Saturday, December 16th was a great experience for our MindLeaps kids. We had a performance at Nyagatare Children’s Rehabilitation Center in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. It was the first time to travel a long distance (a 4-hour drive) for most of our kids. On the road, they were able to see Lake Muhazi surrounded by cows and rice plantations. It was a joy to watch their excitement.
Most of us didn’t know what to expect when we arrived at Children’s Rehabilitation Center (The Center). The Center is the only detention facility in Rwanda that houses teenagers who have been accused and sentenced of crimes. It functions as a home and also a place of education so that these youth can continue their lives. The enthusiastic welcome by the facility leaders made all of us feel excited. The MindLeaps team was taken on a tour of every corner of the facility, which included classrooms, computer labs, dormitories and workshops for carpentry, welding, tailoring and shaving. The tour also showed our kids that The Center is more of a home and a school than a prison. We learned that there are kids who finished their sentence and are now using the hands-on skills taught from the facility to create their own jobs. In 2016, all the kids who sat for national exams passed with good grades and were released to continue their studies while living with their families. This was a decision made by H.E Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda. All these stories served as encouragement to MindLeaps kids who are also striving for success in life.
With this new motivation, MindLeaps kids performed with energy and enthusiasm, which made the event even more fun. In addition to the performance, MindLeaps kids’ testimonies given by Pacifique Bucyana, Didier Kayisire, Claudine Uwanyirijuru and Sifa Mukantwari, deeply touched and moved everyone present at the event. They shared their sad backgrounds and how they ended up on the streets. They were hopeless. They talked about how they found MindLeaps and how it has impacted their life and outlook forever. They shared how dance gave them happiness while literacy and education gave them opportunities for a bright future. Their testimonies were a great inspiration to the kids at The Center. The kids at The Center saw that there is still hope to leap forward in life once they have a positive mindset. Some of the kids at The Center also entertained us for a short time!
In his motivating speech, the Director of the Prison, SP Vincent Mateka, encouraged MindLeaps kids to have a vision for their life and keep national values that will help them contribute to national development instead of becoming a burden to the country. He also mentioned that rape and drug abuse are the most frequent cases at The Center. On this observation, he gave a simple math example: “If you are imprisoned at 15 years old for a 15-year sentence, that means you would be released when you are 30 years; therefore, at this stage, you would have lost your youth.” He also tackled infanticide and encouraged girls to be vigilant by avoiding unwanted pregnancies. He concluded by encouraging MindLeaps kids to make the right life decisions.
MindLeaps kids were impacted by this experience and will take these lessons forward with them.