Bus passengers sanitize their hands in Kigali, capital city of Rwanda, March 14, 2020. Rwanda on Saturday registered its first case of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the ministry of health said here. (Xinhua/Cyril Ndegeya)
Bus passengers sanitize their hands in Kigali, capital city of Rwanda, March 14, 2020. Rwanda on Saturday registered its first case of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the ministry of health said here. (Xinhua/Cyril Ndegeya)

by James Gashumba

“Keep a distance from one another, the new coronavirus is still with us,” a young lady Jeannette Zaninka, speaking in local language Kinyarwanda, urged commuters at a crowded bus stop in Kigali’s Remera sector to ensure social distancing.

A few kilometers away in the Kimironko Taxi Park in Kigali’s suburb, Eric Kayiranga, at the age of 20, reminded people to wear face masks, wash and sanitize their hands before boarding a vehicle to their next destination. “If we don’t respect these health guidelines the chances of coronavirus infection are very high, we will infect one another. Be mindful of your health and that of other Rwandans,” he told passengers.

Some 10 volunteers were deployed at the same taxi park.

Similar messages have been echoed over the past about a month at markets, bus parks and bus stops across Kigali, from Nyabugogo Bus Park to Kicukiro Taxi Park. However, these young people dressed in luminous yellow vests aren’t regular paid workers. They are Rwandan youth volunteers who offered to prevent spread of the COVID-19 in the city since early May.

Organized by the organization Rwanda Youth Volunteers, they, including fresh graduates and the employed, are working in partnership with the authorities of Kigali and the police in raising public awareness on health guidelines.

From sensitizing residents to wash hands to reminding them of wearing face masks, the youth have positioned themselves as a pivot in combating COVID-19. Most of the volunteers are also serving as community policing volunteers.

“I was idle at home during the coronavirus lockdown and as a Scout and a Red Cross member I didn’t hesitate to join the group of other youths who wanted to do something constructive amidst a crisis,” said Eric Kayiranga.

The volunteers, most of whom work in shifts, said they are proud of their contribution without expectation on financial reward, adding that they are compelled by their desire to keep people safe.

“We don’t receive any facilitation but I wake up early to prepare myself for a day’s work. I make sure that I do my best to contribute to the fight against the coronavirus,” said Kayiranga, who is watching on people entering the taxi park at the main entrance and reminding them to wash their hands with soap and clean water but also properly wear their face masks.

For those who didn’t want to use water dispensers placed at the taxi park, there were vendors at the park entrance selling locally made sanitizers. Locally made face masks were also sold in the vicinity.

Standing in scorching sunshine in the Kimironko Taxi Park, 19-year-old Divine Akaliza was making sure passengers boarding a bus maintain one meter distance from each other while on the queue.

Because buses take fewer passengers to ensure social distancing, she pleaded for preferential treatment to be given to people with disability and elderly passengers.

“It is very encouraging when I am able to convince people to comply with the health guidelines. Sometimes it can be a hard job that requires patience to explain to passengers, but in the end they get to understand that it’s in everybody’s interest,” she said.

Some passengers easily understood the role of the youth volunteers, but others were reluctant and wasted time arguing with them.

“The fact that they are in public places with uniform is enough for someone to understand that they are on duty. Someone would be naive if he doesn’t understand that we have to follow strict health guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus,” said James Kamunzizi, a passenger.

Abdallah Murenzi, head of Rwanda Youth Volunteers, said the work is entirely on voluntary basis and is open to any youth.

“I think their work signals successful involvement of Rwandan youth in national programs by engaging them in awareness campaigns, especially in this period of COVID-19. So far we are impressed by how effective their work is,” he told Xinhua. Enditem

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