On March 20, 2012, in Kiziguro Sector, Gatsibo District—Eastern Province, local leaders, residents, pupils, parents and Plan Rwanda staff—all smartly don in branded Plan Caps and T-shirts convened in big numbers at Kiziguro Secondary School to celebrate the 75th birthday of Plan International. It is now 5 years of full Plan operations in Rwanda.
Plan Rwanda joined the rest of Plan International countries around the world to celebrate 75 years of its commitment to poor children. The celebrations brought together over 1200 children in the company of 500 adults to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Plan.
Founded 75 years ago, Plan International is one of the oldest and largest Children’s development organizations in the world. It started on March 20, 1937 after the civil in Spain war when two journalists John Langdon-Davies and Eric Muggeridge, both British saw children and youth affected by the war. They went back to (Britain) and managed to solicit some support to help out the group of orphaned children in Northern Spain. 75 years on, Plan International reaches out to more than 1.5million vulnerable children and youth in 48 developing countries across the world. Seven and half decades ago, of course a lot of issues have changed but issues of vulnerable and marginalized children rage on, especially in conflict and post conflict societies, Rwanda alike. It has lifted millions of children out of poverty and given them a voice. Plan Rwanda has been operating since January 2007; serving close to 10,000 children in anticipation to increase the number in the next couple of years. It now operates in three major districts: Gatsibo since 2007, Bugesera since 2010 and Nyaruguru since early this year.
“It makes us proud to recognize how strong we are as an organization in terms of experience and scope. The centerpiece of Plan Rwanda is Youth and Children, particularly the vulnerable and marginalized”, remarks Peter van Dommelen Plan Rwanda Country Director.
Celebrations in Kiziguro started quite early with an official visit to Kiziguro Hospital by Plan Rwanda staff, led by Peter van Dommelen the Country Director. There were lots of gifts by Staff to children born in the early morning of the very day Plan was born 75 years ago and their mothers including sanitary wares, soap, sugar, maize flour etc.
Indeed, the short history of Plan Rwanda relates to why the birthday of Plan International was cerebrated in Kiziguro sector, at the area Secondary School. Kiziguro Sector is Plan’s first area of operation in Rwanda, following a baseline study that indicated the area as having many poor and vulnerable children and youth. Five years on, Plan Rwanda decided to celebrate at Kiziguro Secondary School to give a perfect reflection on how far the NGO has come.
The day-long cerebrations were filled with lots of live performances and speeches all led by local poor children. Student beneficiaries of Plan Education Programs, particularly girls, had the reason to smile. Uwonzi Sherifah of Senior One at Kiziguro Secondary School says: “On behalf of my fellow students, I thank Plan Rwanda for the support, without which we would otherwise not be in school today”. The Vice Mayor Economic Affairs Gatsibo District, Mr. Isaiah Habarurema too, in his speech said: “Plan Rwanda’s support to our families and children is incredible. You have touched many people’s hearts and changed many lives in this area”.
Tassy Mutabiirwa, the Sponsorship Manager at Plan Rwanda says that Plan Rwanda has constructed a new school dormitory at Kiziguro Secondary School of a capacity to accommodate 600 girls and equipped it with some beds. It has also provided material support to the school such as computers and paying school fees to a number of poor students. Plan also offers trainings to parents and teachers committees to reinforce their support and strategic direction for management, monitoring and quality control. In addition, over 1, 700 cows, goats and pigs have been donated to homes to boost their wealth and health. What actually Plan does in Gatsibo District is also extended to a few other districts it operates, namely; Rwamagana, Kayonza, Ngoma where Plan Rwanda also has some youth programs.
The cerebrations were crowned by cutting a big 75th Plan Birthday Cake by Peter, assisted Honorable member of Parliament Faith Mukakalisa Then Plan Staff joined in to serve children, students, parents and residents at large the cake and drinks amidst live music performance by Miss JOJO an inspirational young local artist.
Understanding Plan Rwanda
Back in 2007, before Plan made a decision to start operating in Rwanda, Peter explains that there was a study conducted to come up with strategic direction of Plan Rwanda. Based on the key issues from the study Plan Rwanda made strategic decision--Identified indicators and key intervention area, focusing on issues affecting children and youth
Guided by its slogan: “Children are at the Heart of Everything we do”, Plan Rwanda’s intervention areas, namely: Girls Education (Abakobwa Program), Early Start for All (Early Childhood Care and Development-ECCD), Youth Empowerment, Advocacy and Child Rights.
Girls (Abakobwa) Education Program is a girl’s education program designed to give girl students multi-faceted support to encourage their performance both at the primary and secondary levels.
Early Childhood Care for Development Program supports 0-6 year-old children to survive and thrive in life, as well as supporting families and communities’ needs to promote children’s healthy development.
Youth Empowerment Program is designed to address unemployment and social, political disempowerment among youths that are the majority of the population.
Advocacy and Child Rights Program is designed to actively promote children’s participation at all levels of societal discussion on development challenges that affect them. This way, Plan promotes participatory opportunities for children and a protective environment in which they can participate meaningfully. “We look at making children and youth more vocal to be able to address issues affecting themselves in their local communities; through critical dialogue way from grassroots through up to at higher levels,” said Peter in an interview with Hope Magazine. Advocacy at Plan Rwanda is done through various youth groups across the country, and also involves forming news on need basis.
Plan Rwanda is a child-centered community development organization.
The overarching philosophy of Plan Rwanda, and globally, is the “Rights Based Approach”. It empowers local communities to appreciate and follow their rights. Emphasis is put on empowering local communities to be initiators, advocates and implementers of Plan Rwanda community based programs.
Unlike other relief organization, Plan Rwanda’s aid is indeed both sustainable and developmental. Tackling exclusion and marginalization of vulnerable children and youth, Peter explains: “in everything we do, we look at who’re the people that don’t get access to particular rights…and we structure our interventions around that”.
Plan operates in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders including local and international civil society organizations, local and central government of Rwanda. Plan Rwanda’s relationship with local community is long-term and thus, “sustainability is key to our work today and even after 15 years or longer,” remarked Peter.
Sourcing Resources for Wider Outreach
Plan’s mandate largely hinges on developing sustainable and long-term community based projects—putting it in better position to create a better working relationship with local communities and authorities especially when working on critical dialogue issues. “We focus so much on projects and programmes that ensure optimal use of resources for a more meaningful impact”. Plan foresees rapid growth and expansion in the near future. - “We want to be known for adding value to specific areas, other than being known for working on many areas but with lesser or no impact at all”. “We leverage on our good working relationships with quite a number of local organizations and local authorities”.
There is a network of 20 National Officers in various countries that Plan International operates that support in resource mobilization. This has worked pretty well, because as confirmed by Peter, Plan Rwanda budget has more than doubled in the last 3 years.
Building Staff Capacities to Deliver
Currently Plan Rwanda staff capacity is 65, comprised of field officers and line managers. A lot of efforts are vested in building capacities of local staff to ensure that they are equipped with skills and ability to carryon in the foreseeable future of Plan Rwanda.
Rwanda Policy Framework
Plan commends the Government of Rwanda for creating a conducive policy and legal framework in regards with children and youth rights. Peter notes that a few gaps in implementation that may affect qualities and standards are manageable, citing important frameworks like the Rwanda Education NGO Coordination Platform (RENCP). Plan Rwanda is the chair for RENCP through which it spearheads coordination, representation and experience sharing among civil society organizations operating in Rwanda. Plan also appreciates the Government efforts in establishing the children and youth frameworks such as National Youth Council (NYC), District Youth Committees, Youth Associations and Clubs and so on.