Gisimba Memorial Center and After-School Program is Patrick Rutikanga’s family legacy. Patrick’s grandparents founded the center as an orphanage in the 1970s. His father and uncle ran the orphanage from 1986 to 2017. In 2012, the Rwandan government began the process of closing all the orphanages in the country, shifting to a foster care system. After the transition, Patrick and his father, Damas Gisimba, shifted the focus to an after-school program, gathering and serving the vulnerable children in this Kigali neighborhood and two other sectors of the city.
The students who meet at Gisimba daily include many who are not enrolled in school. By first-world standards, school fees and uniforms are not expensive. But for many families in these neighborhoods, the costs are well beyond their means. Gisimba teachers – volunteering their time – engage the children in dance, singing, drumming, painting and jewelry-making. They also work with them on literacy and tutor those who are in school in other subjects. There is an on-site library in addition to the several studios and gathering places for performing, sports and sharing time with visitors, like our group.
The children shared their dance and music with us.
We visited the jewelry-making studio and the painting studio. The children sell their work to help support their families.
The children are proud of their library and work there in a creative learning environment.
To say I was impressed with the Gisimba teachers would be an understatement. They are working artists and, in one case, a working surgeon. The teachers’ investment – and their joy – in engaging with the children, is palpable. As is Patrick’s. Patrick designed a summer camp this past year “I Know I Can!” which had great success. He is dreaming of expanding it to last longer, and have greater a greater impact: for example, he would like the children to be able to tour their performance work. Patrick is a graduate of TCUs IEP and we are looking forward to his return to graduate school next fall.
We enjoyed dinner one evening with Patrick and the dance teachers from Gisimba. Eya Khalifa shared one of the AFRO KASA films with us – work he choreographed and performs.
In opening this entry, I noted that the Gisimba Center is Patrick’s legacy. It is also the legacy of the Rwandese people. A legendary act of bravery occurred here during the 1994 genocide. Patrick’s father, Damas, his uncle, Jean-Francoise and an American named Carl Wilkens, country director of ADRA, the Adventist relief organization, stood together to prevent a massacre of over 400 orphans and adults taking refuge in the center. There is a brief account here in this 2011 Guardian article on line.
In his book “I’m not leaving” published by World Outside My Shoes (Spokane WA) in 2011, Wilkens offers a detailed account of his stay in Kigali during the 100-day genocide when the rest of the international community fled and the choices he made daily to move as a human being among human beings through the height of the devastation. It is a difficult read. May we all inherit their courage.