It is still work in progress for Genocide widows – Mukabayire

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Mukabayire in her office in Kigali during the interview. (Courtesy photo)

For over two years, Valerie Mukabayire has been serving as the president of AVEGA AGAHOZO (Association des Veuves du Génocide Agahozo), a non-government organisation that was established to support widows in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. She talked to Women Today’s Donah Mbabazi on the achievements of the association and how survivors are coping 23 years later.

It is 23 years since the genocide ended. How far have the survivors come in terms of healing and rebuilding their lives?

Survivors have come a long way. It’s been a long journey but I am proud that we have attained significant success; this is evident if one compares how the situation was then to how it is now. In the aftermath of the genocide, widows were in a very bad state, they were broken and depressed, some were fighting a battle of losing loved ones and the trauma of being sexually violated. This is the reason why Avega was started; women got various kinds of support and they became strong not because they were totally healed but they were determined to start the process of rebuilding their lives and also take care of the orphans.  I can say that after twenty three years, the journey so far is promising and genocide widows are better off today. 

There were children born during the genocide some of them out of rape, as mothers, how have they been able to balance the healing process and bringing up of these children?

What happened during the genocide was so horrible that up to today some survivors are yet to recover from trauma it caused them.  This, however, doesn’t stand in the way of the love they hold for the children, mothers are affectionate in nature; they fight for their healing and at the same time look out for the wellbeing of their children regardless of the circumstances. We have also been by their side providing support, they have received counseling and they are healing. 

It is the children who are facing a harder time to deal with it because when they grew up they got to know what happened and it’s hard for them to deal with that reality, sometimes parents try to hide the truth, but they get it from society.

Survivors of sexual violence tend to slump into self pity and blame themselves for what happened, how have you helped them deal with this?

We have programmes in place to rebuild their emotional wellbeing and dignity. Various programmes have been set up, even up to now we still have the programme that handles trauma; it is a programme we will never close. It is hard for trauma to completely go away, but we will always be there to comfort survivors and their children too. 

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Mukabayire addresses the press  in Kigali recently. (File photo)

There has been talk that we still have cases of stigma towards survivors particularly those who were raped, is this something that you have had to deal with at some point?

Well this is not what we are responsible for, but as a family we tend to have programmes that complement each other, however this isn’t good because it adds on the pain people already have and it only makes matters worse. But efforts are in place to fight such vices even on the national level there is a programme that deals with this.

Aside from that, what are some of the challenges survivors still face?

There has been a lot of progress, but you know all can’t be perfect, some challenges still prevail. We still encounter victims with serious trauma cases, genocide denial is also still a challenge but the government is putting in a lot of effort to fight this.

What’s next for you as an association of women survivors?

We plan on maintaining what we have achieved so far and to continue supporting those who are still struggling with the aftermath effects. The elderly are another group we plan to focus, some lost their children and hence have no one to look after them in old age. We plan on bringing more into homes so that they can be cared for.

We continue to see conflicts in other parts of the world, what lessons can be learnt from Rwanda’s experience to solve such?

I think what people should do is to intervene immediately when such conflicts occur, yes it’s the natives to first take the step, but when things get ugly; others should intervene to save lives. May be if the international community had intervened in time, we wouldn’t have seen the genocide reach such a magnitude-claiming over one million innocent lives.  Countries should also learn from Rwanda’s homegrown solutions to conflict resolution.