An immense feeling of pride in Project Umubano

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 28 July 2011 in Diary
The secreatry of state for international development visits Project Umubano volunteers in Rwanda, but regrets the absence and loss of Christopher Shale

In 2007, a group of Conservative volunteers travelled to Rwanda to begin the first Project Umubano.

43 of us began partnerships in education, health, justice, community and the private sector, alongside partners such as SURF, the Survivors Fund which supports survivors of the Rwandan genocide. We refurbished a school and began a football coaching programme for young people.

Excited by the experiences we had shared, we went back to the UK to begin planning the next trip. We had high hopes for it then. But now, working on the fifth project across two of Africa’s poorest countries, Umubano has exceeded even our highest expectations.

In the years that I’ve been coming to Rwanda I have seen the first hand how the Project has grown: new initiatives being developed, buildings going up and close friendships forming every year.  Along with the traditional groups we started with, we are now able to bring out marketing experts, cricketers and dentists. This year we have brought 120 people to Africa. It is an experience that keeps people coming back every year to do more. I know for many of the old hands, there’s a sense of home when they arrive in Kigali.

We know that we can only make a small difference in the time that we have here, but the work we do in country is just one part of what makes the Project a success. Umubano was built to allow Rwandans to continue teaching the skills we bring long after we have left. The projects have each left behind a real legacy, to be continued in years to come.

Yesterday we attended the reopening of Girubuntu primary school, the school we refurbished in our first year back in 2007. Brooks Newmark MP was so moved by his experience then that he started a charity, A Partner in Education, to build the school new premises that were large enough for all the children who wanted to attend and would provide a comfortable environment to learn in. The ceremony was attended by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who welcomed Umubano volunteers and thanked them for the lasting work they are doing in Rwanda. 

It was the same message at the opening of the Cyahafi Health Clinic on Tuesday. The people there thanked the Project for raising the money to open a new rural clinic that will give thousands of Rwandans better access to medicine. Umubano doctors raised £19,000 for the building, and they will go back there each year to work with nurses there and provide training to leave new skills behind. Our medics frequently receive hugs from the patients they are treating. The Project’s presence is truly felt.

The presence of one volunteer is truly missed this year.  In many ways, Christopher Shale was the godfather of the project; his pioneering work with genocide survivors’ charities embodied the spirit of Umubano and led to a close personal involvement with the country he loved so much. We know that he would want us to make sure that his good work was taken forward, and the dedication of the community volunteers is ensuring that his project will continue to grow in strength.

I know that this year’s Project leader Stephen Crabb MP shares my immense pride in Umubano. It’s a feeling of dedication that is shared by the entire group. Every volunteer I’ve worked alongside this week has been giving their all to play a part in helping Rwandans. Whether it’s our volunteers building a new research base in the Rwandan senate, businesspeople working alongside traders supporting genocide victims or our sportsmen giving children their first football shirt, there is a real belief that we can all make a difference. 

Andrew Mitchell is the secretary of state for international development. You can read more blogs from Project Umubano here

Tags: Andrew Mitchell, Christopher Shale, International Development, Paul Kagame, Project Umubano, Rwanda

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