Julienne Uwacu, the Director General of the Government of Rwanda Genocide Survivors Assistance Fund (FARG)
Julienne Uwacu, the Director General of the Government of Rwanda Genocide Survivors Assistance Fund (FARG)

FARG has spent Rwf 333 billion so far, has it lived up to expectations?

By Nasra Bishumba, The New Times

Since its inception in 1998, the Genocide Survivors Assistance Fund (FARG) has spent billions taking survivor children to school, building homes, providing medical assistance and direct support to the most vulnerable and funding survivors’ projects.

23-years on, the fund’s achievements are obvious to many but there are still some challenges too. The New Times’ Nasra Bishumba interviewed the Fund’s Director General Julienne Uwacu to discuss this and more.

Below are the excerpts.

How many people have benefited from this fund since its inception in 1998? And how much has been spent on them?

At the time of its inception, FARG was given a responsibility to oversee support to survivors in the areas health, education, shelter, direct support and income generating activities.

From 1998 to the end of 2020, we have built new houses for 29,015 those who didn’t have them before and renovated 4,050. We have provided financial support to 54,680 for their income generating projects and distributed 7,510 cows under the Girinka programme.

In education, 107,921 students have been supported to study until the completion of secondary school level, while 33,349 have been supported to study in universities and other higher-learning institutions.

In health, we don’t have a specific number because an individual can have repeated medical visits. However, according to the numbers, these visits come to a total of 2,618,366. However, these are internal. We have 499 survivors who were sent abroad for medical attention.

In total, all these interventions mentioned above cost a total of Rwf333.9 billion. Let me remind you that all this money comes from the government’s budget every year.

To disburse this money, we for instance work with districts especially when it comes to shelter and direct support. 

When the number of students was very big, the money in that area used to also be disbursed by district authorities but we are remaining with a very small number of students in secondary school, so we took over the responsibility.

We work with private and public universities and higher institutions of learning where we sign contracts with them and we pay tuition and then provide Rwf40,000 to each student.

In health, we also capitalise on ‘Army Week’ where we encourage survivors with chronic illnesses and other diseases that may not be clear to go and get checked.

We also have agreements with referral and provincial hospitals where they are required to give medical assistance to our patients in cases where Mutuelle de Santé cannot cover or where it covers only a small part.

For instance, for people who have liver problems and need dialysis, Mutuelle only covers six-week sessions and then you are rendered chronic and the treatment stops. We cover the cost after that. We have diabetes, hypertension, back, cancer patients that we support.

Those we send abroad we cover the bills for both the patient and the person escorting them and their pocket money.

We can’t say that we have fixed all the problems but the strides that we have made so far have been significant in ensuring that no survivor fails to get treatment because of their inability to pay for it.

We also have contracts with pharmacies because there is medicine that cannot be found in hospitals and has to be bought in pharmacies. We are of course not an insurance company like MMI and RSSB but with these contracts, we can pay for this medication.

In 2019, FARG was sourcing for Rwf30 billion to renovate and also build houses for survivors. By last year, we were still hearing of survivors who had no homes and others who were living in houses in very poor conditions. What is the status of housing as of today?

When it comes to shelter, we build houses every year. This area has improved a lot over the course of the last few years but, of course, there is still some work that needs to be done to ensure that every survivor is comfortable.

We conducted a census in 2014 and some houses have been constructed and although we get a budget every year, we have not yet gotten to where we wish to be. We need Rwf10 billion to construct 878 houses countrywide. We are hoping that the government can find this money so that the project kicks off.

We are referring to new houses here but there are some houses that were built more than two decades ago that need to be renovated. We are working with districts to determine the number of houses that need to be renovated or even in some cases, even be demolished so that new ones are constructed.

It has been 23 years since FARG started supporting genocide survivor students. The last group of beneficiaries should be graduating soon. What next?

From the look of things, there are areas that will definitely have to be phased out. For instance, when you look at secondary school support, 27 years since the genocide was stopped, you cannot say that there is someone who is still enrolling and expecting FARG support. In TVET, we have not more than 100 students and in universities, they are also about 4,000.

Many people have been looking up to you to clean up the mess that has been highlighted in the Auditor General Report. Last year, you told Parliament that FARG was in the process of recovering Rwf 360 million that was not used for the intended purpose. How far has that process gone?

There is money that FARG disbursed that was aimed at financing survivors’ projects. That money was sent to districts which also were then supposed to send it to Sectors. The money was received and some of it was not used for what it had been planned for. We sent a list of the people who misused these funds to the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) and they did their investigations and handed the file to Prosecution. We have recovered some of it but the process continues and we hope to recoup more. However, let’s remember that this money was disbursed in 2013. Some of these people have since passed on, others have no means to refund the funds but we are still doing everything possible to recover the money.

The other money is for ‘ghost’ students. In some secondary schools, especially private ones, we found out that they were billing us for students who actually don’t exist.

We started an exercise of following up these schools and 12 of them are being taken to court.

In 2011, FARG dropped 19,514 students after they were found to be ineligible for the support. Do you still have challenges of people who still claim support under false pretences?

Not really. It is not easy because for you to be confirmed as someone who needs this support, you must be approved by the communal general assemblies. 

However, we have some people who want support yet they are not eligible because they have the means to sustain themselves.

To fix such issues, we are building a database that we are going to link to the National ID Agency (NIDA) so that when you feed in their ID, you get all their details and the category that they fall under. We are thinking that Ubudehe  categorisation will help us know where each of these survivors stands in terms of category and the kind of support that they have or need for them to graduate from poverty.

We do this because we are avoiding a scenario where, for instance, someone is given a house in Nyagatare District, moves to another district and applies for another one.

We will also link the database to the Land Management Authority because some of them have land and although they may be living here in Kigali, we can help them use this land to start self-sustenance projects.

The plan was to move survivors towards self-reliance and cut the risk of promoting dependence especially for the young. To what extent have you achieved that?

There are those that are really doing well. They were given cows and they put them to good use and you can really tell the difference in their life now. However, we also still have others who still are dependant. That’s why we are doing an assessment to determine, for instance, where the people who we give direct support fall. For instance, there are people who are able to work but need to be pushed to stop thinking only but also start acting.

We want to know how many people FARG paid for who have completed their education, and are unemployed. After we have those numbers, we can then go ahead and try to identify courses that they can pursue based on their qualifications, so that they can be readied for employment, whether for other people or by themselves.

What would you say is your biggest challenge?

I would say trauma. As years come and go, mental health issues seem to increase. It is hard to send someone out there is to do something with their life when their mental health is still hanging in balance is hard. Mental health is something that we need to work on as a nation as we move forward.

What next for FARG? What is the vision as we inch closer to the 30th commemoration of the genocide?

When you look at the five areas where we were providing support, you can see that education is phasing out, housing is getting better. Although we have some elderly or severely injured people that will have to be permanently supported, we are now focusing on helping people to be self-reliant and also, to remind our beneficiaries that they are not excluded from the services that other Rwandans are getting.

There are young survivors who were living in communal homes rented for them but completed their studies and are now homeless. Is there support that is given to such people?

The reality is that even if you live with your parents, there is a point you get to as a grown-up and you are expected to find your own way in the world. It is time for them to be responsible and try to focus on building their own future. When it comes to housing, there is criteria that we follow. You cannot start building a house for a young man when there is an old man who is homeless. These young people stay in the One Dollar Campaign complex. The purpose it was built was to ensure that when students go to their families during holidays, these survivor students are not left stranded. Most of them have graduated and moved on. Some were even funded to start their own projects.

There are also others whose mind is stuck on dependability. We need to remember that all these people are aged above 27.

Is there a deadline on when one is supposed to leave the One Dollar Campaign Complex?

When someone is entering that complex, they have to sign a contract which states that they can only stay an extra six months after their graduation. However, there are those that even stayed for years. So far, two intakes have graduated and left and there is never a time when one is forced out. We have about 40 that are still living there. We pay for all utilities, their food and the workers who help them but it is important that they understand that they have to move on.

Any last remarks?

We must always reflect on what the government has done when it stepped in and decided to provide support to genocide survivors. It is not common to get such consistency elsewhere. This is what you get when you have leadership that is people-centred.

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