By Lydia Atiena, The New Times
Fidèle Nsengiyaremye was only three years old when in 1994 he narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Interahamwe militia who wiped out his entire immediate family, leaving him as the sole survivor.
He says that when the machete wielding gang attacked their home to kill them, his parents had taken him to his grandparents’ home. The attackers killed his family.
After learning that his family had been killed, his aunt carried him on her back and they managed to escape to Burundi.
When they finally returned after the Genocide, an uncle took him in and he has been paying for his studies since.
Like many others, the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi left him broken.
However, he says he has been able to find comfort thanks to Groupe des Anciens Etudiants et Elèves Rescapés du Genocide (GAERG), a graduates Genocide survivors organisation, which has provided him with the much need support.
Just like Nsengiyaremye, a number of youths who survived the brutal events of 1994 have sought solace at the organisation.
GAERG is a Genocide survivors’ organisation that comprises of university graduates and other students in higher learning institutions. The organisation, however, works hand-in-hand with its sister institution, AERG (Genocide Survivors Students Association), that mostly consists of students still in high school and tertiary institutions.
The organisation’s activities are related to Genocide prevention and following up on the lives of survivors, and finding ways to uplift them.
According to Nsengiyaremye, the executive secretary of GAERG, for survivors who already graduated, the organisation follows up on their younger siblings who are still in school, and helps them as ‘part of their family’.
He says this is because the organisation started with the mission to build ‘a new family’ for survivors to replace their own families that were killed during the Genocide.
“The motive of following up on these students is to find out if they are facing any challenges, be it schooling or financial, as well as social. Here, in case of any, we find a way to help them so that such problems don’t interfere with their learning,” he says.
Also, they provide assistance in terms of encouragement and mentorship, among others.
Olivier Mazimpaka, the president of the organisation, says they have different programmes to help students get the knowledge and skills that will help them be knowledgeable in the job market, as well as fit in society, just like their peers who are lucky to have their families.
For instance, he says they provide entrepreneurship-related skills and help them build their capacity to fit in the job market. These are just some of the skills the youth who are either still in school, or have since completed, are equipped with, to add to what they learn.
He explains that this is so because when most of the survivors graduate and go outside to look for jobs, there are certain challenges they face.
“The issue of unemployment is a normal concern in most developing countries, especially for young people. However, this is even worse for someone who doesn’t have a family because they have to depend on themselves in every way possible,” he says.
He points out that, after graduation, those with families can easily stay home while looking for jobs. Their families too can help them look for employment.
All this, however, doesn’t happen with survivors as they are alone. On top of looking for employment, they also deal with other psychological problems, such as stress, depression and, sometimes, isolation.
And this is why GAERG was created – to give them all the support they need and to prevent them from developing other issues.
Sylvester Twizerimana, a psychologist and counsellor at the Anglican Church of Rwanda in Rubavu District, says it’s good to have interventions, especially during Genocide commemoration periods.
He says most of these survivors do suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and this is an anxiety disorder. Such people need social, psychological and emotional help for their well-being.
“There are well-structured ways for the country to help these people; for young survivors, grouping them in a family setting is important so that they feel loved and cared for and have people to talk to in case of any problem,” he says.
Twizerimana adds that this help could restore their hope and dignity; they need special care and consideration.
“As a psychologist, I encourage people to be in a family, it is vital as it means a lot when it comes to sharing happiness as well as sorrow as a family,” he says.
Every year, the country observes an official mourning week, from April 7-13, in remembrance of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
During this period, GAERG, in partnership with AERG, carry out a number of activities. This year, they have already completed the AERG-GAERG Week, in which they engage in various commemoration programmes.
They visit villages, comfort people, build and renovate homes for vulnerable survivors, provide basic needs to them, among other things.
Additionally, they go to universities to share information with students. They take them through the challenges that they face as survivors.
For those who were too young during the Genocide, Nsengiyaremye says they don’t have enough knowledge on what really happened, so GAERG – as a family – talks them through what happened and what is needed now.
The organisation also reaches out to survivors in rural areas, and encourages them to share their challenges.
As an organisation, they mostly have to deal with trauma as it sometimes is at a very high level.
“People who were born during the Genocide do not understand how or why it happened. And this only leads to serious trauma,” says Nsengiyaremye.
Another setback is that some members still have deep wounds, they’ve never really healed and so this makes them distressed.
Unemployment is also another setback because financial insecurity is a serious issue.
According to the members of the organisation, bringing survivors together as one family is already a huge achievement for the organisation.
Through this, they have addressed the issue of parenthood, which is the most important thing for the survivors who don’t have parents to call their own.
The organisation has also tried to understand the challenges faced by the survivors, and has been able to find ways to address some of them.
As part of their contribution to the commemoration period, the organisation also holds a commemoration for the families that were wiped out during the Genocide.
They have done so for families in 17 districts.
Beneficiaries share their experience
Honorine Muteteri, Employee – Umuseke Ltd
In 2016 when I completed my university studies, I was linked to my current place of work as an intern. As a family we have been able to work together and help each other, something that wouldn’t have been possible if we weren’t together.
Christophe Nkurunzinza, entrepreneur
The organisation helped me in getting the entrepreneurial skills that have since seen me open my online business. As a survivor, being in the organisation helps us restore love just like others who have their families.
The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi affected many people, especially the youth, it’s hard to cope, and that’s how the organisation came in – at the right time to offer economic, social and financial support. Besides, the skills offered here have helped most of us get jobs in different fields.
Emile, Karamusta, Engineer
I was able to have my own family because of the psychological support I got from the organisation. As a survivor, it was hard to think about starting a family. Additionally, I can now depend on myself because of the life skills from GAERG.