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Tobias Ellwood MP: Why we went to Rwanda

Ellwoodrwanda Tobias Ellwood MP, a Culture, Media and Sports frontbencher, reports from Kigali and explains why the Tory social action volunteers have learnt so much more than if they had simply sent a cheque.

Once again a team of Conservative MPs, PPCs and party enthusiasts ventured to the heart of Rwanda to complete a major construction project and understand more about the challenges facing Africa.

This is Conservative ‘social action’ going truly international. Lat year we rebuilt an orphanage, this year we have turned a derelict piece of land into a fully functioning community centre, complete with outdoor facilities, in the township of Kinyinya, North Kigali. We have made a small but significant impact on the lives of the local community and at the same time exposed UK politicians to a part of the world still in need of our support 15 years after the West so blatantly ignored this country’s cries for help.

With most Rwandans living off less than one dollar a day, communal facilities are rare. At Kinyinya there are 400 small dwellings built to house genocide survivors, but until now there has been nowhere to convene and socialise, debate, dance, sing and play sport. This year’s project attempted to address this by transforming a barren plot of land into a large community hall, complete with stage, botanical garden, a small  football pitch and an outdoor amphitheatre.

The team includes Mark Lancaster, MP for NE Milton Keynes and Shadow International Development Minister, PPCs Chris Kelly (Dudley South), Cllr Ron Bell JP (Blackpool South), John Bell (no relation, Clwyd South), Cllr Hazel Noonan (Coventry NE), as well as Party members Jason Evans, Joanne Welch, Gurmaj Dhillon, Joanna Richards, Glyn Chambers and Christopher Shale. We were deluged with support from over one hundred of the local villagers, some of whom were employed previously as builders and electricians and others who simply volunteered; keen to participate in a project that would transform the social and educational dynamics of the village.

Mitchellellwoodpresident It has been a demanding, enriching experience for everyone involved and we leave behind a community centre which will transform the lives of over 400 families who survived the genocide. A drop in the ocean for such a poor country yet significant enough to gain the attention of the President to open the Centre.

Some may argue that these initiatives do not warrant a fortnight’s expedition to Africa and funds raised (including travel and accommodation costs paid by volunteers) could pay local contractors to achieve the same objective. Are there not domestic issues that deserve more attention? This view fails to recognise the benefit gained by embedding ourselves, albeit briefly, in the local culture so we can improve ways of helping Africa help itself. DFID currently gives £50m a year to Rwanda and it is in our interest to see this country, and indeed the region, become more self sufficient. There are over three million refugees in Rwanda alone. If the region became unstable again it would lead to mass migration, including to Europe, and therefore become a domestic issue.

Understanding these issues so that they can be debated with a greater degree of authority in Westminster would not be possible by simply sending a cheque to Rwanda. As recent history has proven Africa’s unsolved problems today often become greater international challenges tomorrow.

We depart from Rwanda, not just having helped the local community, along with the sister projects in health, education, legal structures and microfinance, but a little wiser on how we may be able to assist Africa in looking after itself.


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