Kabuga: a Tiny School Equipping Street Kids

On a little dirt road halfway up a little hill sits a tiny little school—two classrooms and a supply closet—with hammers and tape measures, screwdrivers and a circle saw, and 16 students training in the areas of mechanics, electricity, masonry, carpentry, and welding. Many are former street kids and/or orphans due to the loss or imprisonment of their parents following the 1994 genocide, and are between the ages of 15 and 22—although there is no age limit, simply a stated need for skills.

This is where we hung out for a couple of days.

Kabuga Vocational Training Centre is ALARM’s response to street and orphaned children who were living without education and other basic needs in a small village outside Kigali after the 1994 genocide.

My dream is to be a good electrician and get a job with a company to help install electricity in my village.
-Mikali, age 16


I want to be a good mechanic so I can take care of my family and help my community.
-Kinongisse, age 22

Jeff and I visited the students, teachers and graduates of the Training Center to learn more about life and work in Kabuga. The first day we spent at school with current students, and the second day in the field with four different working grads: a welder, a carpenter and two moto taxi drivers, and two auto mechanic interns. Of the students we met, two grads are former street kids, two are orphans, one is a father of five, and all are primary earners for their siblings/family members. We were also greeted and accompanied by the school’s two teachers who receive their pay via in-kind donations (like soap) totaling less than $20 monthly.

Moto drivers and teachers

The school runs on a budget of $0, and relies solely on support that comes through ALARM, donations sent by places like Home Depot, or spontaneous gifts left by traveling visitors. Teachers receive no salary, and, in fact, sometimes pay transportation costs to and from school each day.

Why would teachers do this?

Emmanuel“I have a gift of helping kids without hope,” says teacher Emmanuel, father of three who quit his paying job five years ago to teach at the school when he felt called to help ‘those who are weak’ as he has read in the Bible and has been taught in church. He was recruited by Celestin (founder of ALARM), and says he answered the call to serve.

My salary is not physical,” he says, when asked how he makes his living and supports his family. “It is spiritual. I can’t explain it. It’s a mystery how we are cared for. Visitors give gifts and we survive from them. You can’t imagine how God provides for my family. ALARM helps us get basic tools to the kids at school.”

About 180 students have graduated since the school was founded in 2004, and more than 90% have been able to get jobs, and create co-ops and associations.  Twenty-one students are currently enrolled in the Center this year.

The entire vocational training program takes about 18 months, with one year in the classroom, and six months in the field. Many students found the school through word-of-mouth, or from graduates who had been through the program. Some were simply living on the streets and saw the school, or saw others walking to the school. Every student we encountered reports they were warmly welcomed by the teachers when the approached the school to ask how they could become students.

Students are able to select one of two vocational tracks: mechanic and electricity, or masonry, carpentry and welding.  At the end of their fieldwork, they are provided with certificates, and they can go find jobs.

ALARM has proposed a budget to pay the teachers a small salary of $200/month, and hopes to raise those funds this year. In addition, ALARM hopes to purchase four motorbikes per year to allow the students a sort of rent-to-own system for those embarking on moto-taxi careers. Currently, students have to rent motos from private owners at a cost of $5000 RWF per day, and the rental fee comes from their earnings. To put this in perspective, a typical moto ride costs between 500-700 RWF.  Slow days can sometimes mean no food, and the drivers live within this rent-work-pay cycle indefinitely, because most can never earn enough to purchase their own motorbikes. One motorbike costs about $2,200USD!

Testimonies of Students who have graduated:

Martin T (pictured above) is the 26 y/o single “husband” of the family to his mom and sister. He graduated in 2009 with skills in carpentry, electricity and driving. Before he joined the vocational school, he had dropped out of secondary school because he could not afford the school fees. He describes this difficult time in this way: No job, no money, no life, no future. However, when he discovered the school, he found the teachers to be kind and helpful and he was accepted into the program with no questions. He is now earning his living as a moto taxi driver with aspirations to become a truck driver some day. He continues to care for his sister and mom.

Mark M (pictured above) is a 25 y/o who graduated from the Training Center in 2009. He was living on the streets as a teenager after he lost his parents, and he had never been educated, even at a primary school level. After learning about the Vocational Center from other graduates who had been provided with an education at no cost, Mark walked to the school and was welcomed in to the program. He is now making his living as a taxi driver.

WelderDavid N is a 27 y/o welder, the second-born of five orphaned kids, who, prior to David’s ability to find work as a welder, lived under bridges and on the streets, feeding his brothers and sister from dustbins. When he joined the school, his education gave him the opportunity to earn an income, and he now works as a welder. He is able to rent a small home, buy food, clothing and shoes for his siblings, and send the two youngest brothers to secondary school. His older sister takes care of the house and siblings with hopes of one day being able to study, too. David has been a welder for five years and aspires to one day purchase his own welding equipment to operate his own business.  David says, “The school has trained me, educated me and changed my street-boy behavior. I am so thankful for this school and my teacher. I can’t describe how to thank my teacher, Emmanuel.”

CarpenterJuvenoli B is a 38 y/o husband and father of five kids who works as a carpenter. He was previously in agriculture, but due to erosion and poor soil, he could not generate enough income to provide for his family, pay rent and send his kids to school. He was accepted into the vocational center and trained in carpentry. He now makes and sells beautiful chairs, headboards, doors and other items.

We were so inspired by these guys, by the teachers, and by our time with Kabuga peeps- it was one of our best couple of days in Rwanda!

Entire photo album is here.

For more info on other grads and/or how to get involved, check out: this page, and the June issue of World Next Door magazine :)