Inshuti z’Umuryango (Friends of the Family) are community-based child and family protection volunteers, with two placed in every village across the country.
This nationwide cadre of 29,674 volunteers was established in 2016 by the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) through the National Commission for Children (NCC), in collaboration with government partners including UNICEF to strengthen the child protection system in communities.
In this initiative, UNICEF provides technical and financial support towards the initiative, the establishment and capacity building efforts are led by NCC.
Based on their good reputation in the community, one male and one female Inshuti z’Umuryango are nominated by residents in every village and usually work as a pair in supporting children and families.
This community workforce pillar of the child protection system responds to the everyday needs of Rwandan children and families. Through household visits, Inshuti z’Umuryango identify and handle child protection concerns that may come up.
For cases requiring statutory intervention, they refer to suitable social services and law enforcement professionals including District Child Protection and Welfare Services, Rwanda Investigation Bureau, Rwanda National Police, health authorities, Isange One Stop Center and local authorities.
“To do our work, we spend some time moving from home to home in our respective villages. This helps us to identify and discuss child rights violations with family members, identify children and families at risk of separation and react accordingly,” said Jean Pierre Manirareba a 30-year-old volunteer in Munini Village, Munini Cell, Mahama Sector in Kirehe District.
Inshuti z’Umuryango help to reduce family conflicts as well as violence, abuse, neglect, exploitation and all other forms of child maltreatment in communities across the country.
The Friends of the Family operating in Kanyinya Sector, Nyarugenge District are among many others who are performing well. Emmanuel Nshimyumukiza, coordinates his colleagues in the sector.
While commenting on their 2018 key achievements, he expressed their happiness of being at the front line in addressing child protection issues.
“We are very happy that some of our key achievements include the identification of 41 alleged child defilement perpetrators whom we reported to Rwanda National Police” he said.
“We still have child protection and family issues in Kanyinya sector, but there are many others that are prevented or handled by Inshuti z’Umuryango. They are really helping us to safeguard families and children. Their work is invaluable,” said Claude Niyibizi, the former executive secretary of Kanyinya Sector while in celebration of 2018 key achievements of Inshuti z’Umuryango.
Preventing family conflict
Family conflicts have negative effects on all family members, especially children who are more likely to face emotional problems like depression. For the best interest of the child Inshuti z’Umuryango address family conflict as one of their key priorities.
The family of Mukeshimana Leonie (not real names) and her husband living in Kanyinya Sector, Nyarugenge District, is one of the families with a severe family conflict who benefited from Inshuti z’Umuryango support.
The conflict was too grave to the point of cause physical harm and mental stress to themselves as well as their children.
“We used to fight. When my husband came home in the evening, our children and I would leave the house so he does not assault us. It was beyond bearing to the extent that I filed for divorce. Fortunately, all this has stopped and we are a very happy family thanks to the Friends of the Family support”, said Mukeshimana.
According to her husband, the intervention by these volunteers changed his perspective to life and in the process brought harmony in his home.
“One day, Nshimiyimana called me and asked if I could spare sometime to discuss our conflict with Inshuti Z’Umuryango. Given the gravity of the conflict, I was a bit reluctant thinking that it was too late to solve it, but I finally agreed to meet them. It was the beginning of the end of the conflict,” he said.
Supported by Inshuti z’Umuryango, the couple went through a number of separate or joint counseling sessions where they were able to speak out their minds in a constructive and respective way.
Reducing school drop-out
Claude Habimana is a father of two children a boy and a girl.
They live in Nyagatare District. His son Eric, 12 years old, dropped out school in 2014 when he was 8 years as a consequence of his parent’s situation.
Eric’s mother has mental disability while his father lives in extreme poverty.
After dropping out of school, young Eric became a street child developed illicit behaviors including robbery. His sister was also at risk.
Inshuti z’Umuryango (Ingabire Yvone Sanyu and Fulgence) intervened in 2016.
Habimana vividly remembers the situation as though it happened yesterday.
“Sanyu came when my children were wandering around the neighbourhood. Eric had dropped out of school because I could not get scholastic materials and other needs including food and school uniforms,” he said.
According to Sanyu, when they got involved, they established that what had greatly affected the children was the abject poverty the parents lived through and lack of positive parenting.
“Our interventions required addressing those issues to make sure that children went back to school with at least minimum of their needs also also ensuring the welfare of the family is improved, and in a sustainable way,” said Sanyu.
Thanks to Inshuti z’Umuryango’s advocacy and support, neighbors raised funds for Eric’s school materials including uniform, shoes, and notebooks among many others.
He has since resumed his studies and is performing well.
In order to get the whole family, the best treatment and quality of life possible, Inshuti z’Umuryango have consistently advocated for medical, educational and emotional needs.
Strengthening Inshuti z’Umuryango
The National Commission for Children (NCC) and UNICEF gave the volunteers pre-service and in-service trainings to equip them with needed skills and knowledge to assist children and families efficiently.
Pre-service training is provided to the volunteers before they are deployed, while in-service training is that training they get when they are already working.
With affordable investment including initial and refresher trainings and basic job aid materials like a mobile phone for communication, stationary, an identification badge, an umbrella and a bag replenished periodically, this community workforce contributes to significant efforts in building the foundations of a strong continuum of a child protection system from community to national level.
“UNICEF is proud to have accompanied and supported the IZU since their inception. Although this is a relatively new cadre, they have already helped so many children and families,” says Patricia Lim Ah Ken, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection.
“This demonstrates that the need is there and that IZU are filling a critical gap in identifying, preventing, referring and responding to child protection issues. All children must be protected from violence, exploitation and abuse and we are committed to supporting IZU to achieve their full potential.”
“Inshuti z’Umuryango will achieve more if all stakeholders including local leaders and partners facilitate them to keep their focus on child protection;” Said Dr. Claudine Uwera Kanyamanza, the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Children.
“Their services must be harmonized and standardized to keep their focus on child protection. For this reason, anyone willing to work with the volunteer programme must have a certain accreditation and comply with the programme’s operationalization guidelines,” She added.
Recently NCC has introduced the USSD and SMS reporting system for the Inshuti z’Umuryango. With the system, they will directly and simultaneously report to various institutions including the National Commission for Children and Districts through their mobile telephones.
“The training has really equipped us with new skills we need to improve our service. I have mostly appreciated the topics covered especially the one about the best way to communicate with different groups such as children, youth, persons with disabilities, and the elderly to reduce barriers to open communication” said Dyna Uwimbabazi, one of the volunteers operating in Kabarondo Sector, Kayonza District.