Do you ever wonder about the generation gap experienced in the West? The all too often separation of the young from the old?
I hear of seniors feeling ‘invisible’ and parents feeling impotent.
But we are working on it. We recognise for the most part that all members of a community, men and women, old and young, locally born, immigrants and refugees, all come together to form a tapestry of community with colour and diversity and strength.
So, recently in Rwanda when visiting youth Self Help Groups, I was surprised to find that the women of the SHGs had come up with a plan, a strategy, to help the youth of their own communities. And rather than being rejected or causing angst, it had built connection and relationship.
The coming together of the old and the young has never looked so good.
For every 10 Self Help Groups (SHGs) in a village, is formed a Village Cluster Association. It’s a committee made up of two representatives from each Group. But as they regularly remind me, their ‘mandate’ is to focus beyond themselves. It is a mandate to develop and support the community. The whole village.
With this in mind, we visited a Village Cluster to better understand their thinking and initiatives. And one idea stood out. A number of the Village Clusters had established youth SHGs. The women had observed the poverty and hopelessness among homeless and uneducated youth and decided that if the SHGs had worked for them, then they could work for the youth.
So with this sunny optimism and simplicity, the women started inviting youth living on the streets to a youth community meeting. They held an introduction event. Much as it happened for them. They set up 3 or 4 SHGs in each village. The women from the SHGs became the trainers, the cheerleaders, the advisers and the support. Whatever they had learned, they passed along. There was no financial incentive. Not even financial support. Instead a willingness of these women to invest time and effort into the next generation with a firm belief that this was their mandate.
And its bearing unbelievable fruit.
I headed along to a meeting bringing together two youth SHGs. 40 young people. We started with singing and dance, an introduction from a senior youth with an invitation to ask any questions we liked. They told stories of transformed lives. Young men setting up barber shops and trading cows, pigs and small animals at local animal markets. Young women with tailoring and small agriculture businesses, and petit trade shops.
In just a year each SHG member was saving a minimum of 1000Rwf a week and taking out loans up to 100,00Rwf (US$110) – both financial achievements unheard of amongst the women who had started the youth SHGs.
One young man spoke of being angry and dangerous in his community. He tells me, “Now, I am gentle and kind. I couldn’t hurt a flea.”
I wondered how this extraordinary growth had impacted on those original relationships. Between the women and the youth.
I need not have worried.
At the end of our catch up, when opening the floor to final comments, one young woman stands to her feet. She tells me that she wants to say thank you. Thank you to those women who came to her and invited her to the SHG. Thank you for the time and opportunity that has changed her life. And without hesitation, the young people encourage the older women sitting on the edges into the centre of the room. They begin to sing and dance. Again. To celebrate the gifts of knowledge, community and hope.
There’s barely a dry eye among this group of visitors. This is cross-generational support at its best. And something that needs to be protected, modelled and reproduced across the world. It’s a picture of giving back, lifting up and walking together. It’s a picture of the kind of community we all want to share in. And here we are, finding it in Rwanda.