Because of Valens’ efforts in helping women in his community, he has been recognized not just by his country but also by the international community. Valens is a recipient of the Pearsons Award, a prestigious award given for young people who are creating change in their communities. Not only that, Valens has also been included in widely known lists such as the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World by Youth Service America, as well as the 10 Young Activists Who Are Changing The World by Complex.com. Valens’ work in promoting the welfare of women in his country is truly remarkable, and has enabled him to gain recognition in the international community.
What truly makes Valens stand out is how he is able to spark change in spite of being born and raised in an oppressive culture. In Rwanda, where women’s rights are mostly unrecognized and violence against women is rampant, it would take a great deal of courage and boldness to fight for their welfare. And yet, in spite of the risks, Valens still continues his activism because he is driven by his belief that everyone should have equal opportunity in experiencing a good life.
This is what motivates Valens in doing what he does for women. Seeing the effects of poverty, sickness and violence in his community affected him greatly and moved him to do something about it. Many of us see this every day, in small or large ways, but what makes Valens remarkable is that he stood up and did something about the situation because he believed that as young as he is, he can still make a change.
Valens says in a blog he wrote:
“I hate it when I see young women and girls suffering from poverty, violence and HIV/AIDS. Most of us do. It is a terrible feeling, and it gets worse when you believe you can't do anything about it. You and I may be lucky to have access to education, health care and fair employment. Many people don't and they get stuck in the circle of poverty, despite of working as hard as they can and doing whatever it is that they can do best. I believe we can do something to change this.”
Service—this compels Valens to actively help others though he is very young. This is why in spite of all the negative voices that tell Valens how he could not make much of a difference because of his young age, he still keeps on going. For him, it is not about what he can get out of his community, but rather, what he can give to it. He says in a blog:
“For me, it is clear that life is really about what I can do for my society to the smallest tune; the things I could do to create opportunities for less privileged women and girls who have no access to food and basic health needs. Thinking and taking action has always been a priority for me. In my life, I have always wanted to think and do big, and I believe that in serving people, you empower them to serve others as well.”
How it All Began: The Story of a Young Activist
Valens Ntamushobora was born in Rwanda. Although life in his village was difficult and poverty was rampant, Valens’ parents managed to secure a somewhat comfortable and fairly good life for the young Valens and his siblings. Even at a very young age, Valens’ parents showered him with all the love and care that they were able to give, something that significantly helped the growing Valens become different from his fellow youth.
At a very young age, Valens already witnessed the different types of social injustices done to the women in his community, both the young and the old. However, instead of growing up like the others, Valens had so much compassion and sympathy for the women in his society, in spite of how little women’s rights are being recognized. Seeing the suffering of women affected Valens in a different way, so much so that even while he was in his early teens, he already wanted to help them.
One of the things that Valens focused on as he was growing up was the unequal treatment between the men and women. He especially saw this in the area of education, where men were given more importance than women because women were only seen as ‘wives’ or even ‘slaves’ to whomever they would marry. Valens highlighted this in a blog he wrote years later:
“A number of poor families perceive that a girl's education will only benefit her husband's household, and not her parents. In some cases, girls are not even allowed to go to school at all, because an education is perceived as unnecessary for becoming wives or mothers.”
Starting the LUSA Program
Having been given the opportunity to have a fairly good education through the Sprout E-Course (an educational program that allows young people to receive training on various social and environmental innovative processes), Valens devoted his time and efforts to study well in the hopes of being able to help the women one day. And he did not disappoint—from the time Valens made a decision to educate himself on the methods that he was able to best serve his community, he grew more open to the realities of society, learned to think outside of the box, and further cultivated his leadership skills.
Sometime during his study with the Sprout E-Course program, Valens gathered thirty one of his friends and decided to do something about the increasing plight of women in their society. After agreeing with one another, Valens and his friends started the “Let Us Stay Alive” (LUSA) program, a campaign designed to help the women of their community to have access to ways that they can generate income, such as providing them with land, seeds, and technical training in the areas of agriculture.
Education and welfare was also one of the main issues that the LUSA program dealt with, in an effort to improve the lives of women and promote gender equality in both the schools and the workplaces. Valens has greatly put his effort on this, as he himself witnessed the devastating effects of not being able to finish school in the lives of other people. This was what he said when he wrote a blog on the issue:
“We highlight the plight of young girls forced to drop out of school due to poverty. Due to lack of job opportunities and poor knowledge of other alternatives, they end up being idle and hence, vulnerable to drugs and commercial sex as a way of coping with their circumstances. It is even worse among the girls who are at a heightened risk of rape, unplanned pregnancy and HIV infection.”
Growing and Leading His Organization
Since its inception, the LUSA program has now grown greatly, involving more than three hundred people in various cooperatives. And although the journey was quite difficult, a lot of times also riddled with risks, Valens and his team at the LUSA program was able to successfully reach out to numerous women in their communities, not only providing them with the skills and resources to change their situation, but also encouraging and empowering them.
The success attained by the LUSA program has enabled it to become an effective business model in the area of promoting the welfare of women because of its low-cost sustainable methods in providing resources and skills for the women. Not only this, the LUSA program’s success has also become recognized internationally, a feat that brought Valens into the list of the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World in 2012.
Ultimately, Valens’ heart for women and service to community pushes him to continue doing what he is doing in spite of the difficulties that lie ahead. Having recently completed Hospital & Health Care at the National University of Rwanda, Valens now has his entire focus on the LUSA program and continues to work with various organizations in his country to improve the lives of the women in his community.
“I hope that empowering young women and girls, in addition to raising awareness on HIV/AIDS and women's rights, will provide these women with knowledge and skills required for their increased participation in prevention and response to poverty, violence and HIV/AIDS, which are major critical issues for their improved quality of life and participation.”
Looking at Valens’ life overall, we can learn that neither age nor social and economic status is not a barrier to reaching out to other people. Valens’ passion and attitude towards serving his community is a wonderful reminder for us that no matter what the circumstances may be in where we live, we can always find a way and reason to improve the lives of the people around us.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- LUSA Program
Awards and Achievements
- 2010: Received the Pearsons Award
- 2012: Included in the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World by Youth Service America
- 2013: Included in the 10 Young Activists Who Are Changing the World by Complex.com