Clement Hirwa is the sales attendant at the Kigali Genocide Memorial souvenir shop, a social enterprise that is run by AEGIS Trust. The enterprise generates a moderate income that is ploughed back to support the preservation of genocide archives as well as to run educational and remembrance programs at the center.
He joined the institution in 2012, and describes the Kigali Genocide Memorial as ‘a very sensitive place for both Rwandans and foreigners’.
“Working here requires passion, and love of giving what you have to people who don’t have, for instance foreigners who may not know what we went through as a country get to know about it from here and, most importantly, how we came out of it,” he explains.
It’s not just the passion though. In seeking the job, Hirwa had his eyes fixed on the bigger picture;
“I saw the bigger picture in terms of developing my career to be a very good advocate. My passion has always been to be a voice for voiceless people, someone who can use their small capacity on a large scale.”
The memorial’s social enterprise financially supports survivors who are physically handicapped and those with trauma, even the sick that have to be flown as far off as India for treatment and a host of youth-centered projects:
“I saw that as a great program that inspired me to ask how can we also do something to help people who are able-bodied and can do something, but lack what to do?”]
Samaritan Shoulders Organization is born
In 2013, just a year after joining the memorial, Hirwa got inspired to establish a registered charitable social enterprise of his own.
That year, together with a handful of volunteers, he visited Kinyinya ‘locale’ in Kigali, which has 146 houses built by the Rwandan Government for genocide survivors.
It was soon clear to him that although many survivors had been offered decent accommodation free of charge, the women needed further support to enable them to progress towards a self-reliant future.
He linked up with a local women’s cooperative called Ubumwe (unity), which had been founded in 2006, and that made high quality art and craft materials for sale to local and international buyers.
Hirwa’s strategy was two-pronged; help these widows by securing a market and buyers for their wares to improve their financial plight, so that they can be able to cover for their health care insurance and education facilities for their children.
Today, most of the craft products sold at the souvenir shop have been custom made by the women from different cooperatives including SSO/Crafts Project.
The coop not only engages in making crafts, it also works to preserve the memory of the genocide but also to foster togetherness in Rwandan society.
“By purchasing something from the souvenir shop you are supporting survivors of the genocide to rebuild their dignity,” Hirwa explains, adding;
“As a sales attendant I help visitors to know the things we sell in the souvenir shop, and how these things are related to the genocide prevention, genocide is not just as a mass atrocity but also something that can be prevented. My role therefore is to help visitors purchase these items by knowing the story behind what is on offer.
So basically I engage visitors to buy our stuff in a completely different context from buying in a supermarket or buying from anywhere else. It’s not a business as such. It’s more of trying to make sure we raise money. FARG and other charity organizationsused to support survivors by giving them accommodation and school fees and so on but they no longer do that at a level that is commensurate to the beneficiaries we have in the country at the moment. So the memorial has to play a part as well.”
People mostly purchase to support the memorial center programs as a whole and also to support the memorial by making it more accessible to everyone as it’s free of charge for everyone to visit, but there are operational costs the memorial incurs. So it’s to support both the memorial center and the extended social program as a nation.”
He further explains the mission of the Samaritan Shoulders Organization;
“To enhance the lives of vulnerable children, women and orphans through education, guidance and parental care.”
This is why besides the craft cooperative, the Samaritan Shoulders Organization also runs a pre-primary school –the Gasabo Independent School in Kinyinya Sector.
When we visited the school on Wednesday afternoon, the top and middle classes were preparing to break off for the day.
Looking around, it soon became obvious to me that the school is a work in progress –in need of more of almost everything. In the administration offices I spot little stashes of sports gear, textbooks donated by the Rwanda Education Board and volunteers, pens and pencils …
Hirwa reveals to me that next year, the school will have its first baby class to cater for the youngest category of school-goers.
After the school visit we drove further down the valley to a wetland that has been offered to the organization by local authorities. Here it runs a piggery, rabbits and goats project and also engages in some cultivation in an area that was faced with gradual degradation due to the informal sand mining activities on it.
The project is modest, with about ten pigs and a few goats and rabbits. Hirwa’s next plan is to find a way to harness the waste from the pig sty for use on the farm. But this too needs money from a good Samaritan somewhere.
This good Samaritan could be an individual, a group, or organization.
“Most times we rely on Christianity and bible verses because most of the people who are part of the organization are Christians so we think that the best support is to pray because we believe there’s nothing that God can’t do,” he reveals.
“The second way to get involved is to come and visit the site and learn, spend some time, hear their stories. This is very helpful for us because when the widows interact with other people and hear their views, it helps them feel appreciated and valued.Volunteers would be appreciated, especially from neighboring countries like Uganda or Kenya to come and spend one or two months teaching English classes because that’s one of the challenges we face at the school.”
The road ahead
“Since charitable organizations are not allowed to run as a business, I got the idea to create a company aside that will do business, generate profits and have a TlN number to pay taxes like any other business. Then that company will be financing the organization,” Hirwa reveals.
Such a company, he explains, would be handed over to neutral people to run it as a private business with shareholders to ensure sustainability.
“The purpose of the company will be to separate income generating from non-income generating activities.”
Hirwa’s idea so far is to start a secretarial bureau in the Kinyinya locale. “We want to rent premises and start off with about five desktop computers. Then these women can come and learn things like photo and videography, photocopying, binding, lamination, CD-burning and typing.
“They will pay a very small fee which will go towards the rent and utility bills. By training them for three months and awarding them certificates, they will attain skills they can use tomorrow.”
“It’s not just teaching and training them, but also helping them to be far from depression and solitude and hopelessness through coming together and sharing their stories hence they see hope for a better tomorrow.”
Another option being explored is to develop a community-based tour package around Kinyinya sector, “someone”, he explains, “who can take visitors around the village for community based tourism instead of people donating and they don’t know how the money is used.”