Visit to Communaute de Potiers au Rwanda (COPORWA)

On August 27, 2012 Kevin Maxwell and Lambert Mugabo, two Alumni of Global Youth Connect Learning and Action program for Young Leaders visited COPORWA, a local organization advocating for potters in Rwanda.

During three weeks, that is August 2nd-23rd, 2012 Global Youth Connect (GYC); which is a U.S.-based organization dedicated to building and supporting a community of youth who are actively promoting and protecting human rights, and to educate and inspire the next generation to work for peaceful change, and INARA LEGAL AID SERVICES (INALAS);a national, Rwandan human rights and youth organization whose mission is to contribute to the building of a State based on the Rule of Law by promoting equal access to justice have jointly organized a human rights learning and action program that  brought together 29 young and passionate people from Rwanda, United States of America, and Canada.

The objective of the program is to empower Youth to advance human rights by providing them with space to share ideas across cultures, learn effective strategies for promoting human rights and enhance skills through the collaborative development of new project ideas and strategies.

Over the course of the program delegates had opportunities to explore and discuss about human rights through workshops, visit various sites to learn about experiences in Rwanda which highlight both violation and promotion of human rights, and take 4 days to volunteer service with Non   Government Organizations (NGO) that have already taken action to advance human rights.

In line with the objectives of the program which regards the development of strategies or projects, many delegates come up with various ideas either individually or collectively, and one of the idea is concerned with helping Communauté des Potiers au Rwanda (COPORWA), an organization advocating for potters, to advance the human rights among communities of potters. I accordance with the idea, on August 27, 2012 two delegates, namely Kevin Maxwell from USA, and Lambert Mugabo from Rwanda visited COPORWA offices and held a meeting with Jeanne D’Arc Mukasekuru, who is also a GYC Alumni and secretary of COPORWA, and Zéphyrin KALIMBA, the Director of COPORWA.

The objective of the visit was to get insights into COPORWA’s work, raise the awareness around idea of GYC Alumni to advance human rights of Historically Marginalized People, and to explore different ways in which projects can be directed.

The meeting was fruitful for the objective was achieved. At the arrival around 3 pm we were warmly received by Jeanne D’Arc who took time to take us through a brief presentation on COPORWA’s work.  COPORWA is legal representative of 35, 000 potters in Rwanda. It has various departments including education, income generation activities, as well as human rights.

In Rwanda potters face many challenges in daily life. Few of them, only 15 persons, have completed university level, their access to land is very limited, and most importantly it is believed that since 1970 when the legislation outlawed hunting and they were driven out of the forest, which had been their main source of livelihoods, yet they have not adjusted themselves enough to cope with the modern living style. During our meeting the Director was quoted as saying” The main problem we are facing is that young people are not motivated to fight for good life, they drop out school”.

During the period from 1995-2006 COPORWA used to assist students to get school fees and materials, and has even cared for them by visiting them to school and bringing them together during holidays so that they could share their challenges. However, since 2006 the program stopped particularly due the lack funds, and those who attend school are mainly assisted by the Ministry of Local Government (MINALOC).

On our arrival we saw some members being provided with some materials for tailoring such as tailoring machines and raw materials,  and others were provided with constructing tools, and we learnt that those are them who attended vocational training and upon the completion are assisted to get materials to enable them to find a job.

Furthermore, as far as income generating activities are concerned, we learned that despite beautiful and unique ceramic products notably cups, plates, candle holders, bowls, etc. made by potters, which is the main source of income of potters in Rwanda,  there is still a challenge to get access to market for the products. During our visit we were informed that they used to have exhibition room for the products, but after the death of the person who used to exhibit the products they are stored in COPORWA offices. Another point is that they have difficulties to find customers who are willing to pay a real value of their products.

The meeting ended around 5 pm with a common understanding that there is a need of an appropriate research that focuses on psychological and social aspects and planned for another meeting scheduled on September 4, 2012 and which shall bring on the board all COPORWA staff, Kevin Maxwell, Lambert Mugabo and Isaie Mihigo, a clinical psychologist, and shall go into the details of the intended research to be conducted.

Relying on the collaboration of COPORWA officials we sensed during our visit, and the compassion, commitment toward the creation of a more just world, skills, as well as the knowledge of GYC Alumni; we hope to ignite the change among Historically Marginalized People in Rwanda. We do not have to wait for others to change the world; the change should start within ourselves. “You must be the change you want to see in the world” Mahatma Ghandi.

Thank you for taking your time to read this post, and your feedback is welcome, and most importantly I encourage you to spread the word.

From right to the left, Kevin Maxwell, Lambert Mugabo, Zephyrin Kalimba and Jeanne D’Arc Mukasekuru.

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