By Daniel Mpala
Before she arrived at Kyaka II at the age of nine, former Rwandan refugee Vanessa Ishimwe had a “wonderful life”.
After fleeing Rwanda with her mother, following the death of her father, the two ended up at Ugandan refugee camp where they struggling to get even one meal a day. Medication was also difficult to come by.
At the time, going to school was also “very difficult” for most refugees because of a lack of schools, school fees and long distances.
Today Ishimwe runs Youth Initiative for Development in Africa (Yida).
The startup, which she founded Yida in 2014 together with Ntakiruta James Gihoma and Baraka Benedict, provides free early childhood education to refugee children in Kyaka II.
In addition, Yida also works with other partner organisations to provide youth in the community with scholarship opportunities, leadership and entrepreneurship training.
Ishimwe, who became an Anzisha Fellow last year at the age of 22, in April, was awarded the Social Impact Award by the Anzisha Prize in recognition of the impact Yida has made.
“It is first of all an honour that somehow the impact that Yida has made in the refugee settlement can be acknowledged at a continental level,” says Ishimwe.
Last year, Yida helped up to 317 children through its early childhood development centres. In doing so, her organisation has assisted about 90 parents by freeing up their time to allow them to work on their businesses or to study.
“We have employed 18 young people to work as teachers and caregivers who not only benefit from earning a living from the service they provide, but also earn knowledge as they are given training by Unicef for being part of our early childhood development centres
“This improves their teaching abilities and makes them more employable and helps them deliver a quality service,” explains Ishimwe.
Yida currently employs five interns and five volunteers. Last year the social enterprise trained 30 people, 10 of whom went on to start their own businesses using knowledge acquired from Yida and Unicef’s training.
This year alone, Ishimwe says Yida aims to help 500 children. The organisation also has plans to launch a primary school which will educate its pre-school graduates.
Ishimwe says her main challenge has been convincing stakeholders about what Yida does and “how we do it differently” as well as getting long term partners and investors.
Yida’s main investors and partners currently include the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Anzisha Prize, Global Youth Empowerment, Children on the Edge Africa, CIYOTA and Unicef.
Ishimwe explains that the accolade is “more of an added responsibility” to ensure that she maintains or increases Yida’s impact.
“When I present what has been done by Yida, I have the whole community of Kyaka behind me, so the award is a reminder of this and a call for more action,” she adds.
Ishimwe says so much of her teenage life has inspired her to want to make a difference.
“I knew I wanted to be somebody and I also wanted to help my family and friends out of the misery and fear of not realising one’s dreams,” she adds.
Yida, Ishimwe says, was born out of the idea that she along with her co-founders wanted to make the next generation’s lives better, to create a better tomorrow — even in a refugee camp, hence the school.
Says Ishimwe: “And out of the will to sustain ourselves and help other young people like us crawl out of poverty and dependency hence our entrepreneurship training”.
Featured image: Mastercard Foundation program manager Koffi Assouan, Youth Initiative for Development in Africa co-founder Vanessa Ishimwe and ALA vice president growth and entrepreneurship Josh Adler