Rwandan refugees in Tasmania form coffee scheme, support countrymen

TASMANIA - Three families survive the genocide, moved to Tasmania, Australia to move on with a positive life.
Women sort coffee beans, Rwanda’s premier export and source of foreign currency. (Reuters photo)
Women sort coffee beans, Rwanda’s premier export and source of foreign currency. (Reuters photo)

TASMANIA - It has been 13 years since up to one million people were killed during a 100-day killing spree in the African country of Rwanda.

The scale and speed of the slaughter of mostly ethnic Tutsis by Hutu extremists shocked the world. Today, communities there are still trying to rebuild after the devastation.

Three families who survived the genocide and moved to Tasmania (an Australian Island) as refugees have come up with a unique way to help those back in their homeland.
The Rwandan Coffee Club raises money to buy cows for villages, and this is making a lot of difference to many lives.

This season, Aubert Ruzigandekwe wants to lead the Hobart United team to premiership glory. Most of the players share more than just fancy footwork - they are refugees from war torn countries.

“Because I know soccer, it helped me to integrate,” he said.

“They came through horrible, horrible stuff, so when you play, you forget a little bit about your problems, you forget about your past.”

Mr Ruzigandekwe, an ethnic Tutsi, was working for the Department of Agriculture when civil unrest erupted in Rwanda 13 years ago.

“It was difficult for us, still, to imagine how your friend can become, just in one second, your enemy, and try to kill you, and that’s what happened,” he said.

Mr Ruzigandekwe and his wife, Faina Iligoga, lost their parents, most of their siblings and friends.
“We lost everything,” Ms Iligoga said.

Yet the family had to endure four years of separation before finally being reunited in Hobart in 2004.

“We came here without knowing anyone, without having a family here, or friends,” Ms Iligoga said.

“But actually came here in a safe place, and we got love from people.”

Selling coffee
One of their new friends, Anglican priest John Middleton, said it was difficult knowing how to help.

“All refugees have experienced the kind of, ‘why wasn’t I killed?’ guilt feeling, as well as that sort of great desire to be able to do something more than send a few dollars home.” he said.

A year ago, Reverend Middleton came up with the idea of the Rwandan Coffee Club.

“This has really given a much greater meaning of life to the refugees who are living here. To the people in Rwanda, it’s often the difference between life and death,” he said.

With the assistance of Tasmania’s only licensed Fair Trade coffee roaster, the club packages its own organic coffee and sells it via the Internet, or in offices and workplaces.
It is a big hit for morning tea at the Repat Hospital.

Community health worker Malcolm Tyler says it is easy to promote a cuppa with a social conscience.

“I think people also understand the benefit more - it’s something like buying chocolate for a hockey club, but there’s something else in there as well,” he said.

Buying cattle
Initially, profits are buying cattle for genocide survivors back in Rwanda, a country half the size of Tasmania with a population of 10 million people.

Cows are highly valued in rural townships for meat, milk and fertiliser, and as dowry for marriages. They cost about $200 each.

A few months ago, Mr Ruzigandekwe and his family travelled back to Rwanda. They bought eight cattle and gave them to villagers.

“People were so, so happy to give them back their identity, because being a Tutsi without a cow, there’s no meaning, it’s like you’re lost,” Ms Iligoga said.

That visit home also paved the way for the Club to ship Rwandan coffee beans to Tasmania. Coffee is Rwanda’s premier export and source of foreign currency. It is in huge world wide demand.

The Tasmanian club’s business mentors, Carlos and Nikki Kindred, expect the new brew will help boost the club’s popularity.

“As a business they have an absolutely awesome amount of potential to grow. I mean, coffee’s huge in Australia now,” Ms Kindred said.

It is hoped the charity coffee will eventually fund a vocational training centre in Rwanda to help those devastated and isolated by the 1994 atrocities, particularly orphans and widows.

“For us, it’s really very important that we feel we can make a difference in their life,” Ms Iligoga said.

“Being a survivor and being outside of Rwanda, we always feel that we have to do something.”

And there’s good news for the Rwandan Coffee Club. Its coffee beans will be stocked on the shelves of a national supermarket chain in the new year.

ABC Online

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