In this series, students document their experiences during the internships in 2012. Scattered across the globe, they are reporting from places like Haiti, South America, Africa, Mongolia and Japan.

Yuya Fukada reports on his internship with UNICEF in Rwanda.

Six weeks have already passed since we started our internship with UNICEF Rwanda. So far, I had been to six countries in Sub-Sahara Africa, and the life here in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is by far the best experience in terms of daily life, comfort and security.

Landing at Kigali Airport at 19:30.

Situated in  east Africa, Rwanda is the 149th-largest country and often referred to as the “miracle of Africa”, due to its dramatic economic growth after having suffered the 1994 genocide in which an estimated one million people died. From the perspective of a simple tourist, you would hardly recognize any scars of the genocide unless you visited the genocide memorial centers, which are located all around the country.
Infrastructures such as roads and electricity have been constructed and seemingly well designed. You would be surprised by the amount of skyscrapers that have sprung up in the city center.

Kigali City Tower, one of the tallest commercial buildings

Together with fellow student Ana Livi, as interns of UNICEF Rwanda we were assigned to the organization’s construction unit and are working under the supervision of Luca Ginoulhiac, a Construction Works Specialist that deals with several projects in this country.

Our two main objectives for this three-month period are to develop a basic design of an ECD (Early Childhood Development) center and to provide the design for a school toilet unit that adopts MHM (menstrual hygiene management) standards.

Luca and Ana discussing with a member of an NGO

An ECD center is an educational facility specialized in children between 0 to 6 years old and their parents. Because statistics show that education for younger children generates higher contributions to the development of the country, it is vital to increase investment in this area. Various ministries, UN organizations and NGOs in Rwanda have been tackling this issue, as are many other developing nations.

Although no concrete guidelines or rules have yet been drawn out, so far the services to be provided include early child stimulation, health and nutrition care, prenatal care and parental education.

Concept drawing of ECD center, by Yuya Fukada

Technically, these centers are already exist, most of which were implemented by local communities, NGOs and private entrepreneurs. However, because involvement and contribution of public institutions is limited, people are often forced to manage their own centers without any financial and technical support, making the quality of the centers relatively poor in terms of both software and hardware. Unfortunately, neither are there any reliable statistics, given that this issue is quite new for them.

The government is now aiming to establish more than 2000 ECD centers throughout the country. Feasibility aside, if this goal were to be achieved, it would signify a great contribution to Rwanda and its people.

Self-managed daycare center: The inner courtyard of a community member’s home is used as a space where parents can leave their children while they work on the farms.

At the beginning of our stay here, we visited and interviewed international NGOs that are actively involved with early childhood development, finding that community initiative is a necessary and interesting approach. We also realized, however, that there are so many things to be improved in terms of design. Some buildings are merely a replication of a primary school that do not take into account the special needs of younger children and infants, presenting problems such as lack of ventilation and poor quality of materials, which are clearly due to limited human and financial resources.

Several weak points of existing centers, by Yuya Fukada

In order for us to reach the design phase, we still need to find answers to a score of questions: What kind of services/facilities are should be provided? Who we are designing for? How can we incorporate water infrastructure? What material should be used? Construction method? Capacity? Geometric character? Vegetation?

Child stimulation at an existing ECD center

Throughout the coming days we will visit several candidate sites to implement as a pilot project in each of the five provinces of Rwanda.

Hope to see some mountain gorillas on our way.

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