The Counselling and Legal Helpline is a groundbreaking project set up by AERG (Student Survivors) in partnership with SURF, as a result of the increasing need for young survivors to access legal advice and counseling support.
Developed and launched thanks to a grant from Inspire!Africa, the helpline is the first of its kind developed for survivor specific support in Rwanda. By establishing a free line, (5476), this innovative programme is enabling young survivors to access what they need most in times of crisis – someone to talk to about their challenges, from wherever they are in the country.
A large majority of young survivors still suffer from mental health issues as a result of the genocide, but few mechanisms are in place to provide support. Aside from immense personal losses and psychological suffering, the genocide also caused substantive material damage to survivors. Today, thousands of young people are in the midst of legal battles to retrieve stolen property or land, which once belonged to their family. With little knowledge of the legal system and limited resources to pay lawyers, many survivors still require a legal education to know their rights and how to enforce them.
Since its launch in August 2013, the helpline has received over 246 calls, directly supporting 167 clients to understand and make use of their legal rights, and begin to resolve their trauma. Sensitisation workshops were held to advertise the helpline, and teach the process of resolving cases and recognise symptoms of trauma. Through these outreach visits, the helpline has reached over 8,000 students.
One beneficiary that called the helpline for counselling exclaimed, “The first time I called, I was sad and crying. After I ended the call, I felt strong and comforted. It was very comforting to know that I could call and hear patience and support on the other end of the line.”
More effort is being made to raise awareness in Rwanda, and to ensure that young survivors are both aware and comfortable using the service. This small and innovative project has the the potential to reach thousands of more vulnerable survivors, building on the successes and experience gained in its first 10 months of operation.
The initial funding on the Helpline is now coming to an end, but we’re seeking to access further support so that AERG and SURF can continue to provide such a unique and valued service to young survivors in Rwanda.