Since 2018, IOM has been working closely with the Rwandan diaspora for the successful implementation of IOM projects. After a first mapping exercise in 2018, IOM is currently implementing a Rwandan diaspora engagement project. We were glad to meet Pierre Mugabo from the Youth department of the Rwandan Diaspora Association in Belgium (DRB Jeunesse) for an interview on their many activities, on COVID-19 and on their successful fundraiser for Rwanda.
Thank you for taking the time to meet with us, Pierre. Could you explain the structure, work and objectives of DRB Jeunesse and your role?
DRB jeunesse is not an independent structure. It is a section within the DRB (the Rwandan diaspora association in Belgium), so that is why we depend on their objectives. Our organization has three principle objectives: the harmonious integration of our community within Belgium, supporting socio-economic projects that have an impact on Belgium and/or Rwanda and lastly, the fight against negationism with regards to the genocide perpetuated against the Tutsis. It is in this framework that we try to organize activities that will interest and mobilize young people. The structure of the DRB is similar to other non-profit organizations. It has a president, a vice-president, a secretary, a responsible officer for gender, a treasurer and a responsible officer for youth. But at the youth level, the structure is less formal. There is a federal committee to which I participate, but there are also various other sections in Belgium, 10 in total. For now, I am the responsible for the Rwandan diaspora youth, but I do not work alone. I work with a team of other young people under the form of a commission.
Where did the initiative to create DRB Jeunesse come from?
The DRB in its current format was created in 2011, but the association already exists for more than 20 years. So, we have been mobilizing in Belgium for several years already. It is interesting to know that the Rwandan community in Belgium is the largest community outside of Rwanda. Despite the fact that there are so many of us, the youth has always been categorized as the most difficult to reach. In the beginning, the activities of the associations were mostly directed to adults. We rarely saw youngsters, even though we knew there are many. So, the question arose, “Who are these young people and how do we reach them?” We wanted to try to get to know them, to bring them together and to spark their interest in the Rwandan diaspora.
Recently, we got to know about the big campaign organized by the Rwandan diaspora to help Rwanda in tackling the COVID pandemic. Why has the DRB Jeunesse decided to mobilize members of the Rwandan diaspora for COVID-19 relief efforts? How did the idea take shape?
We noticed that this was what the diaspora wanted. We received several messages on social media: Instagram, Twitter and Facebook). Various members of the diaspora asked us: “How can we help the most vulnerable people in Rwanda?”. In the beginning, we asked ourselves the same question and we knew it was our responsibility to create a tool that would allow the community to contribute and to help. The idea of a call for donations took form and in collaboration with the Embassy of Rwanda in Belgium we appealed to the diaspora to contribute any amount. It is a simple way to raise a maximum amount of money and to try to help the best way possible in the fight the country was waging. The idea came from the DRB committee, but it was the youth who took care of the communication. We had the idea of creating a video with a call for donations: a simple message that was accessible to as many people as possible.
What were the concrete results of this campaign and how will this help the COVID-19 relief efforts in Rwanda?
We started the campaign around April 14th, if I remember correctly. That is the day when the flyers and the video were posted. A month and a week after its launch, we stopped the campaign because we wanted to send the money as soon as possible. We were able to collect more than 40,000 euros, which we sent to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning in Rwanda. The collection campaign had as objective to help the most vulnerable and we had confidence in the Rwandan government to use the donations optimally.
€ 40.000 is a lot of money, congratulations! How did you raise so much money in such a short time? Could this be because of your communication strategy?
There are two factors that have really played a role. First, there is the community's willingness to give. We were in a situation we have never encountered before. I think that created a sense of strong solidarity that was translated in concrete actions. I really want to highlight this: without the will of the diaspora, it would not have been possible, they wanted to give. At the same time, it would not have been possible without a good communication strategy. The sharing of information was important to mobilize interested people. There were people who did not know our activities and who still contributed. Even people who do not have Rwandan origins asked us if they could contribute. And of course, our response was positive: even if the organization is in the hands of the diaspora, contributing is open to everyone.
Has COVID-19 also had an impact on the activities of the DRB Jeunesse?
Yes, a lot unfortunately. We had just started a project called Rwanda Youth Club, which was actually an afterwork. We started at the end of 2019 and we had organized our second edition in February. It was really something that was working well. The idea was to have one every three months. With COVID, it is almost impossible to organize physical meetings, so this really affected us.
How do you see the future for the projects and activities of DRB Jeunesse?
What we will try to do now is to adapt to the situation. At the start, we wanted to wait until the end of the pandemic, but we realize that in 2021 masks would still be compulsory. You have to act smart and just adapt to the situation. Now we are really going to put a lot of effort into the digital world. Because before, using digital means was simply for communication and sharing our activities. Before the pandemic, we counted on the physical presence, like our afterwork. We will try to be very present on social media and offer digital content that can mobilize and bring together the diaspora. At the level of the DRB Jeunesse, we will also aim to increase representativeness, for example by linking a young person, like me, to another Rwandan who is a lawyer or a minister and wants to share his/her experience and journey. In fact, this is what we did at the Rwanda Youth Club : we invited young professionals who have a good career and we gave them a platform where they can share their journey and their difficulties and inspire other young people in the diaspora. But also to show who is part of our community, so that we can offer them our support. So, this is the double objective that we are going to try to digitize.
Thank you, Pierre, for your time. We wish you and the young Rwandan diaspora the best of luck with your future projects!