From surviving to thriving: 20 years of GAERG empowering Genocide survivors, supporting Rwanda
For the past two decades, the Alumni of Genocide Survivors’ Students Association (GAERG) has been devoted to promoting resilience and providing assistance to the survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
The organisation’s influence is still felt around Rwanda, as it remains committed to its mission of strengthening the capacities of survivors’ communities to overcome the consequences of the Genocide and play a more effective role in the sustainable development of Rwanda.
As the country commemorates the tragic events that claimed over a million lives, we reflect on GAERG’s journey and its contribution to nation-building.
Jean Pierre Nkuranga, the current President of GAERG, said he was there when the organisation was founded in 2003. He stated that it had its roots in the Genocide Survivors Student Association (AERG), which he had co-founded with fellow students from the former National University of Rwanda, Huye, on October 20, 1996.
At that time, he noted, there were many issues related to the quality of life for survivors of the Genocide, many of whom were dropping out of school due to the trauma they had experienced.
“We soon discovered that some of our peers had encountered tremendous hardships. Their deceased family members had not been properly taken care of. We stepped in to help, and it turned out that there were more survivors than we had initially anticipated. When our elders, the founders of AERG, gathered, we found that there were a total of 300 – a miracle in itself,” said Nkuranga.
He noted that when the members of AERG joined forces and started supporting each other to lay the corpses of their lost loved ones to rest, it demonstrated the true strength of the organisation.
Nkuranga highlighted the importance of members being able to talk openly about their experiences, as this provided them with comfort and the reassurance that they were not alone in their struggles. Furthermore, he noted that AERG members reached out to survivors still in high school, providing them with support and helping them to heal from their trauma.
After graduating from university, Nkuranga and their peers created the GAERG association as a way to stay connected and help other survivors of high school and university. Their initial activities included forming families in schools to support those who were alone and providing words of encouragement and comfort, even without any funds.
Theory of change
GAERG’s theory of change includes Memory, Genocide Prevention and Community Mobilisation Programme.
According to Nkuranga, through this programme, they aim to increase knowledge and awareness of the history of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, as well as prevent the spread of stereotypes and ideologies that could lead to genocide and other forms of conflict.
Nkuranga highlighted that GAERG also has a programme focused on healing and resilience. Through its Aheza Healing and Career Center located in Ntarama Sector Bugesera District, GAERG educates and raises awareness of trauma and other emotional crises, providing psychotherapy and psychoeducation services to members, their children (Uruhongore), families, and other community members.
Additionally, the organisation works to increase financial independence among members by offering an entrepreneurial empowerment package, supporting small projects, and providing a guarantee fund for members’ innovative projects.
Nkuranga said that GAERG runs a research and development programme which seeks to respond to the difficult consequences faced by their members due to the Genocide against the Tutsi. This programme includes conducting research, surveys, and desk reviews to ensure evidence-based advocacy and document the history of the Genocide.
The organisation also marks May 27 as a day for commemoration in honour of the families wiped out in the Genocide. This year, the memorial will be held at Nyamata Stadium. They have been consistently doing so since 2009 and have finalised a survey on the families wiped out countrywide in 2019.
Nkuranga noted that in line with genocide prevention, GAERG organised different essay writing competitions and has conducted continuous mobilisation of GAERG members and the community to fight against internal and external genocide denial as well as genocide ideology.
“From 2017 to 2023, GAERG families increased from 74 to 174, 150 more were formed in survivors’ community as entry strategy of GAERG project’s interventions,” he noted.
Nkuranga highlighted that a total of 290 healing groups were created, as well as 25 healing clubs in schools, as part of the social economic development programme.
Additionally, he reported that 1,221 youth had received entrepreneurship training, 1,051 had formed voluntary savings and loan associations, and 715 had been trained in work readiness and job essentials.
Challenges, future plans
Nkuranga highlighted some of the challenges they face; funding for big projects, poverty among survivors, and genocide deniers and their ideology. He emphasised that these issues still persist and must be addressed.
“We plan to continue raising mental health awareness and advocating for a greater impact across the country, remembering and preserving history, combating genocide denial and ideology, and conducting extensive research on the Genocide against the Tutsi and its repercussions to document it in the long-term,” he said.
Beneficiaries share resilience-building experiences
Egide Munyeragwe, a member of GAERG, said he had been making ends meet through temporary gigs before he joined the organisation’s Youth Economic Empowerment Project (YEEP) in partnership with Survivors Fund (SURF) and funded through the Clifford Chance Cornerstone Initiative.
The eye-opening programme, he said, gave him the skills and confidence to start his own business.
Munyeragwe is now the proud owner of La Renaisaince, a thriving bar situated in Nyamata, Bugesera District. Despite its humble beginnings, his business is doing exceptionally well. He noted that in addition to that, he and his fellow Genocide survivors established a savings group that provides low-interest loans to members in need.
Pascasie Ntivuguruzwa, a fellow GAERG member, faced significant setbacks in her decorating business due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, she found a solution by enrolling in YEEP, where she acquired valuable entrepreneurship skills.
These, she said, included improving service delivery, ensuring timely project completion, conducting market research and competitive analysis, and utilising social media marketing.
Thanks to YEEP, Ntivuguruzwa was able to secure a loan, which enabled her to purchase new wedding attire and other products, attracting more customers to her business. She now reports that her business is stable and flourishing.