Creating Jobs for Rwanda’s Youth
In Rwanda, CRS is working with the government and the U.S. Agency for International Development to empower youth to thrive and lead by providing them with training, skills and opportunities. The goal is to create thousands of jobs over the coming years in Rwanda. Recognizing the diversity of participants’ backgrounds and goals, the project aims to support young people through vocational training, individual and cooperative startups and business development initiatives.
In-class trainings, access to finance and youth leadership meetings are an integral part of the Huguka Dukore Akaze Kanzi project by which participants come together to learn, share, and encourage each other on their shared journey to build a more prosperous future. The project also works with formal financial service providers to provide youth-friendly loan services that help young people build their fledging enterprises.
Member of a cooperative produce crafts after participating in the Huguka Dukore project in Rwanda. Members started other businesses after participating in lending and borrowing through a CRS savings program.
Photo by Samuel Phelps/CRS
When Rwanda moved from its first confirmed case of coronavirus to a two-month-long suspension of field activities, the project team reacted within 24 hours to adjust the way they did business.
“At the beginning of lockdown, we immediately initiated WhatsApp groups to stay in touch with youth, and we make calls every week to provide needed support and advice to microfinance groups and youth leadership groups,” says Alphonse Munyaneza, project program manager. “The youth leaders, field agents and private services providers are using the WhatsApp channel to share their daily activity, to request needed support and to share how they are continuing their activities by respecting the COVID-19 control instructions.”
Along with these initiatives to support program participants, instead of having a quarterly coordination workshop with each of the four partners, the team set up a WhatsApp group call to have weekly coordination discussions remotely.
“By responding quickly, we ensured the continuation of project activities,” says Alphonse. “We wanted to stay connected with our implementing partners, to keep youth engaged and continue supporting them.”
Aloys Semakuza, coordinator at Caritas Nyundo, is one of the project’s implementing partners and a participant in these weekly coordination discussions.
“We are running the same project, and we must stay in contact with the other partners,” says Aloys. “The discussions allow us to stay in touch with the young people we supervise. Even if we don't go out on the field, we manage to follow what participants are doing through photos that the youth leaders share with us.”
Fish is cooked and sold as part of a cooperative of entrepreneurs trained through a CRS project to improve employment and business skills.
Photo by Samuel Phelps/CRS
The close coordination via remote communications also serves as a mechanism to highlight constraints faced by partners and program participants and works toward solutions to better support young people in their income-generating activities.
CRS also created a WhatsApp group that provides youth leaders with daily program guidance. The team introduced a buddy system in which messages could be shared from some youth leaders to those without access or connectivity.
“Given that some of volunteers do not have smart phones able to accommodate WhatsApp, we encouraged our youth leaders to setup a communication tree system for sharing the key messages with those who do not have access,” says Alphonse.” The youth leaders call their buddies who are not connected to inquire about their situation and share important updates and guidance.”
In Rwanda, where agricultural activities have been permitted to continue during lockdown, Grace Niyigena, a youth leader and member of a cooperative startup that operates a plant nursery, received important messages through the WhatsApp group that she could share with peers.
Members of a cooperative catch and sell fish from Lake Kivu as part of a CRS entrepreneurship program. The program offers Rwandan youth improved work skills for the job market and self‑employment.
Photo by Samuel Phelps/CRS
“We received information when the local government authorized that we could continue working, even during the lockdown. They also proposed that our co-op plant flowers along the side of the road—work we would be paid for,” says Grace, describing a Rwandan government initiative to green the country’s roads. “We received this offer of employment thanks to our continued business activity, even during the lockdown. The local authority had noticed that we continued to work and collaborate.”
For Alphonse, despite the new challenges, he is optimistic. “COVID-19 cannot stop life from continuing. Our participants need to live during this period and survive after the pandemic period,” he says. “We must still take all necessary measures to support what we started and continue our projects.”
Huguka Dukore Akazi Kanoze is a five-year USAID project running from 2016 to 2021 that helps to prepare Rwandan youth, offering marketable skills that will provide 40,000 young people with employable skills across 25 of 30 districts of Rwanda.