I have read about gender-based violence; I’ve heard very disturbing stories of victims of physical, verbal, psychological, and sexual abuse. But this time, I saw it up-close, in the presence of women determined to change the narrative over their lives given the adversity they’ve had to endure. 21-year-old Uwera (not real name) is her mother’s firstborn, born out of wedlock before her mother got married to another man. “My father disowned me so my mother parted ways with him. But her husband used to make my stay difficult, especially since mom was not there most of the time. The girls with their babies at the center “Hunger and frustration made me decide to leave home. I survived on the streets for some time, but then one day, I was raped. A few days later, I went back home and my mother welcomed me back. I told her what had happened and who did it, and she informed authorities who took me to Isange One-Stop Center where they run some tests to confirm that I was raped. The guy was later found and arrested and I stayed home for a while. “My mother soon noticed signs of pregnancy, which I was not even aware of. I was turning 16 at the time. She told me to have an abortion and nearly forced me to, but I used to believe that an abortion naturally leaves the woman dead, so I run away from home again, and I would survive on leftover food from restaurants. “Seven months into the pregnancy, the family of the boy who raped me begged me to ‘speak on his behalf’ in front of a jury so he could be released. They promised to look after me and the baby and even gave me some money right away. I got my national identification card to be able to speak on his behalf. When he got out, he came to see me and promised a lot of things that he never did because I never saw him again.” Uwera says she had previously met a girl who had been to Marembo Center and had advised her to join. “That’s how I got here, and they welcomed me. I gave birth albeit with difficultly because I was so young and I have had back problems ever since. But we survived, me and my daughter. My mother takes care of her when I’m studying and working, but I send her money. I can’t wait to be independent enough to have her back and give her everything myself,” she says. “I had dreams of becoming a soldier but I can’t now,” another girl shares. “I will work hard to make sure my kid doesn’t suffer the way I did,” says another. Each girl carries a different story, different burden; they have different hopes and fears, but all have something in common; the pain of being abused, and the determination to sail away from hardship. They share the desire to change the course of their lives, and are doing so by getting training in motorcycle riding, and tiling (construction) through a programme called ‘Byuka Bakobwa’ which loosely means ‘stand up girls’. “We are happy to do these typically male-dominated jobs because there are fewer women, hence less competition. Also, we are able to undertake the responsibility as well,” shares Byishimo (not real name), a GBV victim and member of Marembo Center. Marembo Center is a non-government organisation that aims to tackle issues affecting young girls (15-25 years) in Rwanda, with a particular focus on street children, adolescent girls, victims of gender-based violence, and teen mothers. Their programmes include formal and vocational education, sexual reproductive awareness, justice and advocacy, and also workforce professions. They offer shelters for homeless girls, rehabilitation and family integration, sponsorships, and psycho-social support. “We reach these girls through collaboration with RIB, Police, Isange One Stop Center, or even through their peers,” says Nicholette Nsabimana, Chief Executive Officer of the organisation. Challenges “We haven’t had the best collaboration from local authorities on some of the cases of the girls we help. Most of them are not registered and so it is nearly impossible to get them IDs or Mutuelle de Sante (health insurance). If the government could make special services for these special cases, it would be of great help. Otherwise, they cannot join the workforce with no identification, and it becomes hard when they fall sick. “That goes without saying that the kids of the victims are even more vulnerable, hence, would need to benefit from these facilities that can only be provided by the government,” Nsabimana says. One body is not enough compared to number of the victims in different parts of the country, but change can only happen if we make it a collective responsibility.