Today started with an early wake and a long drive. We departed Musanze/Ruhengeri - at 6:30 a.m. upon the serpentine roads to Huye/Butare. In the midst of this 6 hour drive, we stopped in the Nyanza area - once home of the precolonial-Rwandan kings. Our agenda was with some haste to meet some appointments, however, and we could not spend time in the ancient history of Rwanda, today. Instead, we spent time with members of the Avega group, an organization that deals in reconciliation and reconstruction - particularly with orphans and widows.
I do wish that this stop had not been so short. There were far too many topics and places to be seen and discussed than could possibly be allocated to a day, let alone the few hours we had. We met with women of Avega, a very comprehensive and far-reaching organization that works to give aid and nurture reconciliation for, primarily, widows and orphans of the genocide. They achieve this through investment, healthcare and training, and a variety of other specialized projects across the country. A whole trip could be devoted to seeing these projects. A whole weekend could even be devoted to a single one.
Our first stop was in a rural village established for widows, orphans, and a few disenfranchised men supported by Avega. We saw fields of sorghum and bananas. Unlike many reconciliation villages, there was no sense of capital tourism. There were no baskets, dances, or pieces of merchandise - there was a group of children that chased our van for a couple miles to meet us. Some of the women had nice sandals. Most of the kids had old sandals. Some had no footwear at all. On the way back I got a glimpse of the living conditions as I used an outhouse. As I boarded the bus I passed two shirtless young boys - I'm of the opinion their clothes were on the drying line in that same yard.
The women from Avega talked about much of the psychological trauma people (generations) faced in the wake of the genocide. Many examples were listed, I personally found - with a brief study of pre-genocide Rwandan gender roles and marriage ceremonies - rape to be the most horrifying, disgusting, and damaging atrocity to a survivor's sociability and sanity. Women were left without any support in a culture (formed by tradition and Catholicism) where virginity and monogamy were held in sanctity. Prostitution rates rose after the genocide. However, this is only a matter discussed that struck me most, the breadth and weight of the atrocities of the genocide is unfathomable. This is simply a single matter of the countless troubles of the genocide.
The prevalence of mental illness is not surprising in light of countless horror stories of the genocide. However, to think thoroughly on it gives it incredible weight. Avega runs programs for getting emotional and mental aid into the remote towns and villages - training locals and commuting some to intensive care. Psychological aid is still not readily available to all in Rwanda, however. Avega, and other organizations, are limited in their ability and outreach.
Yet, Avega still has a wide-reaching network. After our trip to that village, we traveled to a local yoghurt production, founded by a widow supported by Avega. Her company has been incredibly successful and only continues to strive for high goals - the company employs many orphans of the genocide and is officially recognized by the Rwandan government as a place of sanitary and notable food business. She looked very different from any woman in the village. Her life was undoubtably more financially prosperous. I do not know the full capabilities of Avega, but it is quite interesting to see that they can aid the lives of rural farmers and business leaders, alike.
The genocide was built on discretion, yet discretion was utterly abandoned in its execution. The poor and wealthy, alike were killed, hunted, and utterly disenfranchised. All minds are alike in a regard - they are fragile. It's horrifying and indignantly humanizing to see that this is a fragility that lies in us all. Yet, with proper support, such as that which Avega tries to deliver, one can still recover and even thrive. There is certainly a visible trend of progress in these examples.