The right moment for Rwanda

Kevin, 5, studies in his home in Rwanda. He’s able to go to school because of his Unbound sponsorship. In January, Kevin became the first child in Rwanda to be sponsored through Unbound.

Unbound begins new presence in African nation

In an immensely challenging year marked by one setback after another for the human family, people everywhere long for good news. The international anti-poverty organization Unbound, after years of preparation, today publicly celebrated the opening of its program in Rwanda, making Rwanda the 19th developing nation with an Unbound program.

This marks a commitment on the part of both Unbound and the country of Rwanda to eradicate poverty. According to Father Innocent Rugaragu, a Jesuit priest and chair of the Unbound board in Rwanda, the new program comes at a fortuitous time for Rwanda.

"It's one of the poorest countries in Africa," Father Rugaragu said. "We have been since after the genocide [in 1994]. … We have been on this constant journey to overcome extreme poverty. Partnering with Unbound has been an exciting part of our journey."

A personal approach

For Unbound, the establishment of the Rwandan program was an opportunity to start out in a new place with the benefit of all the organization has learned in its nearly 40 years. Moving from a more traditional model of benefit distribution early on, Unbound learned from families all over the world and now works with them in a highly personalized way, empowering them to choose the benefits that make sense for them.

[Unbound] supports the transformation of the entire family and they don't dictate how, unlike other NGOs who come in and say, 'OK, this is how we're going to help you.' Unbound comes in to say, 'We are here to help you. How would you like to be helped?'

— Father Innocent Rugaragu

That Unbound approach includes working with families as they form their own individualized plans to lift themselves out of poverty. It also includes the direct transfer of benefit funds into bank accounts set up for sponsored children. This gives parents quicker access to resources when they need it and the flexibility to use them to meet their individual needs. Not surprisingly, it has also been an enormous asset during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Challenged from the start

Unbound was just getting its program off the ground in Rwanda when the pandemic hit. Travel restrictions and the closing of local places of commerce made life considerably more difficult for marginalized families, most of which support themselves through informal jobs. It also made the task of visiting communities and interviewing families for the program more of a challenge.

On the other hand, Unbound's adaptability made it ideal for quickly getting help to families in the program. Anita Kivuye, coordinator of the Unbound program in Rwanda, said families have used funds to meet their most critical needs during the crisis.

"If you see the current situation of our families, most of them were living by just small business," Kivuye said. "It's a daily business, which can just fall any time. So, when Unbound gave access to the funds, it helped them at least to buy food at home and other related [items], and some of them have given us the testimony that they were able to raise or continue with their businesses, which were disintegrating during the pandemic."

Currently, there are 416 children sponsored through Unbound in Rwanda, and another 284 on the waiting list, with a goal of reaching more than 2,000 in the next few years. Kivuye is confident that, because of the uniqueness of the Unbound program, those numbers will grow as the program becomes more established among families and in communities.

Sponsored child Kevin, 5, receives a haircut from his mother, Chantal, outside their home in Rwanda, while little brother Irumia waits his turn.
Sponsored child Kevin, 5, receives a haircut from his mother, Chantal, outside their home in Rwanda, while little brother Irumia waits his turn.

"Unbound came with freedom or ownership," she said. "They give room for the people to have their own say in the program."

Another hallmark of Unbound is the encouragement families receive from sponsors and the local staff. Moses Kasasira, a correspondence specialist for Unbound Rwanda, was sponsored as a child growing up in Uganda and knows firsthand how much that encouragement means.

"I always tell [the families in the Unbound program], please don’t lose hope," he said. "Don't think you are alone. You know, you are not alone and, every time, opportunities come along the way."

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