Located in Kabeza, a city suburb, it has for many years served as a safe haven for vulnerable women. It is a place that gives these women a second chance to heal from the physical and psychological wounds of gender based violence.
This home is ‘Tubahumurize Association’, a non-governmental organisation that supports and empowers victims of violence and marginalisation.
The majority of the beneficiaries are victims of gender-based violence, but the organisation also caters for survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, women living with HIV/AIDS, widows, single mothers, old women and orphans.
It was because of the continuous encounters with abused women that Jeanne Mwiliriza, the founder of the organisation, decided to start up a group that brought together five to 10 women weekly. The number multiplied with each day that went by, and so the 58-year-old decided to create an established organisation with the intent to empower and rehabilitate women who are victims of abuse. This was in 2008.
“I understand the pain of a woman, what it means to go through all that and still carry on, this is why I had to do something. These women come in when they are broken, hurting and depressed. Gender-based violence is actually more prevalent than what people think. You see people moving but they are actually bleeding inside,” Mwiliriza says.
She notes that it’s the culture of secrecy that people attach to this kind of violence that leads to even worse scenarios, like spousal murder.
Mwiliriza recalls a scenario back in 2004 where she lost a friend to spousal homicide. She says that the fact that she did nothing to help the situation led to guilt that haunted her for years, and that it is because of this that she took the step towards establishing the organisation.
Rich or poor, illiterate or educated, anyone can be a victim of gender-based violence.
“It is a real problem,and it is hard to tell what the cause is. At times it’s property wrangles, other times it is uncertainty, lack of religious morals and poverty, among other factors,” Mwiliriza says.
The journey so far
Though the journey has been a tough one, Mwiliriza has the determination to see to it that vulnerable women get a safe environment; because to her, it’s a calling.
With next to nothing, she embarked on her life-saving project with only four sewing machines to help equip the women with tailoring skills, and it was her house that she used as the centre for the women.
Later, Good Samaritans brought in contributions leading to the expansion of the services offered to the beneficiaries.
“At first we only offered counselling services but later decided to do more because you can’t just talk to a person who has gone hungry for days and then leave them at God’s mercy.This is when we decided to help them attain skills that would help them find means of survival,” she says.
The women receive free training; when they are done they get a chance at employment while others embark on starting small businesses. The organisation also buys produce for those who stay and make products at the centre, then later shoulder the burden of searching for an external market.
“Our beneficiaries are now self-reliant with hope for the future.When I see this I feel proud and thank God for giving me the capacity to make a difference in their lives,” Mwiliriza says.
To date, over 1000 women and 1500 children have benefited from the association, 140 students have graduated with vocational skills.
Two branches were also established in Muhanga and Ruhango districts.
Her future plans are to establish a bigger centre, well equipped with an environment that can facilitate the number of women facing violence of any form.
She also plans on making it a centre where the victims can find rest as they try to figure out their next step in their lives, just like with the women centres she visited on her recent trip to the United States of America.
Beneficiaries applaud the initiative
Antoinette Nizereyukuri was traumatised by her childhood. Having grown up without parents, the 48-year-old suffered - a life that didn’t change much when she got married.
This pain led her to the gates of Tubahumurize. Loosely translated as ‘Let us console and give them hope’ Tubahumurize has indeed been a consolation to its beneficiaries.
With three children, her husband passed away and Nizereyukuri was left in the hands of fate, she didn’t know what to do or where to go.
“It’s hard to explain what life was before I joined this organisation. I had become numb because even speaking was a problem, interacting with others was so hard for me. I had a scar on my heart and I never thought it would go away,’ she narrates.
“I have been supported by this organisation; I was counselled and helped out with my day to day struggles. I managed to clothe and feed my children, I educated my eldest and she got married.The second born is done with high school and the last one is now in form five. I am a tailor and I am proud of the woman I am today,” she adds.
64-year-old Cressence Nakirutinka had been in isolation for years and this plunged her into a life of loneliness. As a widow, she had stopped attaching meaning to her life and only waited for fate to accomplish what it started.
When she heard about the association, hope resurfaced.
“I was counselled, they helped me with the word of God and this gave me hope and a second chance at life. I am honestly grateful; Mwiliriza is a parent and it’s hard to express how I feel towards her, she has helped us a lot,” the mother-of-four says.
Each year, about 80 women benefit from individual trauma counselling, 20 students graduate from the sewing school, over 90 women receive small micro-credit loans and about 100 women benefit from life skills coaching and education programme.