As many of you already know, I took the difficult decision recently to step down as Chief Executive of SURF, that I announced in Rwanda in August. I shall be making way back to France from the UK and Rwanda, and moving on to new projects. An outgoing post by Françoise Lemagnen, Chief Executive, SURF.
I am very pleased to say that the work of SURF is in safe and capable hands for the future – as of 22nd September, Samuel Munderere will be taking over as SURF’s first ever Rwanda-based Chief Executive, joined by our tremendous team in both the UK and Rwanda.
I am privileged to have had the opportunity of leading SURF – it has been a very special one. With SURF team, I have been able to support survivors and the most vulnerable in Rwanda, through SURF’s programmes, in its advocacy work and in leading our transition for the future. This is about scale, creating impact and change at a broader level, but it is equally about the change that can be achieved in just one person’s life. That is why SURF is such a special organisation, in that it tends to the needs of individuals, who may fall out of larger programmes, as well as pursuing the bigger picture and initiatives that help survivors to better integrate into today’s Rwanda.
In the tremendous effort to rebuild Rwanda beyond ethnic lines, whilst victims and perpetrators live side by side in their rural, hilly communities, being a survivor is double-edged – survivors take strength from their identity but many are also challenged as a result of the pernicious effects of genocide 21 years later. These consequences still impact their livelihoods, their health, their economic means, their education and also those of their children and grandchildren – the second-generation survivors.
We achieved some very important milestones in 2014 and 2015, not least in highlighting the ongoing needs of survivors, in particular during the 20th anniversary of the genocide, in SURF’s remarkable work to address poverty reduction, women and girls issues, economic empowerment, mothers and their children born of rape, trauma counselling and justice. We have also made a step change in SURF’s strategy for us to support survivors and their local NGO representatives in further integrating and in working closely towards the Government of Rwanda’s social protection, justice, education and economic development objectives.
We have made immense progress in the educational and counselling work that we conduct with our partners Kanyarwanda, AVEGA, Solace Ministries and US NGO Foundation Rwanda, and we still have more to achieve, especially with the marginalised group of children born of rape and their mothers – I trust that you will all whole-heartedly support Foundation Rwanda and SURF’s forthcoming “Change Heroes” campaign to raise funds for the 2016 programme. We completed the WSEP-DfiD programme with AVEGA in March 2015, that has received an A+ external assessment for its provision of holistic support to nearly 19,000 widowed survivors and their dependants, in 15 out of 30 districts.
We are pleased to see the achievements of the Big Lottery programme, GWEP, that ends in November 2015, and the learnings from this and WSEP being fed into a new DfiD programme with AERG that was launched in July 2015. This £323,000 DFID-funded project “Empowering Vulnerable Young Survivors who have left Secondary School to Create, Secure and Sustain Employment” (ELE/Imbere Heza) will help 9,000 vulnerable people to improve their lives. Equally we have seen our work with AERG in entrepreneurship, counselling and legal support grow from strength to strength and being acknowledged as a great success, that has also shaped the new ELE programme.
A notable achievement was our work with local NGO partners in the call for action around international reparation to survivors and the subsequent MOU between the Government of Rwanda and the International Organisation for Migration in 2014, leading to a report into potential vehicles to reparation. At the time of my leaving, we still await the outcome, but are confident in the publication of the final report and the positive outcome for survivors, with the full support of the Government of Rwanda.
What SURF has seen in 2014 and 2015 and indeed over nearly twenty years, is survivors becoming stronger, growing beyond victimhood and rebuilding themselves to become highly active individuals and members of their communities. No one in Rwanda wants to see genocide happen again, and what is truly inspirational about survivors is their commitment to making this a reality, whilst they overcome their many personal challenges.
In relation to genocide prevention and genocide denial, I signed and contributed to the official complaint from the survivor perspective, to the BBC’s “Rwanda, the Untold Story”, led by Linda Melvern, with over 40 world specialists in justice and the Rwandan genocide, that I hope BBC Trustees will favourably decide upon when they meet later this month. This is such an important challenge to the history of the genocide, and one that concerns me deeply, as it does survivors. I will continue to back this, beyond my tenure as Chief Executive, if that is required of me.
I thank all of you for the support you have given to SURF during my time. I am grateful to the people I have met and worked with, for the donors who have so generously enabled SURF to carry out its mission and to our Rwandan partners, AVEGA Agahozo, AERG, Solace Ministries, IBUKA, Uyisenga N’manzi, Kanyarwanda, GAERG, Duhozanye, Dukundane Family, Barakabaho, who have, helped me and the team to stay on track in addressing the needs of survivors. I thank all those who support us in other ways, and our great volunteers. I thank SURF Trustees for guiding our work and my UK and Rwanda team, who are all hugely talented and fine people.
I am proud that I have been able to build on the important work initiated by my very able and committed predecessors, Mary Kayitesi-Blewitt, SURF Founder, and David Russell, and I thank them for their support.
Lastly I say “Murakoze” to the survivors I have met, who have shown me the true meaning of ‘resilience’ and just how much more can be achieved in rebuilding lives when a helping hand is given.
It is time to sign off. I wish my successor, Sam Munderere, and the fabulous SURF team, all the very, very best in the work ahead.