Sunday, 7 October 2012

2012 Trip: Rwanda/ Muhanga/ Evariste and his family share their food with us

The  brick making volunteers were invited inside to have a late lunch, provided by Evariste and his wife (pictured by the doorway) to thank us for our help.  Lunch was cassava (a root vegetable) and beans.

Like most families in rural Rwanda, Evarist and his wife barely have enough food to feed themselves but they made sure that we were looked after. Brenda and previous volunteer teams have experienced this extraordinary generosity time and time again when visiting families in Rwanda and Tanzania.

Costa and members of another volunteer group -  
Groundwork Opportunities.

The family are part of a supportive HIV/AIDS co-operative set up by the NGO Costa is involved with, the Terimbere Rwanda Organization. TRO provides counselling and covers medical expenses for the family. AIDS is particularly prevalent in Rwanda as men infected with AIDS used rape as a deliberate weapon of war in the 1994 genocide.
We were joined by other members of the HIV/AIDS cooperative. Note the Ironman Penticton donated shirts!
Erin and Evariste's daughter Pamela
Pamela, who was three months old at this time, is not HIV positive.  
I believe that this must be due to the medication that prevents mother to child transmission
 (PMTCT)  but I will find out for sure and update the blog.

Acting as interpreter, Costa told us Evariste's story and explained the benefits of the HIV/AIDS support group. They have a pig co-operative, and thanks to your donations we were able to contribute to it on previous trips.  

Costa spoke to one of the group, an emaciated woman named Epiphany, asking for her permission to tell us her story. Epiphany was widowed and turned to prostitution in order to earn money to feed her children. She felt great guilt at knowingly passing on the infection, but having lost two of her children she did not want the remaining three to starve. Costa told us that Epiphany had been to many counselling sessions before she talked about her actions but once she did she was able to begin to heal mentally and in spirit, and the opportunity to be a part of the pig co-operative meant that she no longer had to resort to prostitution. 

It was at this point that Brenda told Costa that we were passing on donations of US$300 for the pig co-op. Costa turned to one of the older ladies and spoke to her, she clapped her hands and cried out, as did the rest of the group. Costa turned to us and said that this lady was in very poor health and was exhausted from having to walk to the market each day to sell homemade beer for little or no profit, and he had just told her "No more market. Now you can stay and help look after the new pigs."

I cried.

Friday, 5 October 2012

2012 Trip: Rwanda/ Muhanga/ Making bricks for Evariste's home 


Brenda met Costa on the first One Person trip (2008). His parents fled a Tutsis' massacre in 1959 and Costa was brought up in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. His wife, Bernadette, saw her parents and siblings killed in the 1994 genocide and survived by hiding in the ceiling of a neighbor’s home. Costa was a member of the Rebel Resistance Army that helped to overthrow the Hutu regime and he has been imprisoned three times. He documents his extraordinary life in his book The Work That Brings Peace In Me.

Costa is committed to healing himself, his family and his homeland, he travels the world promoting peace and reconciliation, and has visited with us in British Columbia. He now lives and studies in Maine, USA.

Costa is part of TRO (Terimbere Rwanda Organization, formally known as GO Rwanda.) the organization that received our first shipping container. TRO works in the Muhunga region to implement a genocide reconciliation project, which supports genocide survivors through community reconciliation and rehabilitation programs. Perpetrators also undergo rehabilitation and receive counselling before they are paired with a survivor to build homes for vulnerable families.

In a previous visit Brenda and a team of volunteers had helped to make bricks for one house, and now our team had the opportunity to do the same.

Brenda, One Person President and co-founder
Rwanda is called The Land of a Thousand Hills, and I'm sure that we hiked most of them on this trip!
Mary wrote about the brick making day in her blog on Planet Ranger:

"Today we hopped back on a bus to Muhanga and then walked down the side of a mountain to a house where we were invited to make mud bricks to help the family that needed them. Since we are volunteers we made around 150 bricks for free, the family was very thankful because when they pay someone to make the bricks it costs 25 RWF per brick. 150 bricks isn’t a lot, and when I roughly counted the bricks of the houses around us, I figured that we probably only made enough bricks for a quarter of a quarter of the walls. But helping the family save around 3750 RWF was a good feeling since they could now use that money to buy a goat or something else for the house.

The bricks are literally made out of dirt and water. They start by pouring water onto the dirt and then they use their feet to squish the water around, making the ground wet enough for them to throw it into a square mold for the bricks. The men making the mud held tools that looked like bent shovels to pound into the ground to break up the mud, roots, grass and rocks from each other. Then they rolled up the mud into a medium sized ball and passed it to the person next to them who then passed it to a few more people before it ended up into the concrete molds where Brenda and another man squished it around to make a perfect square brick with no air holes.

 It was a great experience but I know that the people there were just doing it so we would be happy...and I know that they could have done it ten times faster than the silly mzungu’s did." 

Evariste, the house owner, digs and prepares the mud. Brenda and One Person Director and co-founder Sheena work with  Evariste and his family and neighbours.
Mary, One Person member and volunteer since our inception in 2007

Everyone helped to haul water!  Luckily the stream was only a few hundred yards down the hill...
Evariste Nsengiyumva moved to Muhanga in 1996 from the then dangerous Congolese border. It took him eleven years to acquire his own land and he has finally saved enough money to begin building his family home.
We were joined after a while by Bart, founder of the U.S organization, Groundwork Opportunities and his team of volunteers, so we were able to get two lines of bricks going! Groundwork
Opportunities raised funds to help us get our Muhanga shipping container out of customs storage when it was held for far longer than expected. 
 Rendering the walls with a sand mixture

The house was about three quarters finished. Families pay to have bricks made and build as they go - sometimes it may take years to build a small house.

As usual - we had an audience.  Erin shows the children their photograph.  

Erin helped teach in out Train The Teachers week in Tanzania on this trip. Her school, Holy Cross, in Penticton, B.C. donated books to St. Timothy's school in Moshi, Tanzania in 2011 (Bart had asked One Person to make a donation there in return for their raising extra funds to help get the shipping container out of storage) so she travelled to St. Timothy's to meet the staff and children. Holy Cross is giving the school long-term support. 

The house from the back

And the front

The government encourages people to not build the traditional small grass-thatched huts (Nyakasi) but to build larger homes with tin or tiled roofs.

 In 2006 (as a World Vision Volunteer) Brenda met this brother and sister who were orphaned after the genocide. They live in a remote area in a traditional grass hut. They told Brenda that in the rainy season, which lasts three months, they had to try and sleep standing up as the roof leaked and the dirt floor became a muddy pool.
It was very satisfying to take part in the brick making and work side by side with the villagers. Costa had been delayed returning from a trip so we were only at the village for part of a day, rather than the three days we had planned, so our contribution may not have made a massive difference to the progress of the walls in the house but by going back year after year and helping to build other houses in the community we are showing our commitment to our long-term involvement with Muhanga. 

Monday, 1 October 2012

2012 Trip Overview: Rwanda / Genocide Sites (disturbing content)

We visited Kigali, Rwanda at the beginning of our trip as we give support to the nearby community of Muhanga.

Kigali was the epicentre of the 1994 genocide, which saw the slaughter of up to a million men, women and children over the span of 100 days. Further details can be found at  here at the United Human Rights Council website.  In short it was the genocidal mass slaughter of the Rwandan Tutsis by the Rwandan Hutus.

Rwanda has over 200 official genocide memorial sites but we were very aware that thousands of bodies would have been laying on and around the paths and roads that we travelled each day. I had read the books and watched the movies and documentaries about the Rwandan genocide, and a group of us were fortunate enough to see Lieutenant-General  Romeo Dallaire speak in Kelowna, B.C. a few years ago, but it is impossible to be fully prepared to see the realities and aftermath of such an event.

Kigali Memorial Centre

There are eleven mass graves in the grounds, eight of which were filled in the months after the genocide before the memorial centre was built. The final three mass graves were built afterwards, and during the 100 days of Remembrance in 2004, many people took the opportunity to bury their loved ones at the site. 250,000, around a quarter of the victims are buried here. The crypts are three meters deep and are filled floor to ceiling with coffins, some of which hold the scant remains of up to 50 people.

As perpetrators confess to their crimes the whereabouts of bodies are still being revealed (swamps, toilet pits) so more graves will be built.

Inside the centre visitors learn about the build up to the genocide, including the multiple 'practise runs' and the shocking failure of the international community to intervene. The killings are also documented with harrowing photographs and descriptions. Survivors tell their stories on video - relating how their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers or children were killed. Many of the survivors were mutilated or victims of rape.

There is a room with glass cases holding skulls and bones and another displaying the clothes the victims were wearing when they died and the blood stained possessions they were carrying.

The Children's Room was distressing to view, there are treasured family photographs of cute children from 2 months to around ten years old with notices giving their names and the names of their best friends, their favourite foods, toys and activities, what they wanted to be when they grew up - followed by a description of their violent manner of death.

The images and descriptions are graphic and harrowing - and rightly so.

The haunting beauty of the large stained-glass Windows of Hope depicting the genocide and a stairway out of it, the circle of  carved wooden figures representing people before, during and after the genocide and the pretty Rose Garden add poignancy and emphasise the overall theme of the centre -  hope for the future.  And the hope that visitors will bear witness and help to ensure that the world will never again stand by and allow such events to take place.

It was strange to go back outside into the well kept gardens and grounds and look out at the beautiful hills of Rwanda and try and reconcile them with the atrocities that took place here.

Nyamata Church

Through Brenda's (One Person President and co-founder) numerous visits to Rwanda we have friends in and around Kigali and one of these, Franklin, took us to visit a memorial site in his home town of Nyamata. During the atrocities many people fled to churches for safety but this only made it easier for the perpetrators to slaughter the victims en masse. Inside, you can see the bullet holes and blood stains on the walls and roof and a tide mark of blood on the altar cloth. Over 4 days 10,000 people were killed in and around the church.

Throughout the genocide many women were raped and/or sexually mutilated. Rape is a tool of war. It is designed to terrorise a population, break up families, destroy communities, prevent the births of an ethnic group and to spread HIV/AIDS. Nyamata church has become emblamatic of the use of sexual brutalisation against women in the genocide.

Franklin showed us the church and took us into the basement which is lined with skulls, many bearing the now familiar gash from a machete. Back outside in the grounds we stepped down into a catacomb containing more skulls and bones, including the remains of some of Franklin's family.

As in the Kigali Memorial the graves and building are draped with the mourning colours of purple and white and there is a banner, which translated reads,  “If you really knew me, and you really knew yourself, you would not have killed me.”

Murambi Technical School Memorial Site

We drove for miles along a deeply rutted red earth road to reach the next Memorial site, which sits on the ridge of a high hill. Again the lush banana and eucalyptus trees and the astounding views contrasted starkly with the physical evidence of the atrocities carried out by neighbour against neighbour.

Many thousands of Tutsis were lured to the 'safety' of the Murambi Technical School by the authorities and then slaughtered. After the massacre bulldozers dug out mass graves where the bodies were disposed of without ceremony or prayer. The unfinished school later became barracks for French soldiers.

This memorial also documents the cycle of anti-Tutsi violence and discrimination and gave a frightening account of how the genocide was planned and carried out by the authorities. In counterbalance there are the personal stories of the people who risked death and endured injury to save lives at the Murambi killing site.

The guide (as at the other sites, the guides are genocide survivors) then led us to a barrack that had tables filled, not with bones, but with bodies that had been exhumed and had undergone natural mummification from the heat of decomposition in the soil. The bodies had then been preserved with lime, and on the twisted white coated bodies you could see tufts of hair, fingernails and their facial expressions. The bodies were piled on top of each other, men women and children. The smell of the white lime stays with me still.

And the next room was filled with bodies and the next, block after block of mummified men, women and children. A mother with a child in her arms. A couple embracing. A woman with her arms held up in protection with the lower limb of one arm hacked off.

The people of Rwanda are working on justice and recovery, peace and reconciliation, and reminding the world of the worse-case-scenario so that it will not happen again.

Although it has. The on-going conflict in Darfur, Sudan was declared a genocide by United States Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2004