Q&A: Kabasinga: a survivor who now is thriving

Briefly talk about yourself I’m Chantal Kabasinga. I’m the President of Avega Agahozo at National level.
Avega Agahozo President, Chantal Kabasinga. The New Times / D. Umutesi
Avega Agahozo President, Chantal Kabasinga. The New Times / D. Umutesi

Briefly talk about yourself

I’m Chantal Kabasinga. I’m the President of Avega Agahozo at National level. I was born in Gicumbi District in the Northern Province. I’m a 47-year-old single mother with a daughter. My husband was killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi but I survived with my daughter, who was 18 months old at the time.

I’m serving my second term in office as the President of Avega Agahozo at national level and I was first elected in 2008. Besides working with Avega Agahozo  I work with the Ruhuka Trauma Center in Kigali, a clinic that deals with trauma and I’m an advisor on trauma issues.

How would you best describe yourself?

Besides being a mother I’m a compassionate person. That is why I always want to offer any kind of help of assistance to anyone going through hard times. I’m an advocate for people who are voiceless especially those in pain or trouble. I derived the determination of helping everyone in trouble based on how I was raised by my late parents and the kind of skills and trainings I attained in school.

What I saw in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi gave me the basis and the power to greatly advocate, help people and to comfort them so that they can lead a better life. I’m a professional psychologist.

What are the main activities of Avega Agahozo?

Avega Agahozo is an association of widows and orphans of genocide survivors. We have daily programmes, projects and functional committee members from national level to community levels. In the health program, we deal with trauma case and also conduct activities that aim at empowering Avega Agahozo members financially and in terms of capacity building. We also have the advocacy programme which is the voice for the widows and orphans. We have cooperatives formed by the women aimed at eradicating poverty in the communities. 

There are several Avega Agahozo offices in most of the districts in the country. We have a total of 25,000 widows and orphans but 19,000 of them are active members.

What can you attribute to Avega Agahozo‘s success?

It’s the vision and mission of Avega Agahozo to comfort and support and uplift the widows and orphans of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. We do this with determination and unexplainable desire. This is visible in our activities at community level and at national level thus be part in nations building. 

What was your childhood dream and are you living it?

As a child, I always wanted to be a social worker so that I can help people in their day to day activities. I achieved that because I studied psychology and I’m helping people in different ways. But the one dream I didn’t achieve, which I treasured most, was having a very big family with very many children. My husband was killed when we were just newlyweds.  But I’m still thankful to God for my daughter.

How do you explain to your child the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi?

Although she was very young at the time, but during such horrific experiences even those that have not yet been born into this world and they are still in their mother’s wombs, they are affected in one way or the other. She knows that her father was killed in the Genocide. She knows the history of the country which I narrate to her and she has also learnt a lot from school. In such times when we are commemorating she also commemorates her father. We comfort one another in such times.

What challenges does Avega Agahozo face?

Our main challenge is the limited resources to facilitate our daily activities, which are supposed to empower Avega Agahozo members who are still healing and learning how to deal with the troubling experiences they encountered during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Dealing with the trauma cases is another challenge because people encountered horrific experiences. When the mind and heart is wounded psychologically, they are wounds that never heal. But we have trained people on community level to constantly counsel the trauma victims. 

But we have tried to solve some challenges like housing of genocide widows and orphans. We have three clinics where Avega Agahozo members receive medical treatment. 

Despite all the challenges you’ve faced, what has kept you going as a president of Avega Agahozo?

I learnt, regardless of the person’s limited strength or the challenges they face, when they have someone supporting them or even listening to them as well as advising them, they can achieve their goals.

With such a lesson, it inspires me to work very hard and advocate, listen and support anyone in need of help so that they can attain their wish or goal thus leading a better life full of love and determination to also help others.

What challenges do you think most Rwanda women face?

The main challenge a Rwandan woman faces, especially if she is a widow, is being responsible for a family. As the English say, ‘two heads are better than one’. Women need a companion just like children need a father figure in their lives.

It’s challenging especially to women who are not empowered and have no financial support. Supporting the family single-handed is extremely hard. 

What are you future plans?

Besides supporting myself and my family to prosper, my main goal is to greatly uplift the widows and orphans of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi so that they can lead a better life. They really need our love, care and support each passing day because what they went through is unbearable. This will always be my main plan.

What is your comment on theme of 18th Commemoration of the 1994 Genocide that states that ‘learning our history to build a bright future’?

Learning our history defines who we are, what factors led to the Genocide, and what we can do so that what happened should never happen again. We also learn how we can solve the problems that we encountered during the Genocide. Through learning our history, we develop lesson which can lead us to a bright future.

 

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