Stelia Mukarurangwa says she is a hundred years old. She remembers the hard times when she lived with her nephew’s family and she would often be left alone at home and she couldn’t do anything by herself.
That difficult time has ended because she now lives in a seniors’ home in Kayenzi Sector of Southern Province’s Kamonyi District where she and seven other childless elderly women enjoy the services of caregivers.
They also share experiences about their troubled past; the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi which killed their children and friends along with a million other Rwandans.
The seniors’ home in Kayenzi, about fifteen kilometres off Kigali-Huye highway, is called Impinga Nzima, the Kinyarwanda words that loosely mean a place to rest.
Mukarurangwa and her seven housemates wake up at around 9 a.m. and have breakfast, which is mainly porridge. They sit outside under the shade of their house and some of them may decide to go and work in a garden near their house where they have now planted beans. At around noon, they gather again for lunch.
Thereafter, they go back to bed to have a nap and then wake up at around 3 p.m. From that time until dinner time, they watch T.V. and chat while sitting in brand new sofas in their living room.
After dinner they all go to bed.
The elderly women are under the care of two caregivers. One of the caregivers is a 50-year old widow who also survived the Genocide. She is in charge of everyone at the household and she often gives them medicine when they are sick or takes them to a health centre when it’s something she can’t treat.
She is also in charge of shopping everything they need, including foodstuff. The other caregiver is in charge of cooking the food.
Both caregivers are paid by Avega-Agahozo, the association of Genocide widows.
“We are happy to be here. It was long overdue because we were at a point where we couldn’t support ourselves anymore,” Mukarurangwa said softly.
Mukarurangwa and her seven housemates share about three things in common which constitute the main reason why they have been sheltered under one roof: They all survived the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, they lost all of their children and grand children during the Genocide, and they are all too old to support themselves.
In Kinyarwanda, an elderly person without any single person of their own blood left are called “Incike”, a word that literally means someone is endangered.
There are some 859 Rwandans who fall in the category of Incike according to recent statistics from Avega-Agahozo.
Officials from the association are worried about their Incike members as they grow older and find themselves in a situation where they are lonely, sickly, and unable to support themselves.
The officials say that the seniors’ home in Kayenzi, which is a pilot project for collective residence for Incike that is operational since last year, will need to be replicated in other parts of the country so that the lonely and elderly Genocide survivors live together in homes managed by loving caregivers.
Constance Mpinganzima, who is in charge of social services at Avega-Agahozo, said that elderly Genocide survivors who are Incike live in acute loneliness in their own homes and there are dangers that they may die very soon if efforts to take care of them are not deployed.
“At the seniors’ home in Kayenzi, two elderly survivors share a room so that they can talk to each other. As they share experiences about what happened to them, they feel stronger and they don’t feel lonely anymore,” Mpinganzima said.
She says that of the 859 people who fall in the category of Incike, 391 urgently need the services of a personal caregiver but they can’t all access them since they live in their own homes and there are no seniors’ homes where they can go.
That’s why Avega-Agahozo has partnered with Unity Club, an association of current and former senior government officials and their spouses, and the Government Assistance Fund for Genocide Survivors (FARF), to build five more homes for Incike.
The seniors’ homes under construction are in Rulindo (Northern Province), Kayonza and Fumbwe (Eastern Province), Butare (Southern Province), and Rusizi(Western Province).
Once completed, the centres could receive 50 people each, Mpinganzima said.
The Executive Secretary of FARG, Théophile Ruberangeyo, said that smaller seniors’ homes will be built in every sector in the country so that lonely Incike can live together.
While it’s possible to build the homes, Ruberangeyo said, it remains hard to find qualified caregivers who can look after the elderly survivors.
“The biggest challenge is that not everyone is able to look after elderly people because it’s not an easy task. Looking after elderly people when they are not your own parents is not something everyone can do,” he said.
So far, Avega-Agahozo is the only organisation which has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with FARG to take care of elderly Genocide survivors who are lonely.
FARG, which normally pays Rwf30,000 to every vulnerable elderly Genocide survivor every month, switches to pay the money to Avega-Agahozo when the latter takes care of the survivors in a seniors’ home such as in Kayenzi.
Chatting with the elderly women at Impinga Nzima Seniors’ Home in Kayenzi, one discovers that they are clearly happy with their new home.
One of Mukarurangwa’s roommates, 73-year-old Veronika Musabire, said that she happily bid farewell to her former neighbours in Karama Sector, Kamonyi District when it was time to come to her new home at the Seniors’ Home in Kayenzi and she still likes it here.
“I am not afraid any more but in the past I used to wonder what would happen if I died since I was living alone. But If I died now, I am sure I would get a decent burial here at this new home,” Musabire said.
As for Mukarurangwa, her old age hasn’t taken away her smile, which she freely displays as her roommates jokingly call her the last-born of the house because she has difficulty walking.