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The active citizens of iDebate

Sebastian's story
I grew up wanting to help people...this is why I joined iDebate.

Sebastian Butera Dady is a quiet unassuming young man. He is exactly what you look for in a leader: someone who does not boast about his achievements, but whose achievements boast about him. We may never have even had the pleasure of hearing his story if he had not been assigned by iDebate Rwanda to 'chaperone the trainers' during our short stay.

Still in his early 20s, Sebastian runs his own business, volunteers for iDebate, and has just started an education charity for child refugees. He is also an active member of Junior Chamber International (JCI), a global network for active citizens just like him.

Sitting on a short wall next to the auditorium where the grand final of the Debate Camp Rwanda competition is about to take place, he tells me about his role model, the person who inspired him to be the man he is today: his mother.

"I grew up wanting to help people. It was the way I was raised by my parents. They would always tell me there was a reason I was here. My mum particularly inspired me. Every time my friends came to visit, she would listen to their problems and mentor them. This is why I joined iDebate. We are all volunteers who want to help people."

I take a moment to appreciate the eloquence of Sebastian's answer, reminding myself that like most Rwandans he has only been learning English for a few years and is more naturally accustomed to speaking French.

I ask him where he finds the time to volunteer for two week debate camps (virtually all the iDebate staff juggle voluntary debate training with full time jobs - mostly as teachers). 

"I have a small and growing company providing ushers at conferences and events, called Ray Speed Services Agency Ltd, which I hope to turn into an events management company one day."

He continues:

"My independence is important to me, which I am determined to work for myself. It also frees up my time so I can volunteer for projects I care about, such as iDebate, and another charity I started to collect clothes, school books, shoes, and stationery for young refugees from both Rwanda and the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo)."

Sebastian doesn't stop there, though. He also visits the children himself as a motivational speaker with the aim of inspiring them to realise their full potential in the same way his mother did for him. He listens to their problems too, moderating group discussions on how to overcome the obstacles to integration in mainstream Rwandan society.

However, public speaking did not always come so naturally to Sebastian and he endured many years of frustration until he met Jean-Michel Habineza, co-founder and international co-ordinator of iDebate.

"I started coming to iDebate after seeing a message from Jean-Michel on facebook announcing a training session. I heard about him from other people and wanted to be trained by him.

It helped me because I was very shy and afraid of public speaking. Also my English wasn't very good because I only spoke French. It was frustrating because I couldn't speak even though I always had something to say."

Now, Sebastian is himself an iDebate trainer and mentor. However, he remains conscious that he still has a long way to go in his own development as an entrepeneur, which is why he joined Junior Chamber International (JCI).

"I am a member of the JCI because they share my vision and desire to help people. I go to lots of their events and conferences in Rwanda, where small business owners like me can find mentors, learn how to write business plans, and build our networks."

I check my phone and more than half an hour has passed even though it feels like less than five minutes. We stand up and I thank him for his time as we head into the auditorium, where 150 more young active citizens are gathered to hear the final debate of an unforgettable camp.

By Tony Koutsoumbos
Debate Camp Rwanda trainer and Debating London founder
Joyce's story
I talk to them about how Rwanda has changed since 1994. I help them to change their mindset and let go of their hatred and desire for revenge.
I first met Joyce Aline Berabose, now 18 years old, at Debate Camp 2013, where she was a student in my class. Distinguished by her then long blond dreadlocks, she was quiet and studious, but rarely vocal, and it was not until the end of the camp that I really got to know her. Since then, I have had the pleasure of catching up with her on her several visits to London and was delighted to see her again at this year's debate camp, where I learnt more about the incredible work she does as a tutor in an orphanage and a carer for elderly genocide survivors.
After a long week of training. we made some time to talk during lunch on the final day of the camp. Sitting on a bench with the sun beaming down on us through the windows, I am struck by how much she has changed in the last year. A shy and nervous figure most at home sitting alone listening to music just 12 months ago, she is now the picture of confidence, who commands such respect among her peers that we now turn to her to gauge the collective opinion of her class to help us measure our progress as trainers.
You only need to speak to Joyce for a few minutes to understand how fiercely intelligent she is. In that context, her dream of securing a university scholarship in the UK or North America and returning to Rwanda as one of the country's first female airline pilots seems eminently achievable, if not inevitable. However, that is not the subject of our conversation today. We are here to talk about her passion for volunteering and the astonishing work she does in her own community.
She begins by telling me about her work at the Gisimba Memorial Centre, an orphanage where she mentors a group of children and young adults with physical and mental disabilities. The continued funding for their care is contingent on them progressing through the education system, so she tutors them in Mathematics, Biology, Social Studies, as well as French, English, and the local language of Kinyarwanda (she is fluent in all three).
In the long term, the centre aims to find a home for them in line with the government's policy of placing all of the country's orphans with a foster family. Joyce, therefore, also helps them to prepare for life outside the orphanage. 
"I teach them how to defend themselves, both physically and also in arguments, so if someone tries to pick on them, they know how to respond. This is where I find my debating skills very useful."
Aware that I don't have much time left with her, I mention that I remember her last year telling me that she planned to spend her Christmas holidays volunteering in a refuge for genocide survivors and I ask if this is connected to her work in the orphanage. It turns out, it is not. Rather, she uses what little free time she has left to separately care for five elderly widows whose husbands were killed in those fateful 100 days in 1994. They live on Butamwa settlement in Kigali, a home to over 100 families displaced by the genocide.
There, she helps them with their daily routines, such as collecting water and washing their clothes, and generally keeps them company. However, the most valuable help she offers them is nothing short of astounding.
"I talk to them about how Rwanda has changed since 1994. Many of them have had no contact with the outside world since the genocide and so think it's still going on. I help them to change their mindset and let go of their hatred and desire for revenge."
She says that at times like these, she falls back on her debate training. I ask her how she does this, trying to imagine what is must be like for those five women - still mourning and still living in fear.
"Talking to someone who is not your own age and has completely different experiences and opinions requires you to put yourself in their shoes, so you can convince them of why they need your help and how they can benefit from you helping them."
Lunch break is now over and I wish I could have more time with Joyce, but I am certain I will see her again some point soon. She is applying to study at UCL next year. They should be so lucky.
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