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Dads in Rwanda

If the tiny Eastern African nation of Rwanda makes it into the media it is usually for all the wrong reasons. Former Father & Child secretary Kerry Frame, however, has fallen in love with the country and has made several trips already to help with community and business development, probably being responsible for the first Father & Child cap ever to make it onto the continent. In this article he reflects on fatherhood in Rwanda.

Over the past 3 years, I have had the privilege to travel to Rwanda twice – once in 2010 and again in 2011. I have also had the opportunity to share in decisions on the Board for Father and Child as the Secretary for 2009-2011. I am a dad myself, to two children, a son aged five and a daughter aged eight. I have been married for 12 years now.

This sets the scene for considering life as a dad in Rwanda. It was actually my third trip in total, with the first being in 2002 with my wife. Even then I discovered the importance of father figures to many Rwandans. I explored this further in 2010, and again in 2011. Each trip has been about 2-3 weeks in duration.

In this article, I want to share some accounts relating to fatherhood while I was in Rwanda. I hope these will be an encouragement. As a quick background, if you are not aware, Rwanda experienced a major genocide in 1994, where over 800,000 people were killed. This left many young children orphans – this is reflected in my stories below.

My first story is about J. My friend J lost both his parents in the genocide. He is now 23 years old, and has taken on the ‘father’ role amongst his own family consisting of two other sisters. J is hard working and currently studying at university to improve his education so that he can better provide for his own family. The most significant part of this story is that J has had no father himself. I have had many discussions with J about his education and encouraged him in his positive future plans. I have involved others from different countries to help support J through email communication. Since my first contact with J in 2010, I have seen him grow and develop, and becoming more confident.

My second story is about Mr A. He is a security watchman for a guest house in Rwanda and also helps with various tasks including general maintenance. It was obvious to me in 2010 how dedicated he was to his family. I was challenged by his story where he told me last year, just before I left, how “madame” (his wife) had lost a child during pregnancy due to illness. He was quite upset and I felt helpless in his situation. I was delighted to meet him again a year later, see him happy and still very much dedicated to his family, and I ended up giving him a Father & Child cap (picture).

These are just two cases of fathers being dedicated to their families I learnt of during my visits in Rwanda. It is clear to me that families are very important to the Rwandan people.

My last story or account is related to the impact of the sexual violence in Rwanda. For two days, I assisted in the writing of a proposal that would be presented to Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) outside of Rwanda to further help both men and women in this area. My role was to assist in the English part of the report, writing it to be understandable to those people reading it that live in countries like New Zealand or maybe even throughout Europe. Through an intensive discussion with four other Rwandans over two days, the proposal took shape, and we were able to draft together a format that could be presented to other parties. For me, the proposal was not the most significant part, rather the process of discussion and the learning of issues relating to culture, genocide, political and socio-economic issues. There are significant challenges for both men and women in Rwanda around equality. There is a lack of systems to support and the purpose of our meeting was to try and create awareness for change in this area. This issue will require a large number of resources and will need the right people to move it forward. It was a pleasure to assist in the writing of the proposal. I will remain in contact with those in Rwanda who will be working further on this project.

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