Murakaza neza to the Southern Province! My name is Mukamusana Rose, and I am the newly-appointed head coordinator of the southern branch of AVEGA.
Before I took this position of coordinator, I was working in Social Services at the national offices of AVEGA in Kigali. I am so happy to be working as a coordinator now in the field of social assistance. It is what I was trained to do, and for me it is also a calling. It may be difficult work at times, but I believe in the structures of the work of AVEGA. Our organization has a strong and powerful vision.
I am also so impressed with the people of the south. They truly want change, and they are willing to work for it. Where there are problems for them, there are also solutions. Today, there is grave poverty, but I believe that in time there will be big change.
If you have questions, comments, or would like to help, contact me at (+250) 788 426 722 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AVEGA Southern Region is a new branch of AVEGA Agahozo. In May 2011, AVEGA continued its campaign to decentralize operations in order to bring our work closer to our beneficiaries. We opened this newest office in the town of Nyanza, the seat of government for the Southern Province.
We are still a small office, with only two permanent staff: the coordinator and the legal officer. Nonetheless, we administer many programs in the Southern Region, a number of which began as initiatives through the national office many years ago.
We serve 9,832 members and beneficiaries living in the eight southern districts
Like the other AVEGA offices, we work within the multi-dimensional structure of AVEGA’s mission to improve the quality of every aspect of life of its members. We sustain programs in:
- Psycho-social and Medical Care
- Socio-Economic Development
- Advocacy, Justice, and Information
Psychosocial and Medical Care
We seek to serve the medical and psychological needs of our members and beneficiaries, who are often among the most vulnerable members of their communities. All have lost husbands and other family members, many have contracted HIV/AIDS as a result of rape during the genocide, and almost all experienced or witnessed brutal violence in 1994. This has left many with both physical and mental wounds.
Psycho-social assistance was one of the first projects AVEGA began in the southern district. In 1997, we began training community organizers who could act as local trauma counselors in each district.
AVEGA South currently has 142 trained psycho-social counselors, approximately 70 of whom are currently active. These counselors receive members for individual counseling and also facilitate group counseling sessions. They are particularly active during the 100-day period of commemoration and mourning each year. AVEGA also provides medical resources for the most serious trauma cases.
Our initiatives related to physical health are mostly education-based. They are especially targeted towards our HIV+ members, the traumatized, and the infirm. In particular, we administer behavioral-change trainings for women living with HIV/AIDS, and conduct advocacy on behalf of those in need of medicines or anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs).
Poverty deepens the physical and psychological problems that burden AVEGA members and beneficiaries. For this reason, AVEGA Southern Region encourages its members to form associations with each other for purposes of socio-economic development. Grouping together requires few resources but can deliver both social and economic benefits. Though the idea of working in a group requires a significant change of mentality, we work with our members to encourage them to take that step towards leaving poverty.
The south is home to some of the poorest areas of Rwanda, and thus its people confront special challenges. In particular, housing remains a serious problem. Many women are homeless, and others live with insufficient shelter. During the genocide of 1994, property was destroyed on a vast scale. In the aftermath of the genocide, housing was rebuilt hastily against a background instability and civil war. AVEGA worked to build better housing for its women in the south in 1996.
However, because of the poverty of the region in general and of female survivors in particular, the upkeep of these houses has been inadequate. AVEGA Southern Region hopes to better address this problem of shelter as it moves forward, gaining in capacity and financing. To help, you can write a note with your donation here.
Advocacy, Justice and Information
The members and beneficiaries of AVEGA Agahozo are also aided by various programs that engage in advocacy, access to justice, and awareness-raising.
AVEGA recognizes the importance of making its members and their needs known to the local authorities, who can offer community support to our women. Local officials can offer security, bring our economic associations business, and bring shelter to our homeless members, which is why advocacy is such a critical part of our work.
Legal assistance is also a cornerstone of the work of AVEGA Southern Region. Many rural women are unaware of their political and economic rights, particularly as survivors. Moreover, many of our members lack the legal knowledge to support their claims of abuse in court, claims that include theft of property, inability to reclaim property lost during the genocide, or physical assault.
For this reason, AVEGA Southern Region works through the AVEGA committee structure, choosing the president of each district’s AVEGA committee to come to Nyanza for training as paralegals. With this training, our women can accompany members to court, offer legal advice on the ground, and liaise with local authorities on behalf of AVEGA. The training allows our women to be educated about issues that are traditionally a male-dominated domain. Since this training program began in the South last year, we have trained 112 women as paralegals.
Learn about some of our projects
The name of the Duhozanye association truly describes the role it plays in its members’ lives. It means “We comfort each other,” and the association does indeed serve a valuable emotional and social purpose for the 16 AVEGA women.
Its purpose is also economic, but the women acknowledge that the money they make from cultivating their communal farm together is less significant to them than the support they receive from each other at their weekly meetings.
Nonetheless, the women hope to save enough to expand their small field. In the meantime, they use the money they receive from selling their crops of cassava and groundnuts to rent the field, buy sowing seeds, and to ensure that none among them goes without food, clothing, or school fees for their children.
They do gain a small profit from their work, however, particularly from their cassava sales. Cassava is a staple of the local diet and therefore in constant demand; it also does well resisting the periodic droughts and consistent water shortages that trouble the region, as do the groundnuts the women have chosen to cultivate.
Meet another AVEGA association that highlights the role we play as a benefactor to many genocide orphans, in addition to our widow-members. After the genocide, huge numbers of children were left without parents, and young boys and girls became the heads of their own households. This role prevented many from accessing proper education, while they worked so their younger siblings could go to school.
To support them economically, AVEGA encourages many of these orphan heads-of-households to group themselves in associations. One such association is Umwuga Sewing, which operates a small workshop in Nyanza.
Here, 16 orphans sew daily, charging by the piece and occasionally receiving bulk orders for school uniforms. AVEGA helped them begin financially in October 2010, buying them eight sewing machines and paying the training-center fees of the association president at a district vocational school.
Along with the treasurer, secretary, and counselor, this president assures that each member receives money for the work he or she does, while the association takes a percentage for the association’s bank account, whose funds go towards rent, sewing machine upkeep, and small dividends for the members.
The president, MUSHIMIYIMANA Julienne, uses her money to support her two younger sisters currently enrolled in secondary school.
The association is struggling financially, however, with difficulties finding a market. They rely on AVEGA to help them be known to local authorities to receive the associated benefits of official recognition.
A group of AVEGA members have formed an association which conducts an innovative business plan in one isolated southern district. Twisungane Huye raises bees for honey production.
The 24-member association began its work in 2007, when a group of Agronomy students from the National University in Butare found them through the district’s agronomist and offered them training along with approximately US$ 1,300 to begin a beekeeping operation. They are well suited to the work, which requires little physical strength from women who are often HIV+, old, or infirm.
The association meets each Saturday morning. As they’ve gained experience and expertise, they have been able to expand their production. They gather bees from the forest, then collect them in one of the 32 hives they maintain in two different locations.
They’ve gained enough money to buy a special pump with which to extract the honey, which they then sell at approximately US$3 per kilogram. The women operate in a special niche in the market, as Rwandan forest honey is known for its quality and medicinal properties.
Each harvest, the women collect the money they’ve made into a common account at the Banque Populaire Rwandaise, which they use to buy supplies like mesh-covered bee hats for protection. There is also usually enough for shares to be returned to each woman member.
Though proud of their work and successes, and full of hope for the future, the women still struggle with issues of funding and security. Forest honey is by definition difficult to protect from thieves, while locals kill the bees they find troubling their homes. They also lack the funds to expand their business significantly.
With a small contribution, they believe they could make dramatic improvements, adding second tiers to their modern hives to prevent the bees from consuming the honey and buying additional protective clothing to prevent stings. Click here to write a note along with your donation to assist the Twisungane Huye association.