“One, two, three… best!”

With such enthusiasm, energy and pride, the children in a Rwandan school we visited almost fought to get the chance to answer the teacher’s questions. When a student answered correctly, all his or her classmates jointly applauded, “One, two, three.. BEST!” In a classroom with 45 students, it was great to observe!

Class in Rubingo child friendly school- by Lisen Wiren
Class in Rubingo child-friendly school- by Lisen Wiren

What we saw and experienced in Rwanda was a country full of hope and positive drive forward.

One, two, three... Best! - By Lisen Wiren
One, two, three… Best! – By Lisen Wiren

Only 19 years after the genocide, where nearly 20 percent of the population was killed, where the majority of the children have witnessed family members being abused or killed, and where too many children were abused themselves – a country with an unthinkable past, they have already reached great results. Today Rwanda is one of a few African countries on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals. They have the highest proportion of female representation in the world. They want to become “One, two, three.. BEST!

Rubingo child friendly school - By Lisen Wiren
Rubingo child-friendly school – By Lisen Wiren

We were informed that when UNICEF started their work in Rwanda, they had to focus on emergency and recovery. Today they have a very comprehensive approach of building for the long term, starting with giving children the best possible start in life. You cannot divide a child into healthcare, nutrition, education and protection, Noala Skinner, the UNICEF representative, told us. We need to take a holistic view of all needs. For instance, a child cannot learn on an empty stomach or if they are abused at home.

Kanyinya Child friendly school - By Lisen Wiren
Kanyinya child-friendly school – By Lisen Wiren

During our time in Rwanda, we got to see quite a large part of UNICEF’s programmes. We started with an introduction to the country, visiting the genocide museum and the UNICEF office. We visited different child-friendly schools, as well as early childhood development, nutrition and child protection programmes. We had time to interact, play and sing with the children. I believe I can speak for all when I say that it was incredible to see with our own eyes and learn about all the great work UNICEF is doing in Rwanda with the support of the IKEA Foundation.

Lisen with kids - By Karlijn van der Meer
Lisen with kids – By Karlijn van der Meer

Having said that, many challenges remain…

Poverty and malnutrition are still big problems in Rwanda. Many children grow up in orphanages, not all children are enrolled in the schools, the classes are too big and…and..

Soft Toy Heroe - By Karlijn van der Meer
Soft Toy Hero – By Karlijn van der Meer

But they are on their way. And the progresses we have witnessed are, through UNICEF’s work, also thanks to large contributions from our work as IKEA co-workers. Through the sales of soft toys, we are helping children in Rwanda get a better start in life. So, let’s join the Rwandan children and fight for a new sales record. We are going to be the: “One, two, three.. BEST!

Lisen Wiren