Rwanda 25 Years On: A time for Remembrance & Renewal
7th April By Imogen Ward
Today, 7th April 2019, is the UN International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Rwanda Genocide where an estimated 800,000 people lost their lives over a period of 100 days.
The Rwanda Genocide, which marks its 25th Year in 2019, was an event that had a considerable impact on many of us. It was a major moment for our sector, resulting in a huge and often controversial humanitarian response out of which many lessons were learned.
The process of reconstruction and reconciliation after the tragedy has been enormously impressive and Rwanda is now one of the fastest growing countries in Africa, although still with many challenges.
At AAW we’ve decided to make Rwanda the focus of our company giving in 2019. We will be funding several grass roots Rwandan organisations working in the areas of humanitarian assistance, development and conservation. We will cover some of these brilliant charities on our Insight Page over the course of the year.
To start this off, we have interviewed Chaste Uwihoreye, an extraordinary individual and Country Director of the NGO Uyisenga Ni Imazi about his work with children in Rwanda to help them rebuild their own lives and build a secure future for the country.
Chaste was 15 when the genocide started. Like most other Rwandans, he was personally affected. But the work that Chaste is carrying out is making a huge difference to the lives of genocide survivors and the next generation.
Chaste’s NGO Uyisenga Ni Imazi – meaning ‘child care and affection’ has a primary objective to help the thousands of children who became orphans as a result of the genocide across the country, some ending up living on the street, others becoming heads of households at a very young age. Founded in 2002, one of the organisation’s first programmes was to find and integrate children back into their families, when they had been separated during the conflict.
The charity’s work has expanded into helping all vulnerable children, not just direct survivors of the genocide, but those are that still suffering from the impact of that event. According to a national mental health survey carried out in the country last year, 35% of genocide survivors and almost 12% of the general population are living with severe depression leading to ramifications in families such as conflict, divorce, drug abuse, etc. Although the child survivors of the genocide are now young adults, the charity has found trauma is transmitted to the next generation, with children born after the genocide also suffering psychologically.
Education is a key component of the charity’s work, helping to support children to become men and women that can support themselves. That means helping with school fees, providing children with school materials and supporting the construction of schools and other infrastructure.
Other vital programmes include child protection – helping ensure every child grows up in a caring family and psychological support for young people who have experienced trauma. The NGO also has an economic programme to provide training and support to families, for example on income generation activities, livestock and agricultural projects - and also offers advocacy and legal support to children if needed.
We asked why children were central to Chaste’s work. He replied that if people want to support the development of the human being, they have to support children – those without a voice, without help and without support from their own families. To invest in human beings and avoid future conflict and violence, we have to invest both materially and non-materially in our children, both ‘care and cash’ to avoid the reversal of the progress that the country has made in recent years.
We asked him where he gets his strength and resilience from – the answer was a number of sources: other professionals he works with, his own daughters and family members and from who love the work being carried out by the charity and want to support them. Above all, it is witnessing the results of the organisation’s work that provides him energy to carry on – when Chaste meets grown men and women whom he first met as traumatised children in 2004 and 2005 who are now mothers and fathers with their own families.
Today, Chaste will be accompanying children to visit the Genocide Museum for a commemoration event, to lay flowers and to remember together the country’s history, something that is difficult for even adults to put into words and to understand.
He wants to help teach children so that they will grow up knowing what has happened and to prevent it ever happening again. He is also personally co-ordinating a psychological intervention team helping children and adults who are affected on the day.
Chaste has hope that Rwanda can avoid future conflict. Rwandans have bravely identified their own solutions and models of working to overcome their challenges after a period of reconciliation and to move forward after the genocide. There is now a generation of young, committed people who have come together and are focused on peace and prosperity in this beautiful, special country.
Rather than being divided by ethnic, social or regional groups, as Chaste states, people are now excited and committed to being Rwandese together first and foremost and to build their country.
Today, we can all remember and reflect on that.