During the period to commemorate victims of the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, many Rwandans take time to visit genocide memorial centers to remind each other and tell the young ones what happened in their country.
They also use the opportunity to visit and comfort orphans and needy survivors. Many, in accordance with the Kinyarwanda culture, carry with them assistance to the needy and the orphans.
Indeed many orphans and needy survivors interviewed have expressed gratitude for the gesture and relish the moment they spend with visitors.
Many of these orphans have no biological families and in spite of the good efforts of foster parents they miss their parents. Many of them have known the authority and love of their peers and badly miss role models in form of father and mother figures.
They have many stories, bad and good, in their minds and need someone to listen to them and “feel” with them. They need someone to encourage them and appreciate their achievements.
They need someone to show that he/she understands their pain and emptiness inside their hearts and lend a shoulder to lean on.
It would serve these orphans and widows to receive people who are not only interested in photo and video shots but who can listen, encourage and share their emotional “burdens”.
It would help if visitors could share one-on-one sessions with these individuals and allow them to “pour” out their feelings as visitors listen and encourage the visited to unload their emotional baggage.
It might help to let the visited share their experiences with the visitors and where possible entertain them. Unfortunately many visitors assume that these are unhappy people and carry somber and grim faces, do a lot of formal talking, pose for photographs and leave the orphans only a kilo of beans or sugar better.
It is true that these orphans and widows need material help but it is also true that they need emotional and social support even more.
It is wonderful to see the number of groups, institutions and private companies that take time and resources to visit genocide orphans and widows particularly during the genocide commemoration period.
Unfortunately many times it is those that are resident in Kigali, its suburbs and nearby districts that are visited. This could be because it costs less to visit these places in terms of transport, it is possible to get television and press coverage or because the visit takes less time of the day and people can do other things thereafter.
Sometimes, orphans and widows living in the city of Kigali and its suburbs get visited several times in the same period. Many of these orphans go to school and institutions of higher learning and are informed; empowering them with the means to demand for their rights and get access to activities of survivors’ associations and organizations.
Again these get what is due to them from the Genocide Survivors’ Support Fund (FARG) and the Umbrella of Genocide Survivors Associations, Ibuka.
There are orphans and widows of the genocide who live in a different “world”; those who live in distant rural communities. Far removed from the services that are accessed by their city counterparts, they hardly get visitors.
Many do not know that there are Associations like that of widows whose husbands were killed during the genocide (AVEGA) or that of Students in higher institutions of learning (AERG).
They never had someone to encourage them to go to school while others dropped out of school. Much of the support that is meant for them reduces down the levels of administrative structures and by the time it reaches them it is a mere fraction of what they should have got.
Many of the rural orphans and widows live in isolation surrounded by people who at one time hunted them. Many have never received psychiatric medication and are living under excruciating pains.
Many never received psychosocial counselling and support and when they get symptoms of relapses, trauma and stress related to the events of 1994, their neighbours simply tie them with ropes or lock them into rooms so that the “madness can go away”.
This causes significant impairment to their social, occupational and mental functioning. Moreover rural orphans and widows live in abject poverty eking a living with no sustainable sources of livelihood.
Visiting rural orphans and widows is a blessing to both the visitors and the visited in many ways. Whatever they can receive in form of material support is appreciated but their self-esteem will go sky high.
The fact that some people from somewhere will have taken time to visit, sit, listen and share with them will bring back part of their sense of pride and sense of self-worth.
There may not be people to marvel at your generosity and there may be not be TV cameras to broadcast acts of your kindness but look at their smiles and tears of joy and put yourself on the receiving end then you will know that you made someone’s life better.
The greatest Teacher put it this way, “But when you do merciful deeds, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand does, so that your merciful deeds may be in secret, then your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:3-4 NKJV).