Reflections

7 Nov 2013

As I embark on my final few weeks at the helm at Survivors Fund (SURF), I reflect on my past five years in post as director.

It is has been a remarkable experience. The time has truly flown! That is testament to the enjoyment and rewards of the work, made possible with the assistance of an incredible staff team in Rwanda, as well as a supportive board here in the UK, and an array of remarkable donors and even more remarkable partners.

Hopefully over my time in post, I have built on the strong foundations laid for me by SURF’s founder, Mary Kayitesi Blewitt OBE. Though the numbers that we document in our annual report tell one story, it is the small moments that I recall that speak volumes. Just a few that come immediately to mind:

  • Attending the graduation ceremony of Odette, now Executive Secretary of AVEGA, who had just completed her degree along with several other staff of AVEGA – through the support of SURF. As it is said in yiddish, I shlepped naches (received great joy) from being called up to give one of the many addresses that I have had to make impromptu over the 14 visits that I have undertaken since I began in post.
  • On hearing the result of the winner of the AERG Youth Entrepreneurship Training Programme business plan competition at the Solace Ministries Conference Hall (which SURF helped Solace build with a loan, which they paid back in full within twelve months) and the 150 students erupting as Andrew Jones MP of Project Umubano named the winning business, SuperPork – and seeing Rameez, one of the volunteers who had coached the team, punching the air in joy (which you can see in the background of the announcement). You can see the moment by clicking here.
  • Visiting the remarkable memorial at Bisesero in the Western Province and hearing the stories of the survivors there who had received so little support due to the remoteness of their location, and pledging that we would do all possible to ensure that the programmes of AVEGA could be extended to benefit them – and returning there a few years subsequent to hear how that has finally materialised.
  • Travelling up to one of the many presentations that I have given to schools and groups, in this case to Morcambe in Lancashire, to give a talk to a wonderful church group on behalf of the Good Gifts Catalogue, who after hearing the story of Sid the Bull, committed to raise the funds to donate not only one new Sid, but two over the year ahead!

Such highlights though have been tinged with great sadness, and loss too. That our support has extended to support tens of thousands of survivors has been a source of great pride, but there are many that sadly we have not been able to assist – in my mind, exemplified by the story of Clare.

Earlier this year, I took the terrible call that notified me of the death of Benon, our long serving accountant, supporter and friend of SURF. I still cannot quite believe that he is no longer with us – but his legacy will always live on. Equally tragic, was the death of Christopher Shale, who was just as vocal in his support of our work.

As I serve my final day formally in post on 17th November, I will raise a mutzig in memory of lost friends, as well in honour of you – our supporters – without whom none of our work would have been possible. So in this my final newsletter in post, I include two articles of projects that I hope will be extended beyond my small contribution – on the progress of our projects with AERG, and the campaign for reparation for survivors.

I now handover that work, and the baton, to Françoise, on my final formal visit to Rwanda later this month. I am certain that with your continuing support, she will ably lead Survivors Fund (SURF) through its next phase of development.

Thank you dearly again to you all for making our work possible, and for having given me the opportunity to make a contribution to this remarkable organisation.

David Russell
Director, Survivors Fund
2009 – 2013