Andrew MItchell MP is Secretary of State for International Development. If you are interested in taking part in Project Umubano 2011, please email Abi Green in Stephen Crabb’s office.
When I first put the idea to David Cameron in 2007 of taking a few dozen members of the Conservative Party to Rwanda for an international development social action project, neither of us could possibly have known exactly how it would work out.
Four years on, Project Umubano (its name taken from the Rwandan word for 'friendship') has gone from strength to strength. There are now 30 Conservative MPs in the House of Commons who have taken part. Dozens of candidates, CCHQ and MPs' staff have given up a fortnight of their summer holidays. And more than a hundred activists have joined them, each able to pass on their own particular skills and expertise, whether it's medical or marketing, accountancy or advocacy.
Umubano has even moved beyond Rwanda. This year fifteen volunteers travelled to Sierra Leone – another African country with a deeply troubled past – as part of an expansion that began last year but has already grown significantly. Above all, Umubano is one of the only parts of the Conservative Party, or indeed any other political party, where the average age of participants is reducing every year. We are always delighted to see old hands return for the second, third, or even fourth times, but the ever more youthful crowd that is drawn to the project is a clear sign of its vitality.
Stephen Crabb MP has taken over the leadership of Umubano since the election in May. So it was just as a volunteer – helping train Rwandan teachers – that I visited both Sierra Leone and Rwanda last week, but I was yet again filled with pride in what we are achieving.
Working in partnership with Rwandan and Sierra Leonean organisations our volunteers were able to use their skills to make a modest but meaningful contribution across a wide range of areas. Charities working with Rwandan genocide survivors were getting expert training in fundraising and communications; a group of girls were being trained by two FA football coaches in a country where barely a hundred people have such qualifications; a Sierra Leonean paralegal organisation working with some of the poorest people in the World was receiving training from top city lawyers; patients in far flung areas not served by regular medical care were benefitting from the treatment and advice of our teams of doctors in both countries; and hundreds of teachers trying to master a new official language (English) were receiving training and guidance from native speakers at centres all over Rwanda.
Every volunteer that I saw threw themselves into their work with a positive approach that typifies Umubano participants. Whether they were delivering presentations on capital markets to enthusiastic entrepreneurs in Kigali or helping to set up a family planning clinic in Kirambi, they were up early and working at an electric pace for the entire two weeks. All of them have made a small but significant impact in Rwanda. It is a credit to our party; this is what David Cameron and I had hoped for back in 2007.
But you only have to speak to project volunteers and hear their stories of moving experiences they have had at genocide memorial sites and the things they have learnt during their projects to realise that all of them have one thing in common – they will take more from Project Umubano than they have given. So if you're involved in the party, as an MP, councillor, staff member or activist, and you are interested in an extraordinary two week experience next year that is as rewarding as it is enjoyable, I thoroughly recommend Umubano to you and look forward to seeing you out there.