The association of Genocide widows, Avega- Agahozo won the Guardian International Development Achievement Award, bestowed annually by the UK-based Guardian newspaper.
The achievement was as a result of the outstanding work of Odette Kayirere—the National coordinator of Avega –Agahozo in the Eastern Province of Rwanda.
She was nominated by the Survivors Fund (SUF) UK for the Guardian Development award.
Odette Kayirere was born on July 9, 1957, she attended, Ecole Primaire Gikaya, Izaza Secondary School for O’level and went to Lycee Notre Dame de Citeau where she attained a Diploma in Education.
She lived in Rutonde, the current Bwiza Cell of Rwamagana District and was a teacher at different secondary and primary schools from 1978 to 1994. However, that changed during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi when her husband was killed.
“I was left with six daughters and the oldest was nine years old while the youngest was two months old,” she said.
“The genocidaires in the area killed people in phases starting with prominent men, then the boys. The educated women were the next ones on the list and luckily we were able to survive since the Rwanda Patriotic Army came to our rescue,” Kayirere explained.
Although Kayirere lost her husband and had six daughters to nurture, she adopted more homeless orphans. She said that she struggled to come to terms with the loss of her family members and the tragic incidents she witnessed.
In July 1995, she realized that was not the only woman suffering from the aftermath of the genocide. Kayirere heard about a group of women who were trying to support one another and fighting trauma through an organisation called Avega- Agahozo.
“I joined the organization since it helped people like me and orphans to overcome trauma as a result of what we witnessed. It was an answer to our problems,” she said
In 1999 Avega –Agahozo offices were set up in the Eastern Province of Rwanda.
At 53 years, Kayirere is the National Coordinator of Avega- Agahozo in the Eastern Province and manages the day-to-day activities of the organization.
“With the help of other members, we trained widows on how to handle family issues since they are the only hope for their children. We advise them to believe in themselves since there is a ray of hope,” Kayirere explained.
Avega-Agahozo has over 4,000 members in the Eastern Province including volunteers who offer psychological support, training in trauma healing and counseling among other services. Many widows of the genocide have been able to assert their rights and pursue justice through the courts as a result of Avega. These members were very effective during the Gacaca courts trials.
Kayirere said the Guardian International Development Achievement Award was a competition among thirty participants. After nominations, five women were selected and Kayirere was one of them because of her outstanding involvement with women in her society.
She was voted by several people since her victory depended on the number votes from all over the world.
“I would like to send sincere thanks to everyone especially the Rwandans who took time to vote for me and appreciated the work we do at Avega- Agahozo,” Kayirere said.
The other four competitors for the award included; Emily Arnold-Fernandez, the founder and director of Asylum Access, an advocacy group for the rights of refugees in South America, Africa and Asia. Keshwa Nand Tiwari, the community organizer and gender equality campaigner and founder member of Disha Social Organization which has a remarkable impact in the northern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal. Lynne Patterson, the founder of Pro Mujer, Bolivian women’s development and microfinance organization and Kees Waaldijk—a fistula surgeon and health activist who works in Nigeria and Niger.