• Population: 12.3 million people
  • Rural population: 4/5 (80%) of the population is rural based and most of the urban population has a rural home and community

Social work education institutions (SWEIs)

  • Kaminuza y’u Rwanda/University of Rwanda (1999), Department of Social Sciences
  • University of Technology and Arts of Byumba (UTAB) (previously Byumba Polytechnic Institute or Institut Polytechnique de Byumba (IPB) (2006)
  • Catholic University of Rwanda (2010)

Social Work Organisations (SWOs)

  • National Organisation of Social Workers (NOSW)

History of Social Work

The history of social work in Rwanda has four phases. These are: Indigenous Phase, Colonial Phase, Genocide Phase and Reconstruction Phase.

  • Indigenous Phase: The people of the Kingdom had the same language, rituals and God. Social welfare and services were provided by family, community, Chiefs and King (Mwami). generally, there was peace, and conflict within and among tribes was managed fairly well by the monarchy.
  • Colonial Phase: In 1899, Rwanda was colonised by Germany. To maximise their control, the colonists marginalised the monarchy and promoted ethnic divisions. Colonialism reduced community, family capacity and monarchy’s capacity to provide social welfare and services. During this period, missionaries came, as part of, or working with or for the colonists. In 1940, missionaries from Belgium started to train Assistant Social Workers (ASW) to support social services (health, education and agriculture). The training used colonial, western and Christian knowledge at the expense of indigenous knowledge. Foreign colonial religions increased tensions in communities. Ethnic divisions escalated and pan-Africanism emerged. Fight for independence started and resulted in liberation in 1962.
  • Independence Phase: During this phase, ethnic conflict continued and social services were impacted. The church especially the Catholics provided social services but they also contributed to the ethnic tensions.
  • Genocide Phase: Rising ethnic tensions resulted in genocide in 1994. The killings resulted in more social problems: orphans, widows and refugees. A program to promote peace and reconciliation followed. In the same year, training of ASWs was reintroduced by the NGOs, and again they used western approaches. The government prioritised local community-based solutions were and these were:
    • Gacaca – community courts
    • Ubudehe – mutual assistance
    • Umuganda – collective community development
    • Girinka – one cow per poor family – a neighbour is given a first born calf, this strengthens connections and bonds.
  • Reconstruction Phase: This period is characterised by economic and social reorganisation and development. NGOs and aid increased, making the country donor dependent. Social work training started at Kaminuza y’u Rwanda/University of Rwanda (1999), University of Technology and Arts of Byumba (UTAB) (previously Byumba Polytechnic Institute or Institut Polytechnique de Byumba (IPB) (2006) and Catholic University of Rwanda (2010). The current phase is characterised by participatory development and economic development focused on agriculture. The main challenges, from a social perspective, are HIV and AIDS, orphans, disability, widows, women, youths and poverty.

Kalinganire’s Social Work Practice Model (2017)

Social work in Rwanda (as in the rest of Africa) will succeed if it embraces the following traditional values and practices.

  • Ubunyarwanda (national pride): pride in national citizenship, cooperation and cohesion
  • Dignity: self-respect and good character
  • Cooperation: working together
  • Itorero ry’igihugu: aim to be good, live in peace and harmony, strong sense of cultural values. These values are:
    • Perseverance
    • Mutual aid
    • Individual and social responsibility to family and community especially children.

This applies to other African communities as well, not just Rwanda.

Kalinganire and Rutikanda (2014a) describe social work in Rwanda somewhat optimistically as moving beyond social relief to an inclusive problem-solving approach applying home-grown solutions, privileging collective action, mutual aid, social responsibility, and stakeholder involvement in keeping with national policies emphasising the empowerment of people, particularly to promote their ownership (self-determination) at village umudugudu level (Kalinganire, and others, 2017, p. 320).

Poverty alleviation, economic and political barriers, women’s and children’s rights, and issues related to reproductive health and HIV and AIDS cannot be solved by ameliorative casework interventions. The social work profession in Rwanda will need to lead the way in developing culturally responsive interventions, methods, and practice approaches to promote societal wellbeing, strengthen family and community systems, and secure cultural values and government commitment to ensure sustainable social welfare activities (Kalinganire, and others, 2017, p. 325).

Acknowledgements: (Charles Kalinganire, So`Nia Gilkey, and Laura J. Haas, Social work practice in Rwanda: The challenge of adapting Western models to fit local contexts. In Mel Gray (Editor) The Handbook of Social Work and Social Development in Africa, 2017)

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