JICA alumni and Hiroyuki Kobayashi, then chief representative of JICA Rwanda, help build classrooms to fuel Rwanda's education boom.
When Anicet Rwama returned home after spending five months studying community health services in Japan in 2001, he wanted to continue his cultural and business association with that country. But how?
In the wake of the 1994 genocide, Japan had provided some limited assistance, but Rwanda was not a high priority and the publics of the two nations barely knew about each other's existence.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which oversees official assistance to developing nations, would not open an office in Kigali, the capital, until several years later.
Undeterred, Rwama and a colleague began a search for like-minded Rwandans. They visited official websites, studied other alumni organizations overseas and obtained lists of Rwandans undergoing training in Japan.
The duo expanded their circle to eight people. Today, the JICA Alumni Association of Rwanda (JAAR) has over 200 active members, all of them having received JICA technical training.
There are similar JICA alumni associations in other African and overseas countries.
The Rwanda Alumni have ambitious plans for the future. According to JAAR Executive Director Joram Sebatware, there are between 600 and 700 Rwandans who have received JICA training in fields ranging from agriculture to education, construction and the environment. Ideally, he said, he would like to sign up all of them.
Earlier this year, JAAR became an officially recognized nongovernmental organization and Sebatware is hopeful this will help the association expand its activities.
“There is a tremendous pool of expertise among those who have received training” either in Japan or in other countries, according to Sebatware, a veterinarian who also received training in Japan. “Our NGO can help to more effectively mobilize the expertise of these former trainees in such areas as agriculture, IT, education and power.”
Thus far the alumni have concentrated on relatively small community based projects such as tree planting and school building, but with the pooled expertise of several hundred JICA graduates the organization is looking to expand its activities with projects such as the processing of fruits abundant in Rwanda.
JICA training alumni and volunteers plant trees in the countryside.
Japanese Ambassador Kazuya Ogawa helps plant trees with JICA training alumni.