How homes for elderly have restored hope for survivors

The youth recently visited a model village built for elderly Genocide survivors dubbed “Intwaza” in Nyanza District. The homes have been built with support from Unity Club. File.

Theophile Kansesa, Verena Mukamunana, and Pelagie Gasherebuka are among 57 elderly Genocide survivors who live in a seniors’ home best known as “Impinganzima” in Nyamata Sector, Bugesera District.

Here, just like in similar homes across the country, they have access to different amenities, including in-house caregivers who are with them on a daily basis.

The homes are meant to provide shelter to aging survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, who have no immediate family members left.

The New Times last week visited the Bugesera home and some of the senior citizens here shared how having a shared home and the care they receive has restored hope in them.

Kansesa, 66, who lived in Gasabo District before joining the seniors’ home, reflects with sadness on the hard times she endured when she lived alone and couldn’t do anything by herself because she was weak.

“That suffering is over now. The life we lived in our previous homes is totally different from the life we are living today. It was long overdue because we were at a point where we couldn’t support ourselves anymore,” she said.

She says that even the fact that they are living together helps in terms of company, in sharp contrast of the lonely, empty lives they used to lead.

Mukamunana, who is 74, came from Rwamagana District and shared the joy of living in seniors’ home and having constant care at her beck and call.

“This was so thoughtful of the government; they considered our pain of being alone after other family members were massacred 25 years ago. They brought us together, so we could interact and socialize with one another and comfort each other to overcome trauma that we still live with,” she stated.

“In my previous life, I did not even have anyone to fetch water for me. Even when I had food, I couldn’t eat because I was alone, which is totally different from the life here,” she said with a smile on her face.

Gasherebuka, 71 years old, is another of the residents of the Bugesera-based home who says they are healthier and have hope for “the few remaining years we have on the world”.

“I no longer live in fear. I used to wonder what would happen if someone attacked me or if I died while I was alone in the house. We are now safe, and even if I die now, I am sure I will get a decent burial in this new home,” she said.

Rather jokingly, she said that they were not going to die any time soon, anyway.

“We are now do physical exercise, we sing, we dance, we do some handwork, we feel more useful to our society and hope tomorrow will be better,” she said with a beautiful smile, before adding that they will live longer.

Constance Mpinganzima, the coordinator of the seniors’ home in Nyamata said that they now have 57 elderly Genocide survivors who live in that house.

Of these, seven are men and 50 women. She said that they all lived in acute loneliness in their own homes but now life has drastically changed for the better.

“When they first got here, you could see they were filled with a lot of pain. They were overcome by trauma induced by years of loneliness. However, when they met their fellow survivors they started sharing experience.

“At the home, two elders share a room, which helps increase the bond and camaraderie among them. They share experience about what happened to them, comfort each other and feel stronger and most importantly, they don’t feel lonely anymore,” Mpinganzima said.

The coordinator said that they eat healthier, entertain and do physical exercise.

“For instance, n Tuesday evenings, they take a walk out of the hostel to exercise a bit and on Fridays they do sports as well,” she said.

“Here we respect everyone’s religious beliefs; Catholic, Adventists, and Protestants among others.  We have seven caregivers. We provide them with caregivers because they are weak and sometimes need assistance and guidance,” the coordinator added.

More homes

The homes have been built with support from Unity Club, an association that brings together serving and former members of cabinet with their spouses.

Speaking to The New Times, Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa, the first vice chairperson of Unity Club said that they have so far built four of such homes with capacity to host 197 senior citizens.

Of these, 167 are already settled in while the process is still ongoing to select the other 30 beneficiaries.

Besides the one in Bugesera, the other homes are built in the districts of Kamonyi, Nyanza and Huye.

Another home, she said, is due to be opened in May in Rusizi District and will have the capacity to host 52 people.

“There are still 829 elderly Genocide survivors countrywide, about 30 per cent of them want to be in seniors’ home because they are not strong enough. Others are being cared for by their relatives or other children at their houses,” she said.

“We are planning to undertake various projects that enhance their value and productivity in society. We will also expand knowledge of their caregivers on trauma management and psychosocial support interventions as well as training staff to care about their rights and their livestock resources,” she added.

Other seniors’ homes under construction are in Rulindo (Northern Province), Kayonza and Rwamagana (Eastern Province) and another one in Southern Province.

“Once completed, the centers will have capacity to host at least 50 people each,” Nsanzabaganwa said.

The elderly survivors without any single person of their own blood left are called “Intwaza”, a word that literally means someone strong and courageous in every struggle.

As part of the preparations to mark the 25th Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi, the youth have been encouraged to visit these homes, not only to keep company to the senior citizens but also get to benefit from their wealth of knowledge.

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