Rwanda stands out as one of few countries in the world on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of cutting maternal and child mortality. Despite extreme poverty and the legacy of the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has already halved the number of children under five dying needlessly and is now driving through an ambitious programme to bring the figures down even more. We're a vital part of this process. 

Leocadie, 20, with her baby Isabelle. Leocadie is a community health worker who teaches other mothers how to ensure that their children stay healthy, what to do when they fall ill, and where to go for help.

Our projects in early childhood care, health and protection help thousands of children and provide a model of what could be done in other places.

  • Nearly 1 million Rwandans were killed in 100 days of genocide in 1994.
  • In the aftermath, we reunited 40,000 children with their families.
  • Today we’re providing access to good quality healthcare for 700,000 people in rural Rwanda.
  • 2,400 three- to six-year-olds attend our early childhood care and development centres.
  • We're reaching 50,000 people through our community child protection networks, stopping abuse and exploitation.

The challenges

Seventeen years on, the effects of Rwanda’s genocide are still profound. In 1994, nearly a million people – a tenth of the population – died in three short months, while millions fled the country.

Many people are still traumatised today. But this terrible legacy is not the only challenge for Rwanda’s children.

Poverty is high, with chronic malnutrition so pervasive that 44% of children are stunted. Abuse is common – both within the home and in hazardous labour, where 175,000 children work. Many children have lost their parents to HIV and are at risk of violence and exploitation.

Yet Rwanda’s government is driving through an ambitious plan to provide healthcare and education even in the most remote areas. Save the Children is playing a pivotal role, creating a better healthcare system, putting early childhood development on the national agenda, and building a national child protection system.

What we’ve achieved

A model of early childhood care

We’ve developed a model of early childhood care and development that is affordable and proven to work. The government is using our early childhood centres as models for its own plans for all Rwandan children, and we’re helping develop these plans.

The new centres will mean tens of thousands of young children get the support they need to develop crucial cognitive, social and motor skills.

“My favourite thing is counting,” says six-year-old Feza Leah. “I can’t wait to go to school.” Like the children in this film, Feza is one of 2,400 children in our centres who are finding out that learning is fun.

Read this blog about Feza's experience.

Saving lives

Rwanda aims to cut child deaths further, and to make substantial reductions in maternal mortality.

In two of the country’s poorest rural districts, Burera and Gicumbi, we have built, refurbished and equipped health centres and maternity clinics, and trained thousands of community health workers. By the end of 2012, we will help 700,000 people get better healthcare.

Protecting children

In each area where we work, we’ve set up child protection networks, with demonstrable effects. Rwanda’s government has endorsed the child policy we helped to develop – a policy that will protect tens of thousands of children at risk of falling victim to violence, sexual abuse or trafficking.

By the end of 2012, 50,000 more parents, community members and military cadets will know more about children’s rights, thanks to our training.

What’s urgent now

  • Thousands more three- to six-year-olds need quality childcare if they’re to develop fully. We’re building more centres, but more funds are needed from both government and international donors.
  • We’re working with the government to provide quality healthcare across the country, with a special focus on mother and child nutrition and the building of new maternity wards.
  • The needs of children for better protection are evident. We intend to make a noise about this and use our expertise to help government and civil society.

Find out what you can do