When Pio Mbabazi was orphaned in 1994 at just five years old, he learned the heartbreaking lesson of what it means to grow up labelled as “different.”
After losing his mother to illness and then losing his father in the genocide perpetrated against Tutsis, Pio became a marginalized person, often finding himself excluded from society and having trouble accessing the same services that other children in Rwanda could expect as a right.
Growing up, Pio depended on the generosity of others just to survive. Accessing education was a challenge because he had to come up with the means to pay for his own school books, without a family to support him. Without parents to protect him, he was vulnerable to abuses of those seeking to take advantage of him. Above all, he felt isolated from his community.
“Many orphans, they feel alone, because no one showed them emotional support. So it’s important that people know that they have someone who cares and that there are people who will speak up for them.”
Pio’s experience of being excluded prompted him to get involved with Never Again Rwanda’s Youth for Human Rights project, funded by US AID.
Today, 25-year-old Pio is an advocate for marginalized groups and seeks to be a support to people in his community who may face troubles because of their differences.
“Sometimes in Rwandan culture we say ‘Nu kobimeze’ or ‘Ntibindeba,’ meaning ‘It’s not my problem,’” says Pio. “But if I can do something, if I can say something, maybe people will understand that others are having these problems and a change will start to happen.”
Pio is one of 30 young people headed to Huye district in Rwanda’s southern province from February 17 – 19 for a Thought Leader Training, hosted by Youth for Human Rights. The training provides a collaborative environment for young advocates to get together to discuss their work and brainstorm opportunities to become more effective. The group will give presentations, participate in group problem-solving activities and present their findings with others. They will also learn about the resources that are currently available in Rwanda to deal with human rights abuses that they may come across in their respective communities.
“Only a few of these young people know where to go or how to handle human rights violations,” says Prisca Ntabaza, a program officer with Never Again Rwanda who leads the Y4HR project. The youth are instrumental in helping to reduce marginalization and social exclusion, she adds, and they can be very effective in improving the lives of their fellow citizens.
“People who are excluded socially cannot take part in decision-making processes or community life. It may affect them at school, at work, and even in their families,” says Ntabaza.
“Girls who become pregnant at a young age are often socially excluded from their families, from school, from work, because of stereotypes that are attached to them as young mothers. This results in many of them not returning to school, not getting the skills they need to find a job and not participating as full members in society for the rest of their lives.”
The Thought Leader Training will help the youth participants to learn about the various groups that are vulnerable to social exclusion – such as women, disabled people, orphans, the poor, young mothers, historically marginalized people, etc. – through presentations given by their peers.
“This training is equipping the youth with the necessary tools that they will need and will help the youth to be more effective advocates for themselves and for others in their communities,” Ntabaza says.
For Pio, the training will enable him to broaden his awareness about marginalized groups and to help in his mission to bring positive change to his community by setting a good example for others and speaking up for those who are socially excluded. Rwanda is already a beautiful place to live, Pio says, but there is still room for improvement – and he wants to set an example that his colleagues, friends and family can follow.
“If you take care of others, and you value the lives of others, if you can protect others, Rwanda can be even more beautiful.”