Three times a year, SURF convenes a meeting in Kigali of all our partner organisations, which presents us with an opportunity to hear further from them on the progress of their work, and to update them on news and developments at SURF. The feedback we receive from the Forum of Partners flags up issues and challenges, which is the basis for developing and prioritising our action for the year ahead.
Both the context of support to survivors of genocide in Rwanda, and the social, political and economic environment of the country and region, frames many of the challenges of our work, and the litany of challenges for survivors, from housing to healthcare, education to employment. However, two of the principal challenges facing survivors in Rwanda today are age-related.
Many of the widows of the genocide are now elderly, and this brings a number of challenges for them. Nearly 5,000 of the 20,000 widows in membership of AVEGA are over 70 years old. Many no longer have the families that traditionally would otherwise support them at this stage in their lives. SURF, in partnership with AVEGA in particular, is extending livelihood development training to more widows in rural and isolated regions of Rwanda. However, many older women are unable to benefit, as they are infirm and often disabled, as a result of the genocide. As such, they are physically unable to participate in the farming projects that other women often develop, and many are housebound, requiring more tailored and specific outreach support. This is an approach that is more cost-intensive and less sustainable, and as such less appealing to donors.
Therefore, our focus is to ensure that we build the capacity of AVEGA to advocate for the support that is required by this target group through national social protection programmes. AVEGA is already making progress towards securing further funding from the Government of Rwanda for older widows, and now delivering this will be a priority over the year ahead.
Younger survivors face a different challenge; they are particularly vulnerable due to their low socioeconomic status, as well as the trauma that they endured during the genocide, and continue to experience. Over 50% of the 43,000 members of AERG were orphaned as a result of the genocide, and are living in orphan-headed households. They are responsible for caring and supporting their younger siblings, which exerts greater pressure upon them to become wage earners. As such, many of these younger survivors now face grave challenges in securing employment after completing secondary school, and even university education. For many, formal education can be of low quality, with limited opportunities for skills development. Therefore, young people are largely unready for the formal labour market.
Existing programmes are largely inaccessible or ineffective, as they do not accommodate for the multifaceted needs of young survivors. However, the need to develop sustainable and profitable employment opportunities for the growing number of young survivors graduating from formal education is paramount. Along with the support required by older widows, this is the principal challenge for SURF’s work to address over the year ahead.