Solidarity groups in Rwanda

Ethnic ConflictHIV and AIDSSexual Health

by Mukarugira Mediatrice.

The work of Moucecore in Rwanda in establishing solidarity groups was a response to the huge needs after the genocide. Now their experience in helping children rebuild their lives is of huge benefit to those who are orphaned as a result of AIDS. Their experiences can provide a great encouragement to others who are facing similar challenges.

In Rwanda there were no orphans before the genocide. In our culture, children belong to the extended family and the whole community. Whenever one or both parents die, the extended family would help the child. If a woman dies, the grandparents or aunties will take care of the children. If a man dies, the extended family will support the orphans and widow. Neighbours usually help look after and protect their home. In short, children belong to the whole community.

After the genocide in Rwanda, communities faced the challenge of too many orphans. In most cases, children were left with no relatives. These children faced a lot of problems. Their homes were often destroyed and they had younger brothers and sisters to care for. They had to cope with the trauma of losing loved ones and sometimes witnessing their death. They were afraid of everyone because it was hard to trust anybody after seeing what happened. Their situation was hopeless. Most had to leave school to care for younger children and find food. Many of them did not know where to start.

Moucecore, a Christian organisation in Rwanda, therefore began to work with churches. It mobilised members to understand the church’s responsibility to show the love of God. Jesus cares very much about how we help the poor (James 1:27). Christians formed groups to help widows and orphans, in particular.

Solidarity groups

Groups of people within the churches came together to solve their problems. There are many things which a group can achieve that one person cannot do alone. Group members commit themselves to working to help each other and the poor. They are motivated by Moucecore’s slogan: ‘change and change others.’

Groups base their work on four key points:

  • transforming themselves in spirit, mind, and body
    working in unity
  • practical action to help each other
  • working together to help others.

After seeing their work, often many other people join the group. Later, the existing group may help start a new one that operates in the same way.

Taking up community responsibilities 

In 1996 in Kiramurunzi, 16 people and their pastor formed a group called Ubumwe bw’abarokore (Unity of believers). Before taking practical action, members came together to ask forgiveness from each other after the hard time of genocide and war. Group members who had taken other people’s property returned it.

Members began to trust each other. Then they began to consider the challenging issues of orphans, widows, the disabled and the elderly.

Members set these goals:

  • to help the victims of genocide overcome their many problems
  • to promote unity and reconciliation and restore broken relationships
  • to share the power of the gospel among the Christian community
  • to help poor people become self-supporting, building their self-esteem in the process.

The number of members quickly grew from 16 to 153 people, in six small groups. The groups have so far helped 184 child-headed households and poor widows to become self-supporting. Thirteen of the orphans have now married. Members do everything a family would do at this time – building a house, providing the dowry, preparing for the wedding ceremony and counselling the young couple.

Through the unity and work of the Christian believers in these solidarity groups, many orphans like Mushime and Jean de Dieu (see case studies) have been helped.

Heavy burdens become light when others share in carrying them. The orphans are not lonely any more but have a loving family in their community that understands and cares for them.

Mukarugira Mediatrice is the assistant project manager of the child holistic development programme of Moucecore, Rwanda. Address: Moucecore, BP 2540, Kigali, Rwanda. 

Case study: A new life for Jean de Dieu

Ngabonziza Jean de Dieu lost both his parents in 1994 when he was 12 years old. After the war, he returned from the refugee camps and was taken in by his aunt who was very poor. Later, Jean de Dieu left for Kigali where he worked as a houseboy. There he heard of the group Ubumwe bw’abarokore in his community and how it helped orphans. He returned home and joined the group. It helped him build a house, taught him how to farm and fence his land and gave him a cow to use as a dowry when he married. 

Jean de Dieu is now a self-sufficient farmer with two cows. His family is happy and helping others to break the bonds of poverty.

Case study: Mushime offered hope

Mushime Jean has three brothers and a sister. The children now live with their 80-year-old grandmother and aunt, who has mental problems. The rest of his family was killed during the genocide. Ubumwe bw’abarokore found them when they were totally desperate. It sent his older brother, Paul, back to secondary school and paid for his education. It planted a banana plantation and helped the family cultivate their land. It bought a bicycle for Mushime so he could transport people and produce, providing a small income for their household.

The family is now well settled. Paul has finished school and is now helping his younger brothers and sister. Mushime is studying mechanics, while his young brothers and sister are in primary school. Now the family has dreams for the future.