How Girl Guiding helped me overcome the trauma of the Rwandan genocide

By Pascaline Umulisa, 29, Girl Guide Leader & Programme Manager for 12-plus project, Rwanda Girl Guides Association

Pascaline Umulisa

“Trust the still, small voice that says, ‘This might work and I’ll try it'.”

“This quote from author Diane Mariechild motivates me to dare and to not fear failure. This spirit was instilled me through Girl Guiding, a movement that has built my character and given me a sense of life – and a second family.

“I was born and raised in Rwanda in a family of four kids. We were a joyful family until 1994 when the genocide tore us apart. My dad, two brothers and other members of the family were killed. Luckily my sister, mother and I survived. Following the tragedy, life wasn’t easy. My mother was earning less than $20 per month, yet she was taking care of us, as well as her siblings and cousins. Nevertheless, my mother made sure she looked after all of us – we certainly didn’t lack love or affection.

“Education was a priority. If I didn’t go to school, my mother said I’d have to deal with her for the rest of my life! I really look up to my mother and the way she stands up for girls’ and women’s rights. She was an active member of various networks that thrive for human rights, especially to support genocide widows and orphans. She inspired me to do the same.

“I became a Girl Guide when I went to high school. It later became my second family. It allowed me to cross all boundaries and it helped me to become a young woman who knows what she wants to do and be in the future.

“I later volunteered as a communications consultant with the Rwanda Girl Guides, which led me to take a seat on the national board, a challenging, yet fulfilling position.

“In 2008, I attended the Juliette Low Seminar in Switzerland, an opportunity that nourished my curiosity and spirit to keep carrying the Guiding light. After the seminar, I was determined to go home and engage more young women at a national level, bringing innovation and creativity.

Pascaline Umulisa and her team

“Together with my Guiding friends, we started the National Youth Committee. As young as we were (I skip the fact that none of us were fluent in English), many doors opened for us and the organisation – and we saw successes both locally and internationally.

"To me, Rwanda is one of the best places to be a girl. I witness that every day. I am fortunate that I have never been discriminated or bullied because I am a girl. Nevertheless girls are still held back by social norms. We experience barriers and sometimes we’re unable to reach our full potential. There are still gender gaps in education, health, safety and finance. We are bullied on social media on a regular basis. This is unfair and lamentable.

“I cannot commit to change the whole world, but as a Girl Guide I am aware that my voice counts. I know I can contribute to something, however small it is. That’s the reason I recently accepted the position of Programme Manager for Rwanda Girl Guides’ 12+ Programme, supported by Consortium of Caritas and Initiative Don Bosco. The 12+ Programme is a 10-month mentorship and safe-space programme that enables girls to become informed decision-makers. Through the programme, girls take part in fun learning activities and work through a curriculum that covers a range of issues from friendship, sexual and reproductive health, gender-based violence, education and financial literacy.

“I’ve only been doing the job for a few months, but I love it already. It connects me with the girls, they change my life and I contribute to their growth.

“Girl Guiding has taught me a lot about life. It’s made me adjust to new environments. It’s opened many doors for my personal development and, more importantly, it’s encouraged me to honour my existence as a global citizen.

Pascaline Umulisa

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t a Girl Guide. People used to ask what I gained from being active in a movement that doesn’t pay. Well, when I was a volunteer, I didn’t earn money, but I gained knowledge and skills that school never offered, plus I made everlasting friendships. Now I have friends in almost every country.

“I am excited to see what comes next, as I know I haven’t reached my peak yet. I want to inspire other young girls out there, so the movement keeps rolling. My goal is to take Girl Guiding in Rwanda to the next level and I will!”

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