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UBC’s Sarah Elder, with UN and Rwandan officials - photo courtesy of Seleman Nizeyimana and Sarah Elder
UBC’s Sarah Elder, with UN and Rwandan officials - photo courtesy of Seleman Nizeyimana and Sarah Elder

UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 9 | Sep. 6, 2007

UBC Intern Raises Funds for Former Child Soldier

By Basil Waugh

He took an abandoned building and made a schoolhouse. Given a pile of rickety bikes, he created a fleet of bicycle taxis.

Call it the Midas touch, but Seleman Nizeyimana, the 26-year-old former child soldier who founded the Association for Youth Literacy and Trades Education (ASOLATE), is giving the orphans of Rwanda’s bloody 1994 genocide something more valuable than gold. He’s giving them hope.

Since 2004, ASOLATE has offered Rwandan street kids aged 13 to 25 basic classes in French and math and a variety of trades including soldering and electrical, soap, candle and paint-making, sewing, and project management and development.

“ASOLATE is teaching these orphans employable skills so that they can sustain themselves,” says UBC’s Sara Elder, who is traveling to Africa this month to give Nizeyimana’s project a financial and organizational boost.

Elder met Nizeyimana while working with the United Nations in Rwanda, an experience made possible by the UBC Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability’s (IRES) International Internship Program.

“The positive impact ASOLATE was having on the community was so evident,” Elder says. “When I completed my internship and thought about my next step, I just knew I wanted to get involved.”

Elder aims to raise $6,000 annually for ASOLATE through fundraising events in Vancouver, is also applying for funding grants and has created a website for the organization. When she returns to Rwanda, she plans to document ASOLATE’s success at reducing poverty in a video-journal.

That Elder’s work in Rwanda continues a year after her internship speaks to the impact these experiences have on participants, says IRES’ Terre Satterfield, faculty supervisor of the internship program.

“For most students, the internships are life-changing experiences,” Satterfield says. “It gives participants the opportunity to put their research and learning into practice, but also transforms their lens on the world.”

Since it was created in 1998, the program has placed 51 young professionals in paid international work experiences in environmental sustainability, resources management and sustainable community development.

Open to Canadians under the age of 30 with at least a bachelor’s degree, the program is made possible with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Canadian Water Network.

This year, 10 interns will travel to New Zealand, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, Uruguay and Nicaragua. Placements are made possible through UBC international research links.

For her internship, Elder traveled around Rwanda, monitoring and evaluating two UN World Food Programs (WFP).  One program that gave families cooking oil in exchange for the attendance of young girls at school was “an overwhelming success,” Elder says.

“I was skeptical at first, but for many girls it was the difference between getting an education or being kept at home. Some of the girls I talked to said the program saved them from having to raise money for school supplies through prostitution.”

Less successful was a WFP program that gave families affected by HIV/AIDS food in exchange for their attendance at NGO-sponsored training on crop planting techniques.

“The program had its heart in the right place, but the desired effect was to make these families more self-sufficient -- and for several reasons that just wasn’t happening.”

When Elder pointed out the program’s shortcomings in a report, the UN hired her to stay in Rwanda for another three months to implement her recommendations. Edler introduced a monthly monitoring system that has improved communication between Rwanda’s WFP offices and partner NGO’s and has helped to better track successes and identify issues with WFP programs.

“Having spoken with the people impacted by these programs, it was incredibly rewarding to make changes that I knew would improve their lives,” says Elder, who manages IRES’ International Internship Program and is considering graduate programs. “It was really gratifying to be able to make their voices heard at the decision-making level.”

Given Elder’s successful international track record, Nizeyimana and the students of ASOLATE are looking forward to her impending arrival.

“Now we have more than 150 orphaned street youth at the training center,” wrote Nizeyimana in an interview by email, “but I don’t have adequate funding to properly accommodate them all. Because of Sara, that is changing and giving the youth hope. These youth are not just ‘maibobo’ [street children], they are the future of Rwanda.”

For more information on the International Internship Program, visit: www.ires.ubc.ca/students/global.

For more information on ASOLATE, visit: www.asolate.org.

Former Student Draws Prof to Africa

By Basil Waugh

During her internship, Sara Elder successfully coaxed UBC nutrition expert Judy McLean to Rwanda, a move that is helping to improve the country’s nutrition levels.

“After the genocide, I don’t think there was a single Rwandan with a PhD in nutrition,” says McLean, an adjunct professor in UBC’s Faculty of Land and Food Systems. “They were either among the 800,000 killed or they fled in the diaspora.”

Eldler contacted her former professor during a four-month internship at Rwanda’s University of Agriculture, Technology and Education of Kibungo (UNATEK), where she was responsible for marketing and fundraising.

“One day, Sara called looking for nutritionists,” says McLean. “Next thing I knew, I was in Rwanda teaching a class. In a way, the tables were turned. Here was a former student calling me up, giving me the opportunity of a lifetime.”

McLean’s course addressed common forms of malnutrition in Central Africa, including deficiencies in energy, protein, fat iron, and vitamin A. Many of these problems can be addressed through education and minor changes in diet, she says.

“The common Rwandan staple of green bananas, cassava flour and beans does not supply enough of the nine essential amino acids needed for human health,” says McLean. “By simply switching from cassava to maize or sorgum flour, both widely available, you get all the amino acids you need for growth.”

Although McLean has returned to Canada, she continues to do outreach in Rwanda. In addition to leaving her course materials for future teachers at UNATEK, she was recently appointed Director of Nutrition for Ubuntu (translated as “humanity”), a village of 600 Rwandan widows and orphans on the outskirts of Kigali, the country’s capital.

“Science isn’t worth anything if we don’t apply it,” says McLean, who will return to Rwanda next summer. “Information needs to be much more available, in schools, community clinics, hospitals, on posters and in publications.”

For more information on Judy McLean’s projects, visit: www.landfood.ubc.ca/research/faculty_webpages/mclean.

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Last reviewed 13-Sep-2007

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