Survivors Fund (SURF) 25 Years On

Genocide Memorial
Genocide Memorial

A Speech by Samantha Hunt MBE, Survivors Fund (SURF) Chair on the 25th Anniversary of Survivors Fund (SURF)

I first visited Rwanda in 2007. It was during April, the time of commemoration. I remember seeing a sign written over many of the massacre sights:

“If you had really known yourself and you had really known me, then you would not have killed me.”

This is a message to those who participated in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. However, during my visit to this country thirteen years later, I came to realise that it is also a message to me and to all of us who sat by in our comfortable houses in 1994, shrugging our shoulders when we saw the horrors replayed on the News and thinking to ourselves “Not another disaster in Africa! Well, there’s nothing that I can do about it.” I feel ashamed that I was one of those people. As Edmund Burke once said:

“All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph, is for enough good men to do nothing”

28 years ago, the world failed the Tutsi people of Rwanda. We shrugged our shoulders and beat our brows but did absolutely nothing to stop the genocide. 28 years later, the world still in the main continues to ignore the plight of those who survived.

But Survivors Fund has not forgotten or ignored their plight! For 25 year this wonderful organisation has dedicated itself to supporting survivors of the genocide to rebuild their shattered lives. Deeply motivated by our inspirational founder Mary Kayitesi Blewitt OBE, SURF has partnered with a host of amazing survivor-led organisations including AVEGA, AERG, GAERG, Solace Ministries, Ibuka, Kanyarwanda, Uyisenga N’Manzi amongst others to develop a range of highly effective holistic programmes. Any one angle of assistance – be it medical, economic or social – would be an incomplete answer. Thus, SURF’s programmes have ranged from healthcare to house building, education to entrepreneurship.

Mary Kayitesi Blewitt OBE, SURF's Founder, with AVEGA members
Mary Kayitesi Blewitt OBE, SURF’s Founder, with AVEGA members

And the impact of SURF’s work on the lives of survivors has been immeasurable!

  • Over 15,000 genocide widows have developed livelihoods through our evidence-based wraparound support (including livelihoods training, access to finance, counselling, legal support).
  • Over 5,000 student survivors have accessed entrepreneurship and work readiness training resulting in the establishment of over 1,500 new businesses.
  • Over 2,500 women genocide survivors, raped and infected with HIV, have been supported to access lifesaving antiretroviral treatment.
  • Over 1,500 young survivors have been supported to access legal support through the AERG Legal and Counselling Helpline securing a return of assets of over $1 million for young survivors.
  • Over 850 Marginalised Youth born of rape to women survivors have graduated from school as a result of our education and counselling support.
  • Over 400 Houses have been built for vulnerable survivors still in need of secure shelter.
  • Over 40 Memorial Sites have been constructed providing decent burial for over 300,000 victims of the genocide.
  • SURF has established 4 healthcare centres servicing more than 300,000 people every month.
  • Over 1,000 survivors have been supported through university and many now hold prominent positions in Rwanda.
  • And most recently, SURF has been instrumental in opening the Philly’s Place children’s centre, providing free education programmes to nearly 1,000 children and serving as a vital community hub in Bugesera!

None of this would have been possible without the ongoing support of SURF’s many donors and benefactors. Your generosity, advocacy and belief in our cause have been integral to SURF’s success. Many, many lives have been transformed because of you. You have shown those who have felt so abandoned by the world, that there are people who do care deeply. You have given survivors the greatest gift -that of hope and for this we are eternally grateful.

I would also like to recognize the enormous contribution made by our trustees, both past and present. You have freely given of your time, effort and skill to ensure that, through robust governance, SURF has withstood the test of time and gone from strength to strength. Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do to ensure SURF continues to flourish.

And now to the wonderful staff of SURF, both past and present. I would particularly like to acknowledge our three staff here today, Sam our Chief Executive, Raban our Programme Manager and David our UK Coordinator. The dedication and commitment you and all of SURF’s staff show, day in day out, often in such trying and challenging circumstances, is truly inspirational. SURF is nothing without you and we are truly privileged to work with you. Watching you work so tirelessly to transform the lives of so many people who have suffered so much is truly humbling. The true impact of your work will perhaps never be known, but it is immeasurable.

Samantha Hunt MBS, SURF's Chair, with the SURF Rwanda Team
Samantha Hunt MBS, SURF’s Chair, with the SURF Rwanda Team

Working collectively, donors, trustees and staff have made SURF what it is. As individuals we cannot change the entire world, but we can certainly change the entire world of other individuals. And this is what you have done for countless individuals in Rwanda.

And I think it only fitting to end this speech by honouring the memory of the innocent souls who perished in the genocide and acknowledging the bravery of those who survived. Their courage, their resilience, their dignity and will to survive and to strive for a country where this never happens again, is an inspiration to us all. The survivors show us the very best of what it means to be human. We honour and salute you. And we at SURF vow to never forsake you!

Here’s to the next 25 years!

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