Kamembe is the base of AVEGA Western Region (AWR). Survivors Fund (SURF) provided the initial grant to establish the office of AWR in 2003, and through our current grant for the HIV+ Survivors Integration Project (SIP) from Comic Relief we are continuing to support the organisation that represents over 3,000 genocide widows and 10,000 orphans of the genocide.
On a visit there last week I learnt of the progress of the organisation. In September with funding from INSPIRE!africa, AWR opened a new Wellness Centre which is providing health education and training to its members. They have been teaching about mushroom growing, and have set up a little demonstration farm so that its members can learn first hand how to plant and harvest the highly nutritious and profitable pleurolus osteatus (oyster mushroom) variety. This is supplemented with training on active listening to empower widows to provide counselling to others in need.
In a field trip we met the cassava-growing association which feature on the front cover of our current Annual Report. They are now saving money to buy a maize grinding machine from a loan through our SIP programme. The group of thirty widows and orphans has already saved over FRW 360,000 (around £380) towards the loan of FRW 1.5 million (£1,700), a remarkable achievement considering that the average household weekly expenditure is only FRW 10,000 (around £11). We hope that they will receive their loan later this month, and we will be certain to keep you posted as to their progress.
I also met a remarkable young group of students, in membership of AERG in the Western Region. The branch represents 2,014 members, 45 of which are studying at the Rusizi branch of the National University of Rwanda (NUR). Over 90% of the membership are orphans, and they provide mutual support through the surrogate families that they form. We are hoping that we can help the association to realise its goal of developing a revenue-generating project (a printing shop at the university) through a loan through SIP, which will also enable members to access business training. Furthermore we will strive to find a partner to support them to record and document their testimonies, which they consider an equal priority too.
Thus, much work lies ahead!