In 2007, 43 Conservative Party members, activists, MPs and staff travelled together to Rwanda to participate in the Conservative Party’s international social action project. They spent two weeks working as volunteers alongside communities still recovering from the 1994 genocide.
Led by Andrew Mitchell, the then Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Project Umubano was the first time any British political party had embarked on a major social action project in the developing world. Volunteers with specific skills were given demand driven work in the education, health, justice, community and private sectors alongside partners such as SURF, the Survivors Fund which supports survivors of the Rwandan genocide.
The people of Rwanda – from Ministers through to the widows and orphans of the genocide befriended by our volunteers – embraced Project Umubano.
Umubano means ‘friendship’ or ‘co-operation’ in Kinyarwandan, the mother tongue of Rwanda, and the legacy of that co-operation between our Party and the Rwandan people is already profound and lasting.
Project Umubano has taken place in July 2007, 2008 and 2009 and has taken a total of 160 volunteers, including 14 MPs and 24 PPCs, to Rwanda (pictured left is new Mid Derbyshire MP Pauline Latham). Volunteers have included doctors, dentists, nurses, lawyers, bankers, teachers and students. In 2009 Project Umubano expanded to Sierra Leone and David Mundell MP led a team of 6 volunteers from the justice sector to work on projects that will be continued and expanded significantly this July.
We recognise that in two weeks Project Umubano can only make a modest contribution to these two countries. However, over the past three years the Project has helped to deliver an English language course to 3,000 Rwandan primary school teachers, establish small legal and medical libraries in Rwanda and build a community centre used by 100 Rwandan villagers. Conservative doctors and nurses have seen over 5,000 Rwandan patients, dealing with conditions such as malaria, diarrhoea, and musculoskeletal problems. Project Umubano volunteers have also organised business seminars for over 150 people working in the emerging Rwandan tourism industry.
One of the most exciting aspects of Project Umubano is the number of wider and long term partnerships that have emerged from it.
The project has been a direct catalyst for a major partnership between a City law firm and Rwandan justice officials as well as an emerging football coaching relationship between the English and Rwandan Football Associations. Several schools in the UK are also now twinned with schools in Rwanda with teachers engaging in two-way exchanges, thanks to the work of our volunteers.
Now in its fourth year, Project Umubano shows the Conservative Party at its very best, bringing together diverse groups of people who choose to invest in something of lasting value in two developing countries. This summer, Conservative volunteers will once again return to Rwanda and Sierra Leone to work in the education, health, justice, community and private sectors as the Project continues to grow from year to year.
Stephen Crabb MP will lead Project Umubano 2010 which will run this summer from 24th July to 7th August. There is still space available for extra participants. For further information about joining the project please contact Abigail Green at firstname.lastname@example.org.