduct advocacy meetings with different district counselors and the district executive committee to raise concerns of the youth. In addition, the team met different development partners of the districts who are influential in shaping and funding the district plan. 100 YEEPI report copies were shared with the district council executive committee and other stakeholders while advocacy message flyers were produced and distributed.
Youth booklet on BDDP Process
200 copies of youth friendly district development plan elaboration produced and distributed.
The collaboration between AUF and NAR grew tighter and based on partnership performance NAR received a third grant from AUF with the aim of “improving employment policy initiatives in Rwanda through evidence based advocacy Grant No: 022/AUF/CFP/RA/2013 – USD 10,000.00”. The project was being implemented nationwide and its main goal was to ensure that policy framework and specific action programs adequately provide sufficient and decent employment opportunities to youth in Rwanda. Some of the main achievements of the prject were:
Study on existing gaps and practices between the existing youth employment policies
Formation of an advocacy team