Rwanda Facts - Compassion International

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 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.

Compassion's work in Rwanda began in 1980. Currently, more than 85,000 children participate in more than 350 child development centers.

Learn About Rwanda

A 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.

Ethnic-based strife has been a common theme throughout Rwanda's history. A civil war begun in 1990 experienced a temporary cessation of fighting with the signing of a peace accord in 1993. However, fighting resumed in April 1994 with the initiation of state-orchestrated genocide. During the three-month long attempted genocide Rwandans killed up to 1 million of their fellow citizens.

In April 2000, Rwanda's Vice President (and former Commander of the Rwandan Patriotic Front), Paul Kagame became the nation's first Tutsi President. The next year, the government began implementation of a grass-roots, village-level justice system, known as gacaca, to address the enormous backlog of genocide cases.

Rwanda in 2009 staged a joint military operation with the Congolese Army in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to rout out an extremist insurgency, and the governments restored diplomatic relations. Rwanda also joined the Commonwealth in late 2009.

Source: The World Factbook, 2014.


The typical school year runs from January to October. Education is free at the primary level for all children.

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 writing 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: International Religious Freedom Report, released in 2012 by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.



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: Celebrates 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 Recipe
5 cups water
5 Tb. sugar
1 cup sorghum flour*
1 cup milk

Put 4 cups of water into a saucepan. Put the sorghum flour in a bowl mixed with 1 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 6.

*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

Child Sponsorship Program

Children meet at the child development center for 8 hours each Saturday, and they are fed when they attend. They are given porridge in the morning before starting the first lesson and then receive a full meal for lunch, which typically consists of rice, posho (a common East African dish made with cornmeal) or Irish potatoes with beans and green vegetables.

In addition to the normal certified and contextualized Compassion curriculum, children are also introduced to topics of the Rwandan national values, such as self-identity, loving the nation, unity and reconciliation, and striving toward self-reliance. Each child development center sets aside time twice a month for sports and cultural/traditional dances.

Adolescents also participate in discussions about human development relevant to the teenage years, such as body changes, hygiene and emotional changes. They are also involved in Bible study, discipleship, and income-generating activities like crocheting, tailoring and basket weaving.

Parents meet for weekly prayer meetings and monthly community service activities, such as house renovations, center clean-up days, and working at the vegetable gardens at the child development centers.

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

Rwanda Facts and Figures
Capital Kigali
Population 12,337,138 (2014 estimate) 

Note: Estimates for this country take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS, which results in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, and lower population growth rates than otherwise expected.
Languages Kinyarwanda only (official), universal Bantu vernacular 93.2%, Kinyarwanda and other language(s) 6.2%, French (official) and other language(s) 0.1%, English (official), Kiswahili (Swahili) used in commercial centers (2002 estimate)
Religions Christian 93.4% (Roman Catholic 49.5%, Protestant 39.4%, other 4.5%), Muslim 1.8%, animist 0.1%, other 0.6%, none 3.6% (2001), unspecified 0.5% (2002 estimate)
Literacy rate

Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
Male: 74.8%

Female: 67.5% (2010 estimate)
Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources

Urban: 79.6%

Rural: 66.4%
(2011 estimate)

Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities

Urban: 61.3%

Rural: 61.3%
(2010 estimate)

Climate Temperate; two rainy seasons (February to April, November to January); mild in mountains with frost and snow possible
Percentage of population urbanized 19.1%
(2011 estimate)
Life expectancy Male: 57.73 years

Female: 60.83 years (2014 estimate)
Under-5 mortality rate 55/1,000
(2012 estimate)
GDP per capita $1,500 (2013 estimate)
Monetary unit Rwandan franc (RWF)
Number of people living with HIV/AIDS 206,9000 (2012 estimate)
Percentage of population living below
$1.25 a day
63% (2007-11 study)

Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2014; The State of the World's Children, 2014