At the end of April World Jewish Relief learned that UK Government funding for our livelihoods work in Rwanda would be cut, along with funding for 41 other projects run by small NGOs around the world. With 90 days to close the programme, which was supposed to run until September 2022, we have made the decision to continue funding it ourselves, delivering on our commitment to this transformative work.
World Jewish Relief has worked in Rwanda since 2007. When we started our engagement, the country was slowly emerging from the tremendous trauma of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi.
According to Jerusalem Post contributor Noam Schimmel, Jewish commitment to assisting in Rwanda “is about reaching out to people who have experienced persecution as we have, and who remain impoverished and marginalised. It means assuring them that they are not alone, affirming to them that we know their anguish and their fears, their struggles and their vulnerability”.
World Jewish Relief started its Rwanda work by supporting the rehabilitation and reintegration of street children. Since 2014, our focus has shifted towards the economic and social empowerment of young people in rural and peri-urban areas. Our projects, based in the Eastern Province, focus on helping young people create successful farming businesses or guiding them towards careers in sectors which are particularly in demand such as construction, hospitality, and beauty.
We were delighted when in late 2018, the impact of this work was recognised with a significant grant from the Department for International Development (now the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office).
With the UK Government covering 75% of the overall cost of the programme we were able to scale up our work with Rwandan partners UNM and SACCA , planning to assist 2,815 vulnerable young people to transform their lives.
Following the outbreak of Covid-19, the Rwandan economy has fallen into a recession and the hospitality industry, which is a major employer of the vocational track’s participants, was hit especially hard. Despite all the challenges, with the skills, resilience and motivation participants have developed through the programme they have identified new opportunities, and 97% of the vocational track’s graduates are successfully earning above the living wage.
Within the agronomic track, we have empowered young farmers like Rebecca (pictured) to increase their incomes and develop their confidence, despite having challenging starts in life. Rebecca, who has hearing impairments and whose family could not afford to pay her school fees, says “We, people who are deaf, can do all the activities that others can, in farming and other areas of life. Thanks to the project, we now know that.”
Having worked hard to build trust and a strong partnership with these organisations and programme participants, we were shocked to learn that our UK Government funding would be cut midway through the programme, part of a process of wider aid cuts.
However, at World Jewish Relief we take our role as a partner seriously, and our utmost priority is to maintain the trust of our partners and deliver on our commitment to them. We are dedicated to seeing this project through to completion, so we can continue to support the partners and 2,815 participants who rely so heavily on us to help transform their lives. Whatever the financial impact to World Jewish Relief, this is negligible compared to the harm that would be caused by suddenly closing the programme. From local staff who would lose their incomes, to young farmers relying on us to provide vital resources, the fallout would be catastrophic.
Our Head of Impact and Livelihoods Ekaterina Mitiaev says: "World Jewish Relief pride ourselves on being a caring and kind organisation, and in moments like this we must show that we ‘walk the walk’. We have signed up to be the lead partner in this programme and we will remain the lead partner, fulfilling our responsibilities and delivering on our commitment."
World Jewish Relief CEO Paul Anticoni says: “We are deeply disappointed that government funding has been abruptly cut to such an impactful initiative transforming the lives of some of the most vulnerable individuals in Rwanda including subsistence farmers and those living with disability. Our commitment to these young people and their future is however undiminished, and despite financial pressures, we will do all we can to continue this initiative which goes to the core of Jewish values of Tzedakah and Hesed.”
Our partners have expressed their gratitude to us for continuing the project. Isaac Mugabe, UNM Project Manager, wrote to us “I was really sad to hear this news, which in a country like ours could be catastrophic. I want to acknowledge the efforts of World Jewish Relief to ensure the continuity of our work. Onwards and upwards, with your support we will find a way.”
Learn more about our work in Rwanda and how you can support us.