KIGALI, Rwanda 

Dressed in a luminous yellow vest, Michel Kanamugire does not pause for a minute without talking to someone at the Kimironko market in Rwanda’s capital.

He gives information about coronavirus preventive and protective measures as per guidelines and protocols outlined by health authorities.

Wear a face mask, wash your hands regularly and ensure social distancing, Kanamugire tells shoppers and vendors.

Kanamugire is one of more than 800 youth volunteers stationed on Kigali streets, market entrances, bus parks and bus stops to educate Rwandans about health guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“Please be your friend’s keeper, mind about yourself and other people because, without a face mask, the risk of infection is high,” he said.

As of Saturday, the number of coronavirus cases in Rwanda reached 420, with two deaths.

The youth work under a volunteer group formed in 2013, which is composed of students, new graduates, and entrepreneurs.

Some are jobless while others have jobs but find time for service.

The program was initiated with about 50 members, but currently, it has more than 380,000 volunteers.

Volunteers are currently working in conjunction with Kigali and Rwandan police. Members often receive training and capacity building lessons on particular tasks before being deployed for activities geared at supplementing government efforts.

They have previously been engaged in creating awareness on proper feeding to fight malnutrition, human and drug trafficking and anti-corruption campaigns.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic, Kanamugire has never felt more useful to his country.

“It is one of my contributions to the country. As the young people, we are the strength of our country and it’s our duty to continue building from where others started,” he said.

“The job demands a lot of sacrifice without expecting a reward but we try to put our hearts into it in order to save lives.”

Volunteers work either morning shifts from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time (0600-1200GMT)or in the evenings s from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. (1200-1700GMT).

The challenge is that some are reluctant to take advice; some see you as intruding when you talk to them, but 80% of the people we talk to take our advice seriously, said Kanamugire.

He stood at the main entrance to the market to ensure anyone who enters properly wears a face mask, washes their hands with soap and clean water.

Similar awareness has been carried out by youth volunteers in the past month in urban centers across Rwanda, from Musanze to Rubavu town, Nyabugogo bus terminal, Kicukiro trading center to downtown Kigali.

Sharing similar feelings

Kanamugire’s colleagues share the same feelings.

A few meters from the market, at the Kimironko Taxi Park, other young people like Claudine Kantengwa, remind residents that coronavirus spreads fast but is preventable.

“Wash or sanitize your hands before boarding a bus. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose. These health guidelines are in our own interest,” she told passengers.

Kantengwa, 19, makes sure that passengers waiting to board a bus maintain one meter (3-feet) distance from each other in a queue.

She gets breathing space only after all passengers board, then moves to another queue.

“It is challenging dealing with different people every day but also an exciting job. I feel satisfaction getting involved in activities aimed to save lives. While some are resistant, a majority of them listen,” she told Anadolu Agency.

Rwanda started easing coronavirus restrictions May 4, allowing businesses to reopen with essential staff.

On Tuesday, it eased restrictions further, allowing free movement within the country. But the country’s borders, churches and schools have remained closed.

What others say

Damascene Irakoze, a Kigali resident, said the volunteers’ work has amplified guidelines about the virus.

“Those volunteers explain health guidelines politely and in a language everybody understands. Their message is perfect reminder even to those who don’t have time to listen to radio or follow through other media platforms. It would be out of ignorance to waste time arguing with them,” said Irakoze.

There are more than 5,000 youth volunteers deployed across the country for the coronavirus cause, according to Abdallah Murenzi, chairman of the Rwanda Youth Volunteers organization.

“The work is entirely on a voluntary basis, open to all Rwandan youth. One does not need to be necessarily unemployed,” he said.

According to Murenzi, the program demonstrates the successful engagement of the youth into the Rwandan development agenda.

“The youth volunteers have been engaged in community policing activities which leads to a reduction in crimes […] in this period of COVID-19, they are constructively engaged in creating awareness,” he said. “So far we are impressed by how effective their work is. The public is complying with the health guidelines.”

Kigali Mayor Pudence Rubingisa said people appreciate the continued sacrifice of youth volunteers collaborating with authorities to combat the spread of the virus in the country.

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