Continuing our series of articles from our Annual Report 2018/19, we outline here our current work on the AERG Legal and Counselling Helpline.
The Legal and Counselling Helpline (Helpline) was established in August 2013 as a partnership between Survivors Fund (SURF) and AERG (National Student’s Association of Genocide Survivors) to fill the gap in support for young survivors of the genocide against the Tutsi with legal and mental health challenges, and other related vulnerable young persons, so that they can access support regardless of where they are located in Rwanda.
By providing legal and counselling support services countrywide, the Helpline filled a necessary gap in support for vulnerable young people with outstanding legal disputes or suffering from trauma. This is one of the only free and accessible services for those unable to afford to take their legal cases to court or lacking the confidence or ability to find someone to talk to about a mental health issue. In addition to providing telephone-based support, the helpline also has field staff who conduct outreach and provide support to clients through legal education and orientation, advocacy and representation in court.
The Helpline was launched with the intention of primarily providing telephone-based support. However, due to the demand for legal and a counselling support, the helpline has grown from a small pilot telephone-based service to an innovative, all-encompassing legal and counselling support service, which includes outreach visits to schools and universities to raise awareness of legal rights, as well as the services available through the helpline, to young people across Rwanda. Since its establishment, the Helpline has supported 991 survivors across Rwanda with legal issues and has resolved 371 of the cases. Support has been equally split across gender. The value of the resolved cases across the country is over $750,000. In addition, the Helpline has provided counselling to 287 youth, and oriented a further 623 cases to other service providers.
We had the opportunity this year to apply for additional funding from the Rwanda Legal Aid Forum to extend the reach of the Helpline around the 25th Anniversary of the Genocide (in April 2019) when it is known that demand for the service will spike. We were successful and secured funding for a one year supplementary programme to undertake more outreach to schools and universities to raise awareness that with the support available through the Helpline that it is still possible to claim back land and property lost in the genocide.