By Pacifique Kwizera Irumva

In March 2019, MindLeaps hosted supporters Dr. Howard Bilofsky, Margaret Shapiro and Linda Blackstone for a week-long visit to Rwanda. During their stay, the visitors were able to sit in on a meeting of the MindLeaps parents’ committee, a part of our Family Strengthening Program. Currently, the program includes 100 parents as active members of five self-help groups. Through these self-help groups, MindLeaps is able to work not only with the children enrolled in dance classes, but with their families as well, helping to strengthen the larger community.

It was inspiring to hear how meaningful the family strengthening program has been to parents, from providing a sense of belonging, to making available small loans to start businesses or meet basic family needs. Beyond that, the program is also seen as a security net. All groups contribute weekly to a joint social fund to support their peers who may need help to meet emergencies like unexpected illness or a death in the family.

The success of the program is best expressed by the parents themselves. As one mother, Safia, explains, “In the parents’ program, I’ve gained a new family. Apart from paying rent on time, what I’m most proud of, is that by taking out small loans to expand my fruit selling business, I was able to send one of my kids who had dropped out of school back to the same school where MindLeaps is sponsoring my daughter. Before that, I couldn’t afford the school fees. Parents really need this program.”

Claudine tells us, “I learned a lot – from how to better take care of my children to better nutrition habits for my own health. I’ve become part of a community that saves money together, and provides a sense of security that protects each family from falling on hard times. It really helps to have a place to share my struggles, both financial and otherwise. Through my group, I started a business selling fruit by taking out a loan of Rwf 5,000. Now, my business has grown to more than Rwf 40,000 in capital and I can pay back all loans on time, while still making a profit to support my family.”

Aisha shares that “Being part of the parents’ program has not only given me confidence, but also allowed me to borrow money without guilt, and discuss my financial worries without embarrassment or shame. With the group savings program, I could get a small loan to start my own business, which has really helped improve my family’s financial situation. As I learn, I also share the knowledge and skills I gain with my friends. As a way of giving back to my community, I have encouraged my friends to start savings groups, and I now have over 20 parents (outside MindLeaps) who are actively participating in the groups.”

The MindLeaps visitors extended their heartfelt thanks for the opportunity to meet the parents and learn firsthand how the impact of MindLeaps was helping to promote the well-being of the community.