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Encouraging Youth to Be Volunteers
03 March 2008
by Ann Christine Ishimwe

Kigali, Rwanda: Encouraging Youth to Be Volunteers

"One of the ways to make the world a better place is for people to become committed to voluntarily help each other." That is the message which two inspired young men, Baker Gasatura and Medin Matsiko, want to spread, especially since they see that the spirit of volunteerism is still lacking in Rwanda.

They have created an organization to change that attitude, and dynamic as they are, they want to turn it into a global movement.

Global Trustees for Unity and Peace Volunteers (GTUPV) is an NGO that was set up in Rwanda on January 14, 2007 by Baker Gasatura and six other energetic youth. Gasatura, who is the current president of the organization, says the initiative was born when the founders realized that the youth worldwide should positively contribute to the development of their countries.

Thus, GTUPV was started with the commitment to supporting and promoting the spirit of volunteerism in development activities in Rwanda. "Our goal is to enhance the youth's capacity to serve and participate in activities that target the development of the nation, while we also aim at promoting peace and unity throughout the world," Baker Gasatura says.

This, the gtupv president explains, has resulted in, amongst others, the organization of a Peace and Unity March last year, in which students from Green Hills Academy, Fawe Girls School and the International Academy participated.

Moreover, in a bid to work with vulnerable groups to fight poverty, gtupv has helped returnees from Tanzania by providing them with clothes and food. "We also visited the home for genocide survivors at Kinyinya where we donated clothes," Gasatura adds.

Furthermore, GTUPV worked with the ministry of local government on the amendment of certain laws which will make it easier for new associations to get registered.

The organization also held a workshop, sponsored by the City of Kigali, to sensitize people to fight aids, poverty and promote literacy. It further initiated an anti-AIDS club aimed at educating street children and youth in general on the dangers of HIV/AIDS.

Spirit of volunteerism

Medin Matsiko, the secretary general of GTUPV, however acknowledges that the organization still faces many challenges. As is the case for many local NGO's, they still struggle to find sufficient funds to finance their activities. Until now, they have worked with activity-based financing, receiving assistance from Minaloc, UNIFEM and Kigali City Council, amongst others.

In order to remedy the problem, GTUPV is elaborating six project proposals which include, amongst others, a project to train hiv/aids patients for them to become self-reliant; a program for instilling the spirit of peace and unity in people; and raising awareness on the dangers of HIV/AIDS.

A bigger hurdle, given the organization's mission, is the lack of spirit of volunteerism among Rwandans. "Very few people are willing to voluntarily work with us," Medin Matsiko says. "Yet they could use their skills to educate or train others, to help reduce literacy, or to make available their talents in other areas that benefit the society in the long run."

He finds this all the more sad considering that people from other countries voluntarily come to help Rwandans through various organizations. "So they can do it, yet we Rwandans do not learn from this good example to voluntarily help our fellow citizens, without asking for or expecting any gains in exchange."

In response, GTUPV has conceived a program to go to schools and motivate young people to voluntarily engage in building houses for the most needy, donating scholastic material to less fortunate students or clothes to the poor.

On a positive note, however, Matsiko notices a positive trend amongst secondary school students, as was made clear during the peace march, in which they enthusiastically participated.

Yet the secretary general cautions that it is not only about young people. "It is high time that people stopped looking only for jobs that pay them; they need to be involved in volunteer activities that develop their nations, and then do all it takes to work them out. One of the ways to make the world a better place is for people to become committed to voluntarily help each other," Medin Matsiko argues.

Going global

However, GTUPV looks beyond the country's borders, and wants to become an international movement. "We already have a branch in Uganda, and a visitor from Malaysia who was in the country last year and learned about our activities, has helped us to set up another one in his country," the secretary general says.

Other items on the GTUPV agenda are establishing vocational schools for carpentry and catering. Also, they want to reach out to street children, in collaboration with bigger organizations, to help pay school fees or, for those who would prefer to work, to assist them in setting up small income-generating projects.

In the field of fighting HIV/AIDS, the organization will soon start collaborations with youth groups from Uganda such as Nagulu Teenage Centre, which helps young people fight HIV/AIDS, sexually-transmitted diseases, abortions etc., as well as with Young, Empowered and Healthy, a youth association that deals with the well-being of the youth in creating an HIV/AIDS-free world.