10 June 2019

Rwanda: Fear, Hope As Inaugural Residents of One Dollar Complex Are Discharged

When Danton Gasigwa, 30, survived the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, he was left homeless.

His family, including the immediate members he knew at the time, had been decimated and he had nowhere to go.

"Only two members from my paternal side of family survived. I got to know this later when I was trying to search for members of my family," he recalls.

Gasigwa was 5-years-old when the Genocide took place. He saw dramatic events unfolding in his remote village of Kaduha in Nyamagabe district, but he was too young to make any analysis of what could later result into genocide.

When the genocide begun in 1994, Gasigwa's father hid him under a cowshed for the animals the family kept where cows were grazing. But as the journey to escape continued, his father was killed from a sorghum plantation.

A young boy who had no idea about what was happening later found himself in a Catholic church. This is where he was later picked by an RPA soldier after the Genocide.

"I lived with Safari the soldier who had rescued me until 2001 when he passed on. By then I had already started primary school so I would stay at school with the gatekeepers when others returned home for holidays," he narrates.

Throughout the journey of his education, Gasigwa lived in orphanages until 2014, when he was selected among the residents of the multi-purpose hostel for Genocide survivors that later adopted the name 'One Dollar' complex.

The name is coined from the campaign - One Dollar Campaign - that was initiated, initially by Rwandans in diaspora and later those in the country, to raise funds to support survivors of the Genocide,

Henriette Uwamahoro, another female resident of the hostel that is located in the upscale Kagugu area of Kigali, survived the genocide at the age of 3 in Muyira village in Nyanza district.

Uwamahoro too was left alone and homeless. But there was still hope for her. In fact, she struggled to finish school under the support of the Genocide Survivors Assistance Fund (FARG).

The story of Gasigwa and Uwamahoro are quite familiar stories in Rwanda. There are hundreds of young survivors who have been going through similar struggles.

Fortunately, when a group of Rwandans living in Diaspora came together in 2008, it was the beginning of something that could contribute to changing the life of some survivors who had no decent housing.

Members of the Rwandan Diaspora started a 'One Dollar Campaign' charity initiative that could later see thousands of Diaspora members mobilise a symbolic one dollar each to raise money to provide shelter for Genocide survivors in different parts of Rwanda.

In 2014, a complex with the capacity to host more than 150 people was inaugurated in Kinyinya Sector, Gasabo District, marking a beginning of a new life for women and men survivors who were previously living in orphanages, foster families and on streets.

"It has been five years since I have been living here. There was some sense of life and hope for the future, thanks to the members of Diaspora who came up with that idea," Gasigwa notes.

The transition

But it is time for Gasigwa and other members to start another chapter of independent life.

Over the weekend, the Genocide Survivors Students Association (AERG) bade farewell to 73 young survivors who have been sheltered at the complex, allowing a chance for other survivors to come in.

It is not an easy journey for many.

"Are people ready to face life out there? To be honest that is a question we all ask ourselves at this moment and particularly as a young lady it is something that keeps coming given the exploitation out there," Uwamahoro says.

That question was posed to a few other transitioning survivors but the answers seem to converge somewhere: They are not sure of life outside.

"That is the life many of us know. We have not had a chance to have the social life with our families. The question we ask now is what will happen when things fail, where shall we seek help or will it be possible to come back here?" Gasigwa wonders.

However, just like Uwamahoro, there is hope above all else, because he is no longer that lonely toddler that found himself alone in the aftermath of the Genocide.

He is now a graduate and looks forward to start off a life of himself and will depend on the support system by both FARG and AERG to which he is a member.

Support

Both FARG and AERG together with government will support their transition.

FARG will provide financial support to support their transitional journey. This includes a financial kit to facilitate their accommodation, as well as subsistence allowance for a period of at least five months.

The organisations are also collaborating to help the survivors to initiate their own business projects and enable them to generate income off those activities.

"Many of them already have business projects, they have mentors who are helping them to fine-tune those projects, and there is hope that within the next few weeks, they will be able to get access to funding," Emmanuel Muneza, the National Coordinator of AERG, told The New Times.

Prof. Anastase Shyaka, the Minister of Local Government who officiated the farewell ceremony, told the survivors that what was more important for the survivors was to have hope for the future.

The government, he said, will work to restore that hope through practical activities, highlighting that the government's target is to make sure that Rwanda builds communities that are healthy and united.

Minister Anastase Shyaka (centre) and other officials at the function. / Sam Ngendahimana

Government pledged to work out a plan to facilitate continuous mentorship and guidance through the transitional journey.

"We are also going to work out a plan to allow you get back your properties that may have been taken by others," he added, addressing a concern that that had been raised by some young survivors whose properties had been taken by other people.

According to the managers of the hostel, they expect at least 30 new residents who are still in foster homes while screening for other beneficiaries continues.

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