Social Service Workforce Week 

A Decade of Progress, A Future of Promise

By Kyleigh McGrail

October 2023

Gertilda placing hand on person to her right's back

Geretilda Basesake (left) is one of Rwanda’s 29,674 Inshuti z’Umuryango (IZU), “Friends of the Family.” IZU are some of Rwanda’s most dedicated volunteers, specifically tasked with preventing and responding to child protection concerns in their communities. Photo Credit: © UNICEF/UNI231917

This Social Service Workforce Week, USAID’s Children in Adversity team recognizes the vital role the social service workforce plays in improving the lives of vulnerable children and families. In observance of the tenth anniversary of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance, we join partners worldwide to celebrate and advocate for the incredible work being done every day.

By investing in the social service workforce, we are investing in the transformation of entire communities. Trained professionals and community volunteers not only address immediate challenges faced by children and families, but also develop long-term, sustainable solutions. They empower communities, create networks of support, and establish mechanisms to prevent future crises. Their work builds resilience and fosters social cohesion, helping communities to thrive even in the face of adversity.

The strength of the social service workforce lies in collaboration and partnership. USAID’s Children in Adversity team works closely with local and international partners to strengthen the workforce. A well-planned, developed, and supported workforce, ensures high-quality services and stronger systems that can make a lasting difference in the lives of children, families, and communities.

When Elisa introduced us to the NGO, that’s when we felt there was light at the end of the tunnel.

  Enock, program participant

The Inshuti z’Umuryango (IZU)/Friends of the Family program in Rwanda is an example of a successful investment in the social service workforce. IZUs are community volunteers who are selected by their own communities and focused on strengthening their communities’ environments to support and protect children and their families. They work closely with families and children to identify and address child protection issues, such as neglect, violence, abuse, and exploitation.

Here are the stories of three IZU volunteers who are making a difference in their communities:

  • IZUs Elisa and Innocent support a child-headed household in Kayonza district: In a heartwarming story, the lives of four orphaned boys named Enock, Dennis, John, and Eloi were transformed by the help and support of the local IZUs Elisa and Innocent. After growing up in a family plagued by conflict, the boys were left on their own when their father abandoned them, and their mother passed away. Recognizing their vulnerable situation, Elisa and Innocent provided them with ongoing support and comfort, becoming their greatest advocates. They ensured the boys were provided with food, clothes, housing and health insurance to access vital health services, as well as access to education and vocational training. Elisa and Innocent reported the boys’ case to the authorities, connecting the boys to an NGO that provided much-needed support. “When Elisa introduced us to [the NGO], that’s when we felt like there was light at the end of the tunnel. They started providing us with food as it was one of the main challenges we faced. We now have clothes, medical insurance, and we have a new house now, which in fact could be the best house in the whole of this area,” said Enock. With the continued support of Elisa and Innocent, the boys were able to re-enroll in school after years away and fulfill their dreams. Dennis aspires to become a doctor, Enock aims to be an electrical engineer, and the others are receiving support for their education and vocational training. Through their dedication and collaboration with local child protection actors, Elisa and Innocent have made an extraordinary difference in the lives of these boys.
  • IZU Cyriaque supports a grandparent-headed household during the COVID-19 pandemic: Cyriaque, an IZU coordinator in Nyanza district, made a significant impact in ensuring that children Sifa and Moise could return to school after a year of closures due to COVID-19. Recognizing the financial difficulties faced by their family and the vulnerability of their older caregiver, grandmother Clara, Cyriaque provided support by taking Sifa and Moise to the sector offices where they were given school supplies. Additionally, Cyriaque advocated for additional support for Clara and made sure she understood the process of re-enrolling the children in school. “Now we have school uniforms, shoes, pens, and books. This reduced the burden on my grandmother and she and I are so happy that I am able to attend school regularly,” said Sifa. Cyriaque’s efforts and dedication were acknowledged and appreciated by local authorities.
group of six adults talking, adult in the middle holding a young child

IZU while discussing a child abuse case with family members in Musanze District. Photo Credit: NCDA

Laura says she is especially grateful for the emotional support she has received from Immaculee. 

Immaculee and Naphtal had a profound impact on the life of Laura, a 12-year-old girl who had been living in exploitative conditions as a child laborer. When Immaculee heard about Laura’s case and the violence she had experienced, she immediately took action. Alongside Naphtal, Immaculee provided support to Laura throughout the investigation process, including medical care and counseling. They also worked tirelessly to locate Laura’s family and eventually facilitated her reunification with them. Immaculee and Naphtal advocated for the construction of a new house for the family and Laura’s re-enrollment in school. Through their holistic approach and unwavering support, Immaculee and Naphtal helped Laura rebuild her life and regain hope for a better future. Laura said, “I wish to become a nurse when I grow up because I hope that it could give me a better life in [the] future.”

These are just a few examples of the many IZU volunteers who are positively impacting the lives of children and families in Rwanda. They are an essential part of Rwanda’s social service workforce, and they play a vital role in protecting and supporting children.

During Social Service Workforce Week, USAID collectively acknowledges and celebrates the dedication and resilience of social service professionals and para-professionals worldwide. We look forward to continuing to work together to create a stronger, more inclusive world for children and families facing adversity. 

For more information and actionable steps, visit the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance’s resource database for myriad information and tools related to planning, developing, and supporting the workforce.