Inveneo and Rock Global Help Sister Irene Bring Hope to Refugees in Rural Rwanda
(by Ted Miller)
In the Kiziba refugee camp, in the Western Province of Rwanda, Sister Irene Guia is making a difference in the lives of thousands. As Country Director for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Rwanda, Sister Irene is responsible for the formal education of primary and secondary students (8,400 and 1,400 respectively) at Kiziba and the refugee camp of Gihembe, each of which houses more than 18,000 displaced residents of war-torn Congo. She also oversees projects for youth who have abandoned the school system.
Sister Irene is a driven and passionate humanitarian with a clear vision of how to make life better for all in the camp. When it came time to put the next part of her plan into action – to build a computer-learning center in each camp that could be used to help teach young people basic computer skills – Sister Irene approached it with the same attitude.
She insisted that best way to improve the lives for people in the camp was to teach them basic job skills and then have them teach others. With basic education and computer training, she hoped to help many of these refugees make it out of the camp and make lives for themselves. She also hoped to give them a taste of the outside world and a chance to communicate with their peers outside the camp.
For the first phase of the project, Sister Irene wanted to open one computer center at Kiziba in time for the beginning of the new school year in August. However, having never attempted to pull off a project quite like this before, she did not know where to start or who to turn to. She put out a call to her colleagues in the region and learned about a project that Inveneo had been involved with the prior year.
“When I first decided that I wanted to go through with this project, it was pretty intimidating,” says Sister Irene. “I think this is a challenge many people like me in the region face every day. We want to do good, we want to push things forward and provide opportunities to the people in our camps, but lack the contacts and resources to do so. It was a true blessing to learn about Inveneo, and the good they are doing throughout Africa.”
After exchanging e-mails with Inveneo Project Manager Jessica Santana, it was decided that the Kiziba project would include the installation of 14 new, low power computers networked together with a central printer along with a reliable generator as the power source. Refurbished computers were not an option because they were unreliable, and they needed something sustainable to work with inconsistent power in the camp.
Inveneo introduced Sister Irene to Johnny Kayihura from Rock Global Consulting, one of Inveneo’s certified ICT partners in Rwanda, who led for the installation project.
“Sister Irene knew what she wanted from the start,” reports Johnny Kayihura. “When she puts her mind to something, there is a straight forward set of goals, and she won’t take no for an answer. Its driven people like her that are helping change people’s lives in our country in a big way.”
With close oversight from Sister Irene, Rock Global and Inveneo quickly jumped into action. They had just two months until the opening of classes, and had a lot of work to do. First Inveneo had to deliver the hardware, then Rock Global had to perform the install and make sure everything was up and running for the students.
“Working with Sister Irene on this project was a rewarding challenge,” states Jessica Santana, Inveneo Project Manager. “She has such a passion for her students. Inveneo and the team at Rock Global worked hard to ensure that she received the equipment and support she needed to implement a successful, sustainable program.”
By August, the project at Kiziba was completed and the camp had its first computer-learning center. Almost immediately, students and teachers began taking advantage of the new technology, and Sister Irene reported nothing but smiles from each and every one of them. This past December, Sister Irene began training 85 teachers on basic computer literacy. During the holidays, small groups of teachers attended five hours per week of training each.
Currently, Sister Irene, Johnny, and Inveneo are already hard at work to complete a second computer center at Gihembe, set to be finished in early 2009.
“I believe that completing projects, big or small, will always depend on the strength of our engagement with others,” explains Sister Irene. “That’s why I believe that this project, in spite of being very simple, will somehow affect the lives of all of us. From the first moment, what has driven all of us is the commitment to helping others, especially refugees. I want to thank Inveneo and Rock Global for their commitment to our desire to make this happen.”