The ITFA Board is proud to have supported a charitable organisation dedicated to helping orphans and vulnerable children in Rwanda. Shelter Them (ITFA’s 2018 chosen charity), gives these children a future filled with hope and opportunity. Thanks to this organisation, they receive the basics of life including nutrition, shelter, education, healthcare and social support, giving them a chance to become a part of Rwanda’s bright future.

The funds collected by ITFA and its members, together with other sponsors and doners, were used to open up Shelter Them’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centre in Kigali. From 5 a.m. on the morning of May 23 when Jules Higiro (Shelter Them’s Country Director in Rwanda) got to the office, now also the site of Shelter Them’s Early Childhood Development Centre – the Power of Choice, he found that he was not the first to arrive. There before him were two little ones who came from Kacyiru, the area of Kigali farthest from the Centre. And the cook was already busy preparing porridge for the children’s breakfast. Clearly everyone was excited to get the day started. Jules says that he “was speechless to see this happening… I took a few minutes to think how far these kids came from, and when I see how this facility will help them, I just have tears…nothing else I can say.’’

The genesis for this story begins with Sandrine Bayisenge, who was born in August, 2014. Shortly after her birth, Shelter Them was contacted by the hospital and asked for help, because little Sandrine had been abandoned by her mother in the maternity ward. Jules responded to the call and took her into their care. Soon after, they learned that Sandrine’s mother had passed away. Sandrine was integrated into one of their homes and the call went out for sponsors to help provide for her support. Sandrine was very fortunate, because one of her sponsors wished not only to pay for the support received by all our sponsored children — food, shelter, medical care and public education – but also wished to send Sandrine to kindergarten in Kigali, which is only provided by private schools.

Sandrine was fortunate to have someone with the love and resources to give her this gift. But Rwanda is not a wealthy nation, and though public education, starting in Grade 1, is offered free of tuition to all children, early childhood education is only available privately, often at a cost few can afford. Therefore, children are already behind even before they begin their schooling. So here was a problem presented to Shelter Them. They knew the benefits of early childhood education, but the budget could not support the cost of private pre-school for all the little ones in their care. Why shouldn’t all the children have the same advantage as Sandrine had been given? Well, that is how Shelter Them created their own Early Childhood Development Centre – the Power of Choice.

Fortunately, the sun was shining on May 25 for the official opening ceremony and ribbon-cutting that afternoon. Present, of course, were the children and many of their parents and caregivers, and the staff and Board members of Shelter Them. But also in attendance was Immaculee Kayitare, representing the Rwandan government, and Mr. Mapambano, the Executive Secretary of Kimironko, where the ECD Centre is located. There were various business representatives including Jean-Marie Bournazaud from Positivo, the company which donated a laptop. Other NGOs were represented, including John Gakwaya, Chairman of SOS Villages Rwanda. Also present was the principal of Green Hills Academy School, whose advice was crucial in setting up the ECD Centre and who assisted with the recruiting of Julius Twahirwa, the head teacher.

During the ceremony, Duarte Pedreira, Chair of Shelter Them and ITFA Board member, spoke eloquently about the project. He said, “Our mission is very simple. It is to allow each and every one of these children to come to a point in their life where they are entitled to have a choice over their future.” He observed that the Rwandan government’s policy is to promote such choice and “we are just a vehicle” to achieving that goal.

At present, 15 students are enrolled, but there is room for a further 15. Shelter Them would not exist without Jules Higiro and his staff and their selflessness, dedication and hard work. However, we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. When we do, we realize that the staff in Rwanda are not the only ones who transform lives. So too do the sponsors and supporters from all over the globe, without whose generosity and compassion Jules and his staff could not perform their work. So this is a shout out to all who donated and supported ITFA’s 2018 chosen charity at last year’s Conference dinner in Cape Town. Thank you for believing in the vision of Shelter Them, and whose continuing support, both financial and spiritual, enables them to perform miracles of transformation.

So, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We are extremely proud to say that we, ITFA and its members, worked together for this worthy cause! Together we have all made a difference!