Good Cause: Ubushobozi

Ubushobozi

We’ve got another great cause to bring to your attention, this time in Ruhengeri (Musanze). I spoke with Betsy Todd who does what she can to support the organisation from New York. If you want to know more, check out their website http://www.ubushobozi.org or their Facebook page or email them at info@ubushobozi.org.

Can you give me a bit of a history of how Ubushobozi started?

Ubushobozi was started by an American family in 2008; Jeanne Siporin, her husband Alan Siporin, and her daughter, Lola Boyea. They had been volunteering at a preschool in Gashingiro village which also attracted a few disenfranchised teenage girls. The trio noticed that there didn’t seem to be programs for vulnerable teenage girls who, due to lack of funds, were unable to continue school and were therefore susceptible to violence, unwanted pregnancy, early marriage, etc…all the terrible effects of poverty. These girls were almost invisible. Not quite adults, not quite children, yet most were the heads of their households.

What does Ubushobozi mean?

In Kinyarwanda, Ubushobozi translates to “power” or “empowered.” The girls all liked the word, and that’s how it was chosen.

Who does Ubushobozi help and how?

We focus on orphaned and/or head-of-household teenage girls who are no longer enrolled in traditional schools due to lack of fees and the need to support the daily needs of their families. The girls are enrolled in our (free) vocational skills training program (sewing, weaving, crochet) and participate in English, mathematics, business, women’s health/family planning, traditional dance and yoga classes. They are given a weekly stipend which allows them to support themselves and feed their families while getting an alternative vocational education.

One of the biggest advantages we offer our students is that after they complete a 90-day apprenticeship in our program, they are given a professional sewing machine which becomes theirs to keep. You cannot imagine the sense of pride our students feel when they know they have earned their very own machine. It’s a symbol of accomplishment and the investment we make in their futures.

We also employ 8 adults (a mix of full- and part-time) who, prior to Ubushobozi, were not employed or earning steady incomes. We have a very strong bond between students and staff, which is evident to anyone that comes to visit. Ubushobozi is one of the happiest places on earth.

Do you have any success stories to share?

We have many! We have seen our students go from having absolutely no marketable skills to become excellent seamstresses. They have opened bank accounts for the first time in their lives, purchased livestock to support their families, and most importantly, they use their voices to express themselves and take more leadership roles in Ubushobozi. They help us decide the direction of the program. They have also been giving back to their communities.

When we received a large donation of shoes and handmade baby quilts from the USA, each student took only what they needed and then brought the quilts to new mothers in their villages and at Ruhengeri Hospital, who desperately needed them to keep their babies warm. They brought shoes to needy women and children in their villages. They have become respected young women in their communities. It’s been an amazing transformation.

The best seal of approval we have gotten is from Rwandans themselves. We’ve had local tour guides and local Rwandans come to visit and say they’ve not seen a project like ours before and that is more than we can ever ask for. Ubushobozi is good for the community.

Who runs the organisation?

Ubushobozi is overseen by a volunteer advisory board made up of myself, the Siporins and a few other Americans. The only people earning income in our organization are the students and our Rwandan staff. More and more, the project is being run by the student leadership. We are beyond thrilled about this. This is their project after all. We provide guidance in areas in which they have no experience but when it comes to most decisions, they govern themselves. They love to vote!

How is Ubushobozi funded?

As a non-profit, we are currently funded by the sales of our handmade products (tote bags, shoulder bags, yoga mat bags, woven baskets, etc.) and private donations. We hope that one day we will be entirely funded by the sale of our goods, which all go directly back into the project.

Is it possible for volunteers to get involved with Ubushobozi?

We welcome qualified volunteers! We can always use English teachers, math teachers, health educators, yoga instructors and of course, seamstresses and crafters. Volunteers can come for a day or multiple days. We try to work with volunteers to coordinate a mutually beneficial experience. We had a volunteer from the USA come and teach crochet for two weeks last July. It was a tremendous success, and she’s already making plans for her return in July 2012! Interested volunteers can contact us by email info@ubushobozi.org.

What are the future goals of the organisation?

To continue to grow slowly to ensure that we can keep the project going and not get in over our heads. People’s livelihoods depend on Ubushobozi, and we take that very seriously. We hope someday to build our own facility and open our own shop where current and former students can sell their wares. We look forward to seeing our students become entrepreneurs and use the skills they have honed to continue to support themselves. We hope our students and staff will continue to give back to their communities. We truly believe that our students can achieve anything, and we think they are starting to believe it too!

About Kirsty

A Canadian who left in 2001 to wander around the world in search of sun, beautiful views and goat brochettes. Found Kigali in July 2010 and it seems like the perfect fit. I expect to be here until I get kicked out for defiantly walking on the grass while wearing flip flops.