Marembo, where the gates are always open

by Amy Gaskin

The rights of a child are no less important than the rights held by any adult, especially the right to live in safety, free from violence and abuse. Centre Marembo is incredibly familiar with this message, as it aims to promote the rights of children in its everyday work.

The Centre was founded in 2003 and has evolved to specialize in providing a home, healthcare, and education for young girls. On our first visit to Marembo, co-founder Nicolette Nsabimana told us the story of a young girl living on the street with a child Nicolette discovered to be the girl’s own. Our time here has shown us that there are many reasons a child may turn to life on the street, but Marembo has changed many lives by opening its doors – the very meaning of the Kinyarwanda word marembo – to girls residing on the streets of Kigali.

During our first few weeks at Centre Marembo, our work revolved heavily around organizing the Centre’s annual Advocacy Day (link to Advocacy Day post?). The goal of the day was to raise awareness about how children’s rights are violated, specifically here in Kigali, and aimed to eradicate the blaming of children for the violence and abuse committed against them. Each of us were assigned a different task from greeting guests to transcribing speeches, and we worked with Nicolette and the rest of the Marembo team to ensure the day went smoothly and was as successful as possible.


Amy Gaskin and Anita Dabirzadeh at Centre Marembo’s 2nd annual Advocacy Day

Following Advocacy Day, the Centre launched a citywide campaign travelling to the smaller, more impoverished districts in and around Kigali to continue spreading their message. Representatives from the Gender Monitoring Office and Les Enfants de Dieu, another Centre where some of our students have been working, joined us to speak about issues regarding drugs and alcohol abuse, education, and the responsibilities a parent has to their children. We heard many heartfelt stories, translated from Kinyarwanda by Marembo’s translator, Jean Bosco “Bright,” who sat with us each day of the campaign. Each of these stories and communities made the issues presented on Advocacy Day more real and tangible; one young boy of about 5-years-old explained how he was not attending school because his mother had left, and his father’s job allowed for only his two older brothers to receive an education. The boy’s clothing, we noticed, was shabbier than the rest of the children, and we discovered that he spent most of the day at home alone while his father was working. When asked what he wanted most, the boy said he wished to go to school. “And?” Nicolette prompted. The boy wanted food on the table, a new pair of shoes, and some nicer clothes so as not to seem so different from the rest of the children. Nicolette put her arm around the boy and, after the speakers had done their piece, she reclaimed the microphone and announced that with the help of the community leader, they would personally be making sure the boy received an education and he had clothes to wear to school. This, of all the incredible moments of the campaign, stuck out to me; because of this campaign, a young boy will receive an education.

Since the end of the campaign, our group has been teaching English to the girls at the Centre and working to update the Centre’s website and as an MIT student, much of the website revamp fell into my hands. After reformatting and updating, the site has a new look that I hope will contribute to the future success of Marembo by providing information for those who may not even know the Centre exists, let alone the incredible work it does for the people of Kigali.

Working at Centre Marembo this past month has really opened my eyes to the injustices that are present across the globe; even children in Canada face abuse and violence. This is not an issue for Rwanda alone. I hope my last week will continue to show me how much of a difference on action can make, and that when we return to Canada, we remember that even small actions, like picking a boy out of a crowd and buying him a pair of shoes, can have a huge impact. Sure, a pair of shoes may not change the world, but they changed that boy’s world, and I hope he wears them proudly.





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