Twenty years ago, Jean Claude Masumbuko never considered himself a normal Rwandan given that he was born and raised in a thatched house in Gishwati Forest.
Here, he solely earned a living through hunting wild animals.
Masumbo, 49, and several others were in 2009 relocated from the forest by the Government and integrated within the community in some villages of Rubavu District.
Every family was provided with a decent house and a piece of land to cultivate. They were also signed up to social safety nets such as Vision Umurenge Programme (VUP) as well as more direct support to ease their integration process.
Despite the support, some of them resisted relocation, opted for begging on the streets.
However, Masumbuko and his colleagues from Busigiri Village of Cyanzarwe Sector, which is now home to 300 historically marginalised families say they have changed their mindsets toward living in organised settlements.
“We no longer stay in the forests…we were previously excluded from various benefits; our children could not attend school, we never used to have access to medical care services and we were isolated from the rest of the country,” recalled Masumbuko.
Our mindsets have significantly changed for the better, he added, saying that they have learnt from their new neighbours.
Yvette Mundorere, who was relocated from the forest alongside Masumbuko, said she has since joined savings schemes which have facilitated her to access financial services.
“I can now apply for a loan from our local SACCO to grow in my vegetable trading. As a result, I am no longer involved in begging on the street and I pay school fees for children; one is in P.6 while her sister is in P.4,” she said.
The historically marginalised Rwandans from Rubavu said that changing their mindsets was made possible thanks to numerous trainings that they regularly acquire from government and Youth in Action for Development, a local NGO.
“Youth from the organisation have become our friends given to advice they provide to us. I personally became aware of the importance of keeping hygiene as well as sending children to school,” noted Laurence Nyirabukima
“We are now aware that every child has unshakable right to study and we do our best to send our children to school for them to shape their future given that education is the only inheritance that a parent can give to their children,” she added
Elysée Hakuzweyezu, the organisation co-founder, said they decided to contribute to the country’s progress by working closely with the historically marginalised communities to address the issue of stigma.
He said that, besides coaching the historically marginalised Rwandans, his organisation provides them with home necessities such as water tanks.
Hakuzweyezu underscored that plans are underway to build a modern school for the children from historically marginalised households in Rubavu. The school will be built in the near future under funding from some Belgian well-wishers who include Iriba-Brunnen and Jeannine Frönd.
Speaking to The New Times, the Vice Mayor for Social Affairs in Rubavu District Marie Grace Uwampayizina, said that the district, together with its partners, have made it a priority to empower and change the mindset of the historically marginalised Rwandans from the area.
She stressed that they will not rest until every family is transformed, socially and economically.
“They are normally given priority whenever it comes to selecting beneficiaries of social programmes, direct support and public works,” she noted
She added: “What is interesting is that we are gradually witnessing some changes but we have to keep momentum as transforming this group is a process.”
According to official figures, before 1994, there were 45,000 people in this category across the country.
The number has since fallen to between 34,000 and 38,000.
According to the Ministry of Local Government, this translates into two marginalised persons per 1000 inhabitants.