It is 1994. In Rwanda's Gisimba Orphange, 400 people huddle in silence. Terrified children hide in roof spaces and crawl under bunk beds to escape the regular onslaught of attackers. The people creep out only at night to take what they could from water supplies that come only every few days, if they are lucky. A knock on the gates could come at any time. Armed gangs seeking out victims often encircle the building. The people are a bribe, desperate plea or second glance away from slaughter.
That year, that around 800,000 Rwandans died in the genocide. Fighting was intense in the capital Kigali, where Gisimba Orphanage still stands. During the massacre, the centre's manager Damas Gisimba went out at night to rescue the wounded from mass graves where they hid amongst the bodies. Damas and those like him saved as many as they could, but thousands of children were among the dead.
From the smiles and warm greetings at the gates today, you can hardly imagine the difficulties facing Damas then. But Gisimba remains a place of refuge. It is home now to 148 children, boys and girls, from babies to 25 year olds. Thousands were orphaned during the genocide, and some of those taken in by Gisimba are now grown up and remain at the centre, passing on the kindness shown by the orphanage by working with the younger children.
When we arrived this week, the air was filled with the smell of Rwandan cooking; the centre's helpers were preparing stew for the 200 people living at Gisimba in huge fire cauldrons. Children were playing board games and reading with the centre's carers. As soon as the footballs appeared, everyone went straight down to the dusty makeshift sports ground. Spectators played with the younger children, some only three or four years old, drawing pictures when they couldn't find a common language.
The orphanage has just celebrated its 25th anniversary, and Project Umubano have linked up with the orphanage for the first time this year. It is just one of many organizations working with Umubano in Rwanda and Sierra Leone.
Project Umubano is the Conservative Party's social action project, working to build sustainable programmes in the fields of medicine, education, business, law, community and sport. The project teaches Rwandan teachers, giving them the skills to pass on English to their classes. It works with small businesses to develop business plans that can be built on in the future. It trains football coaches so that they may go on to train young children. We even hope to train medics and dentists. The project does not just donate; it provides skills to pass on. We have built successful programmes for the past five years, and have taken a record number of volunteers with us this year.
Volunteers are dropping in to Gisimba several times during the project to meet with the children and staff. We are donating clothing and kits, and hosting football coaching sessions for young people there. They are already running rings around our sports team.