Rwanda Gift for Life
It is now many years since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 which killed up to one million Tutsis. For many survivors the crisis continues. A substantial number of the women who were raped were infected with HIV and are now living with AIDS. A 2004 study* exposed the dire situation that many of these women confront.
Too sick and traumatized to know that anti-retroviral medication, the life-extending treatment for AIDS, is available, too distraught to send their children to school, many are very ill, hungry and unable to care for their children. Rwanda Gift for Life was established in the U.S. to ensure that women can access free anti-retrovirals provided by government clinics, that they receive trauma counseling, enjoy a balanced, nutritious diet, that their children have the materials and clothes needed to attend school, and that they live in decent housing. Once they regain their physical and emotional health and well-being, the next phase is a defining one for the program: ensuring income security.
RGFL has been supporting 33 women and their 75 children. Without exception, the participants in our program have regained their health, seen their CD4 counts rise dramatically (the blood test which shows the status of their immune systems), gained a generally more positive view of their futures, and have begun to establish their own income generating activities. One association of 13 women in a rural area in Gitarama province set up a boarding house for boys attending the nearby secondary school as well as a cassava processing business; another association in Butare runs a farm stall in the local market and is developing businesses such as mushroom growing and selling dried beans which are bought in the plentiful season, stored and sold when they are scarce.
While RGFL continues to support the quest for economic independence for the women currently on the program, it is expanding its work to partner with community-based organizations to support the women already in our program as well as include many more women in similar circumstance living in the rural areas.
In the words of Francoise:
“I don’t know how to express the effect that RGFL has had on my life: in a few words, I was dead and it has brought me back to life. I no longer feel traumatized because I can talk with the other beneficiaries. Since my living situation is much improved, I have nothing to worry about. I would like to add a thank you to the donors to Rwanda Gift for Life for the precious help they have given us. May God grant them many blessings.”
“My life improved thanks to assistance from Rwanda Gift for Life. I was laid off from my job as a civil servant, and my mother got cancer and died. I found myself penniless. I was sickly as well because I began to suffer from opportunistic diseases because of my poor living conditions. Then I enrolled in the program and became hopeful again. I could support myself and I was strong enough to work. My CD4 counts have risen and are normal. I was able to start up a small business in the local market and I earn a bit of money even if it currently very difficult to find customers. I thank the donors and those who started RGFL for their generosity toward strangers. They got us out of a very bad situation and even when the project ends, the result of their work will continue to be seen.”
* “Broken Bodies, Torn Spirits” (2004) (African Rights, Kigali. 2004)