Release date
October 24, 2008

Rwandan Orphans Gain Skills, Confidence

October 24, 2008, —

By Kai T. Hill

When you are introduced to Chantal at her mother's home in southwest Rwanda, the 19-year-old is pleasant, but says little. It's rather her steady eye and skillful way with her sewing machine that reveals her bubbling ambition.

Chantal at her sewing machine

A CRS-supported program trained Chantal, right, as a seamstress and put her on the path to a financially secure future. Photo by Caritas Kibungo staff for CRS

Chantal has an unwavering drive to open a clothing boutique. With the help of Catholic Relief Services, she is closer to her dream.

Working with

Caritas Rwanda, CRS provides vocational training to orphans like Chantal: young people who have lost one or more parents to AIDS or who are living under unstable conditions. Chantal lives in a modest house with her mother and two siblings in the district of Ngoma. After losing Chantal's father to AIDS several years ago, her mother was not able to pay school fees until the family began participating in a CRS-supported orphans and vulnerable children program.

In addition to teaching overall life skills, the program provides vocational training as a way for children facing setbacks to learn a sustainable means to earn income. The training gives them a foot up in life that they might not have otherwise had.


href="">Orphans in Rwanda struggle with the combined

href="">effects of genocide, poverty, high unemployment rates, and HIV and AIDS. Some children have lost both of their parents to AIDS and are left to care for their younger siblings with no other means of support or means to pay school fees," says CRS staff Malia Mayson, the program's manager. "Vocational training helps orphans and their families by creating job opportunities. The children are able to quickly learn a new skill, which will help them support their families, increase their own financial independence, and raise their self-esteem."

Vulnerable children, as defined by the Rwandan government, are youngsters living under conditions that would prevent them from exercising their fundamental rights. These conditions might include working on the streets, living with HIV themselves or being exposed to sexual abuse. Children who fit this profile are usually identified by community members or a parish.

Meeting Their Needs

CRS has long provided thousands of Rwandan orphans with their basic needs. With funding from the

href="">President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the vocational training program reaches hundreds of children and young adults within the dioceses of Kibungo and Butare. Our broader outreach to orphans provides food, health care, HIV awareness and training in economic development, child protection and rights, as well as spiritual counseling, and psychosocial support through home visits by volunteers.

Chantal at home

Chantal, standing, is closer to realizing her plan to open a sewing boutique because of what she was able to accomplish with the help of CRS and our donors. Photo by Caritas Kibungo staff for CRS

The vocational training is carried out at local centers. Training takes between six months and one year to complete. At least 88 students have graduated from the vocational program. As part of our outreach, CRS provides students with a startup kit. For example, young women undertaking sewing receive a sewing machine, needles, measuring tape, a pair of scissors and a charcoal iron. CRS also provides graduates with a short course in basic accounting, marketing and small-business management skills and continues to monitor their progress once they have graduated.

"Vocational training is essential to orphans who for one reason or another are outside of the traditional schooling system. Some children were not able to pass the secondary school entrance exams, others would rather start their professional life right away," says Rafiki Marie Jeanne, the national project coordinator for Caritas Rwanda.

Seeing a Return

Chantal received her training from the Sisters of the Visitation training center in the town of Kibungo. When she returned home she started working for herself. Equipped with marketing know-how, she placed signs outside of her home to attract customers.

Earning between $1 and $1.50 profit on every item she sells, she ends each day with money in her pocket. The steady income has dramatically changed her quality of life and that of her family. Chantal has opened a bank account and has managed to save about $74. She can now help her mother buy items for the house and pay school fees for her younger siblings.

In the near future, she hopes to build an annex to her home that will be used for her long-desired clothing boutique.

Our Work in Rwanda

CRS has had a presence in Rwanda since 1963, providing emergency assistance and food aid and promoting self-help initiatives. CRS was also directly involved in emergency programs after the outbreak of civil conflict in 1990.

Kai T. Hill is an associate web producer for CRS. She works at the Baltimore headquarters. Rafiki Marie Jeanne, the national project coordinator for Caritas Rwanda, contributed to the writing and reporting of this story.