They were once branded dangerous thieves, who used to suvirve through pick-pocketing and coning people, especially in awe hours.
Back in 2012, the Nyabugogo-Gatsata stretch was marked as one of the most insecure area in the city. Today’s story of the place is rather a reverse.
The former street children, who had turned deviant, are the same that have since made Nyabugogo and Gatsata secure.
“It was mainly through education and sensitizing them, as a national policy, rather than arrest and prosecution, although in other insistences arrest become part of the strategy but to a lesser extent,” says Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Rogers Rutikanga, the central Regional Police Commander.
Indeed, the “best approach” like has been in insistences of drug dealers and other street children, turned out fruitful as the former thieves came on board and today are one of the partners in crime prevention through their association – Hinduka Uhindure Abandi.
Today, the umbrella loosely translated as “transform yourself and others,” has over 150 members.
Besides their small income generating activities they since started, with the support of Gatsata Sector of Gasabo District, the group is now in crime prevention and working with security organs in community policing activities and sharing information with the police on wrongdoers and criminal activities.
“I was a conman, who could use all tricks to successfully steal from people, and never slept in the same place. I was always moving thinking someone is going to arrest me, basically life was a risk,” said Pierrot Uwihaye who now heads an umbrella of the former group.
In narrating a seemingly moving story of his life, Jean Damascene Niyonzima, another former member of the deviant group, keeps apologizing for the wrongs he may have committed in his thuggery life.
“I could mount any truck, offload valuables as it moved and I made sure I disappeared before the driver or anyone could see me; I regret my actions, I could sleep in the wetland, there were diseases...,” says Niyonzima.
“In 2014, local leaders together with the police called me and enlightened me on the dangers of what I was doing, and that was my turning point. That’s something that I will forever be grateful for because of the heart of humanity that I gained,” he adds.
Niyonzima was told to call his colleagues for a follow up meeting with local security personnel which he did.
“The more I met and interacted with security personnel, the more I also interested most of my colleagues – a move that resulted into the formation of Hinduka Uhindure Abandi association,” Niyonzima narrates.
He adds: “Since then, we committed to bring everyone on board and facilitate security organs in tracking criminals and recovering stolen items…remember, we used to be part of these crimes so we can easily know who did what and that’s how we partly give back to the people and our country,” he said.
Today, the youthful group has made business project proposals and the authorities are helping them to secure funds. They believe their lives are slowly being transformed.
“The national policy is to help the disadvantaged like these young people, who unfortunately find themselves in such bad things thinking that that’s where they will find survival; that’s why rehabilitation centres were established; that’s why vocational training centres like Iwawa, and the National Employment Programme, were developed,” says ACP Rutikanga.
“They have become productive people both security and the country’s development under the new decent life.”
Local authorities speak highly of these young men since they denounced their bad acts.
According to the Executive Secretary of Nyamabuye Cell in Gatsata Sector, Jean Nepo Bizinde, a Gatsata Sector security meeting back in 2014 resolved to find a final solution get them off the street.
“At first, we got 20 of them but the number kept on growing. Today they are the members of local nigh patrols (Irondo) and are active members of the society,” says Bizinde.
Bizinde notes that it is the same process they are using together with Rwanda National Police and even those who reformed, to get the rest off the streets, show them the right way and a positive life.