The people we support in Rwanda endured unimaginable suffering and hardship during the Genocide and in its aftermath. They overcame fear, isolation, and hopelessness by joining a cooperative and working with their fellow co-op members to stay alive. It is such a privilege to be working with these incredibly courageous human beings. Thank you for helping us give them the chance to rebuild their lives. Here are five of the women’s stories
Merylene Bamurange was raped during the Genocide after being thrown into a pit with other victims of rape and mutilation. She survived this horror, but her husband was killed and she was left to support her four children alone. As a result of her rape, she was infected with HIV/AIDS – she also suffers from diabetes. Following the Genocide, Merylene came to believe her life had no meaning. Then she was approached by a member of Murindi, a cooperative World Dance for Humanity supports in the outskirts of Kigali made up of Genocide widows and their children. Merylene became a member of the co-op in 2009. She no longer feels isolated, and is hard at work with her fellow co-op members creating a sustainable livelihood from their cows and goats. (Photo by Fran Collin)
Gratie Muhutukazi’s husband and children were brutally murdered during the Genocide. Traumatized and full of hatred toward her fellow Rwandans, Gratie fell into a deep depression and became isolated from the community. With no one to help her, she and her children had little chance of surviving. One day she was approached by members of the Ruganeheza (“Taking the Nation to a Better Future”) Cooperative who encouraged her to leave behind her isolated life and start working with others. Ruganeheza is part of Never Again Fellowship, a group of 9 cooperatives in Eastern Rwanda focused on reconciliation between the Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa (Pygmies). In 2008, 12 people from these ethnic groups made the courageous move to forgive each other for atrocities committed during the Genocide and work together to stay alive. In 2012, they began receiving help from World Dance for Humanity. There are now more than 3,000 people at Never Again working together to lift themselves out of poverty, having sworn “never again” to ethnic violence.
It took much encouragement, but finally the Ruganeheza members convinced Gracie to become a member of their cooperative. The man who killed Gratie’s family, August, is also a member of Ruganeheza. Miraculously, Gratie found it in her heart to forgive this man, and the two now work together side-by-side, living in harmony and reconciliation. Gratie is playing an important role in the development of her cooperative by setting an example to others. “Forgiveness and reconciliation are a journey, but when you combine them with work, it is possible to make it happen,” says Gratie. (Photo by Justin Bisengimana)
Joselyne Mukamana was married in 2007, but her husband abandoned her and their two children in 2010. She had no way of supporting herself, and within a month was evicted from the small mud hut they had been renting. They found themselves homeless, sleeping on the floor of neighbors’ homes or in banana groves and begging for food. A member of Twirererabana (“Let Us Raise Our Children”) Cooperative asked Joselyne if she wanted to join them, and she accepted. The group is made up of unwed mothers and widows and their children who, like Joselyne, had once been outcasts struggling to survive. World Dance for Humanity provided goats, a cow, and a parcel of farmland for Twirererabana so the women could expand their farming enterprise. On the property was a small house which the co-op voted to give to Joselyne. She now lives there with her two sons and no longer has to worry about their survival. She works hard with her fellow co-op members, producing food and sharing in the crop yields, the milk and manure provided by the co-op’s cows, and the income from “Dignity Café,” the business owned and run be these women. (Photo by Genevieve Feiner)
Odette Nyiramanzi is from the Twa (Pygmy) ethnic group who used to live deep in the mountain forests of Rwanda, surviving by hunting, gathering, and making and selling pottery. After the Genocide, the Twa were encouraged by the government to move into the lowlands and join modern Rwandan society. Odette settled in the region of Never Again Fellowship, and was asked to join the Imbereheza (“Better Future”) Cooperative. When Odette first joined the c-op, she was very unhappy, thinking the other co-op members despised her. She couldn’t see how she would benefit from being part of the group. On her tenth day, she left the co-op with the intention of never returning. The co-op members kept visiting her and her three children, encouraging her to come back, and finally she did, soon sharing in the food and profit from the harvest. She is now a very active co-op member, joyfully telling us, “We are all Rwandan, one people.” (Photo by Justin Bisengimana)
Mariam Ndaye’s husband died of AIDS some years ago, a disease she also suffers from. She had nowhere to live after the Genocide, so the members of Cokawi (“Wake Up and Improve Yourself”), a cooperative on the outskirts of Kigali, shared what they had and gave her a place to live. Mariam, her two children, and two grandchildren now support themselves with their share of the profits from Cokawi’s farming, poultry, and goat projects. World Dance for Humanity sponsored her son, Eric, through college. In December of 2016, Eric became our first student to graduate college, earning a degree in accounting. He now has a job as the supervisor at a local petrol station and is helping Cokawi with their bookkeeping. His mother is so proud of what Eric has accomplished, and so grateful to Eric’s sponsor, Leslie Johnson, for giving him the chance of a lifetime. (Photo by Fran Collin)
Anastasie Mukarugina is a Rwandan Twa (Pygmy) who left her forest home in 1996 to become a “bush woman” in the lowlands, tending other people’s cows to earn a living for herself and her five children. She was very alone and isolated doing this work, until she was invited by Genda Ugire Utyo (“Go and Do That”) Cooperative in Eastern Rwanda to join them. She wasn’t familiar with agriculture, but as time went on she learned to be a farmer and is now doing very well, accepted as an equal member of the community and earning a living through the co-op’s collective farming enterprise. The co-op members (and the cows!) are very appreciative of Anastasie’s special skill: singing her “cow poems” to the livestock. (Photo by Fran Collin)