Rwanda Facts

Compassion has been working in Rwanda since 1980. Through our work there, we gather Rwanda facts about children in poverty. These Rwanda facts and statistics provide a good picture of the reality of poverty and how Compassion is making a difference.

Poverty is a common problem in the country of Rwanda but Compassion is working to change this. The Rwanda facts tell a discouraging story, but Compassion is bringing hope in the midst of this discouragement. Our programs are changing the statistics one child at a time.

Don't let the hopelessness of Rwanda facts overwhelm you. You can make a difference to a child in Rwanda today!


Compassion's work in Rwanda began in 1980. Currently, more than 52,600 children participate in more than 190 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches to help them provide Rwandan children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be.

Prayer Request
  • Pray for Augustin's family in Rwanda

    Apr 01, 2014

    Pray for God’s comfort for the family, friends and sponsor of 11-year-old Augustin in Rwanda, who died recently after ingesting a contaminated drink.

Featured Stories from Rwanda
  • With Compassion, I Am Stronger

    Jul 12, 2010

    Nkusi's mother died, and shortly after Nkusi was diagnosed HIV-positive. Poverty took much from this young boy, but then Compassion intervened.

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Learn About Rwanda

According to local belief, Tutsi cattle breeders began arriving in the area from the Horn of Africa in the 15th century and gradually subjugated the Hutu inhabitants. The Tutsis established a monarchy headed by a mwami (king) and a feudal hierarchy of Tutsi nobles and gentry. Through a contract known as ubuhake, the Hutu farmers pledged their services and those of their descendants to a Tutsi lord in return for the loan of cattle and use of pastures and arable land. Thus, the Tutsi reduced the Hutu to virtual serfdom. However, boundaries of race and class became less distinct over the years as some Tutsi enjoyed few advantages over the Hutu. In 1899, the mwami submitted to a German protectorate without resistance. Belgian troops from Zaire drove the small number of Germans out of Rwanda in 1915 and took control of the country.

An increasingly restive Hutu population, encouraged by the Belgian military, sparked a revolt in November 1959, resulting in the overthrow of the Tutsi monarchy. Two years later, the Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement (PARMEHUTU) won an overwhelming victory in a United Nations-supervised referendum.

During the 1959 revolt and its aftermath, more than 160,000 Tutsis fled to neighboring countries. The PARMEHUTU government, formed as a result of the September 1961 election, was granted internal autonomy by Belgium on Jan. 1, 1962. A June 1962 United Nations General Assembly resolution terminated the Belgian trusteeship and granted full independence to Rwanda (and Burundi) effective July 1, 1962.

Gregoire Kayibanda, leader of the PARMEHUTU Party, became Rwanda's first elected president, leading a government chosen from the membership of the directly elected unicameral National Assembly. Peaceful negotiation of international problems, social and economic elevation of the masses, and integrated development of Rwanda were the ideals of the Kayibanda regime. Relations with 43 countries, including the United States, were established in the first 10 years. Despite the progress made, inefficiency and corruption began festering in government ministries in the mid-1960s.

Rwanda has always been plagued by ethnic-based strife. A peace accord in mid 1993 temporarily ended most of the fighting, but there was a massive resumption of civil warfare in April 1994. During the three-month-long conflict, an attempted Tutsi genocide killed more than 500,000 people, and another 2 million fled as refugees to neighboring countries.

In April 2000, Rwanda's Vice President Paul Kagame became the nation's first Tutsi President, and still leads the country today.

A new constitution was adopted in Rwanda in 1995, but the country still struggles from the devastating effects of the 1994 war.

As of October 2003, Rwanda's refugee population consisted of 28,000 Congolese Tutsis at two camps in Kibuye and Byumba provinces. In 2001, the government began implementation of a grass-roots, village-level justice system, known as gacaca, to address the enormous backlog of cases. As of October 2003, some 80,000 individuals remained in detention in Rwanda, awaiting gacaca trials on charges relating to the 1994 genocide.


The typical school year runs from January to October. Education is free at the primary level for all children. According to UNICEF, 78 percent of students reach the fifth grade.

Rwandans view education as the only way for a hopeful future for their children, and parents are concerned about their children's education. Rwanda's educated live in towns, while the non-educated live in remote areas, often in situations of extreme poverty.

While the government has introduced free education at the primary level, most parents cannot provide the materials for children to go to school, including paper and school uniforms. 


Disputes between religious groups are rare. The Rwandan Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, while the government generally respects this right in practice, it fails to prevent local authorities from abusing or restricting religious freedoms. There is no state religion.

The law provides for small fines and imprisonment of up to six months for anyone who interferes with a religious ceremony or with a minister in the exercise of his or her professional duties. The law regulates public meetings and calls for fines or imprisonment for those who violate these regulations.

The government permits religious instruction in public schools. In some cases, students are given a choice between instruction in "religion" or "morals." In the past, missionaries established schools that were operated by the government. In those schools, religious instruction tends to reflect the denomination of the founders, either Catholic or Protestant. Muslim private schools operate as well.

Source: U.S. Department of State, International Religious Freedom Report, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Nov. 8, 2005,



Rwandans enjoy storytelling, weaving and basketry. Skill and expressiveness displayed in basket weaving indicate a family's social status. The pygmy Twa are traditional potters.


Rwandan musical instruments include homemade xylophones, stringed instruments and drums; singing and dancing accompany ceremonies associated with birth, marriage, death, harvest and hunting.

Holidays and Festivals

New Year's Day, Jan. 1 
Heroes Day, Feb. 1
Women's Day, March 8
Easter Week, March or April
Genocide Memorial Day, April 7
Labor Day, May 1 
Independence Day, July 1   
Assumption Day, Aug. 15: Catholics celebrate the belief that Mary ascended into heaven after Jesus' death. 
All Saints Day, Nov. 1: Catholics celebrate those who have achieved sainthood.
Christmas, Dec. 25: Christians usually attend church and enjoy a special family meal.

Sports and Games

Soccer (called football) is Rwanda's most popular sport. Basketball and volleyball are also becoming increasingly popular.

Typical Foods

Rwandans eat bananas, legumes, sweet potatoes, maize, cassava and potatoes.

Sorghum Porridge
5 cups water
5 Tb. sugar
1 cup sorghum flour*
1 cup milk

Put four cups of water into a saucepan. Put the sorghum flour in a bowl mixed with one cup of cold water. Stir until the flour and water are mixed. Pour the mixture in boiled water and stir immediately so it will not become lumpy. Continue to stir until it boils again. Let boil 15 minutes. Put in sugar and milk. Serves six.

*Look for sorghum flour at your local health food store.


Here are some words in Rwanda's official language, Kinyarwanda. Some Compassion children in Rwanda also speak French or English.


Mwaramutse. (Good morning.)
Bite? (How are you?)
Muraho (Hello)
Witwande? (What's your name?)
Nitwa ... (My name is ...)
Murakoze. (Thank you.)

Compassion in Rwanda

Compassion's work in Rwanda began in 1980. Currently, more than 52,600 children participate in more than 190 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches to help them provide Rwandan children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be.

Rwanda Facts & Figures

Visit the Compassion blog to learn more about our work in Rwanda.

Rwanda United States
Capital Kigali Washington, D.C.
Population 10,746,311 (July 2010 estimate) 

Note: Estimates for this country take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS.
307,212,123 (July 2010 estimate)
Languages Kinyarwanda (official), universal Bantu vernacular, French (official), English (official), Kiswahili (Swahili) used in commercial centers English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census)
Religions Christian 93.6% (Roman Catholic 56.5%, Protestant 26%, Adventist 11.1%), Muslim 4.6%, indigenous beliefs 0.1%, none 1.7% (2001 estimate) Christian 78.5% (Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, other Christian 3.3%), Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.)
Literacy rate

Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
Male: 76.3%

Female: 64.7% (2003 estimate)
Male: 99%

Female: 99% (2003 estimate)
Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources

Urban: 82%

Rural: 61%
(2006 estimate)

Urban: 100%

Rural: 94%
(2006 estimate)

Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities

Urban: 51%

Rural: 47%
(2006 estimate)

Urban: 100%

Rural: 99%
(2006 estimate)

Climate Temperate; two rainy seasons (February to April, November to January); mild in mountains with frost and snow possible Mostly temperate but tropical in Hawaii and Florida, arctic in Alaska, semiarid in the Great Plains west of the Mississippi River and arid in the Great Basin of the southwest; low winter temperatures in the northwest are warmed occasionally in January and February by Chinook winds from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
Percentage of population urbanized 18%
(2008 estimate)
(2008 estimate)
Life expectancy Male: 55.43 years

Female: 58.14 years (2010 estimate)
Male: 75.65 years

Female: 80.69 years (2010 estimate)
Under-5 mortality rate 112/1,000
(2008 estimate)
(2008 estimate)
GDP per capita $1,000 (2009 estimate) $46,000 (2009 estimate)
Monetary unit Rwandan franc (RWF) U.S. dollar (USD)
Number of people living with HIV/AIDS 150,000 (2007 estimate) 1.2 million (2007 estimate)
Percentage of population living below
$1.25 a day
77% (1992-2007) Data not available
Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2010; The State of the World's Children, 2009