Like so many survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Catherine suffered unspeakable tragedies. But as survivor, Catherine resolved to keep a positive outlook on live and turn her bad experiences into something useful. She decided to dedicate her life to helping traumatized members of her community. Catherine lives in Ndera, a mostly rural village on the just on the outskirts of the capital, Kigali. Despite all her good intentions, Catherine knew she could not do much without training in counselling and handling trauma cases.
So she was very interested when Global Communities Rwanda and its partner organization Association of Rwandan Trauma Counselors (ARCT) - Ruhuka launched a program to train Community Psychosocial Workers (CPW). CPWs are volunteer counselors who work at the community level. Through the program they are trained to provide individual, group and family counseling and sensitize people on topics like grief, mourning, sexually-based gender violence (SBGV) and trauma. Catherine enrolled in the program and after finishing her training, immediately began working in her community. As CPW, Catherine's goal is to help those she counsels improve their communication and coping skills; reduce the impact of stressful events and situations; and improve their quality of life
Through the Higa Ubeho program (“Be determined and live” in Kinyarwanda) Catherine is now one of the 1355 CPWs trained in 20 districts of Rwanda to support their respective communities. According to Genevieve, a counselor at Global Communities, psycho-social services have also helped the CPWs reflect and improve on their own lives.
Through her work as a CPW, Catherine has also developed the skills and confidence to help resolve conflicts and unite broken families and is viewed as a respected leader within her community.
The land was aromatic with plant life – unique to the species and the particular season. The fragrance of the flowering plants and the threat of showers mingled with the vaporous effects of aging cabbage and the repetitive buzz of insect life. We climbed up a dirt road, then followed a narrow path towards a sloping mountainside. Around a kitchen garden, we met the staff from Global Communities and partner organizations along with women from the community, all eagerly waiting to show us what they had learned and accomplished.
For the families and farmers who lived in these hills, you learned from example. That was the way in this poor area of Rwanda. Here at the Farmer Field School, high above a lake, it was a school without walls. There were different types of gardens, planted with a variety of crops to determine the optimum yields and learn what will produce best for each individual farmer and family. The bygone sounds of the shovel and spade, and the industry that reaped results for future generations, echoed in the background.
He was wearing bright yellow pants and a beige polo shirt, the logo of the sponsoring organizations etched in the front. He was our guide, a local resident, trained by Global Communities to be an agronomist serving his neighbors and as a by-product, teaching the visitors about subsistence farming on the minuscule plots they lived on. He knew everyone associated with the program, from the staff to the local farmers and families. He showed me why certain crops grew better in one type of garden, with less pest infestation and more water retention than the other two garden types. Maize works well with the elevated kitchen gardens. Cabbage works better with sunken plots. He demonstrated the importance of judiciously using and reclaiming water which led to larger yields. Irish potatoes, greens, carrots and a variety of crops produced in enough numbers could improve each family’s diet.
Through his training and the implementation of the program, he gave his community the chance to grow healthier foods and improve nutrition. His style was based on simple experimentation – helping farmers further improve their understanding of the relationships between land, nature and crops. More output, more food and less hunger. Simple. He was trained and now he trained his neighbors throughout these valleys and hills. Despite the stark conditions of daily life, he knew he was making a change for the better.
With the hum of activity around us, he articulated a clear overview of the kitchen garden, sunken beds, container garden, zaypits, mandala gardens, double deck beds, and so forth. I went to the watering hole that fed the gardens and pulled out my camera. He asked if he could use it, and I gave it to him. He took dozens of snapshots of me talking with the local women, the staff and the representative of the Rwandan government. I never saw a hint of emotion until I softly mentioned to him that the land he worked was part of his spirit. Then, just the faint line of a smile appeared.
In my time with the gentle agronomist, I learned the benefits and limitations of each garden, the uses of water and nutrition through his common sense approach. No wasted moves or words. We had the opportunity to eat the produce that the gardens generated. We talked more and he took more pictures. The demands of time drifted in; I had to move on to my next destination. We shook hands. He was getting closer to his destination and his passion was on full display. He had to go. There was another local community to teach, to check on and more land to dig.
“Boaz was born prematurely, we couldn't afford to care for him,” explains his Aunt. For three months, he was kept in an incubator, while his mother remained in critical condition. When she died, the father was left with two children (including Boaz) and a large debt. “We were advised to feed him powdered milk which cost 8,500 RWF ($12.50 US) per tin. But we were unemployed. We couldn't afford this” explains the father.
At the time, the family sought help from the local authorities who gave them admission papers for the nearby orphanage, Orphelinat Noel de Nyundo (ONN). Seeing no other alternative, in 2011, the family placed the child in the institution. Though the family continued to visit Boaz and monitored his well-being. “We would visit him on weekends,” says his Aunt. “If I couldn’t go, then my mother would visit, or his father or other family member would.”
Boaz’ grandmother was quick to say “when Boaz was 18 months, I felt like coming to the orphanage to take him back home… but when I came to the orphanage the nurses advised me to wait until he was at least 2 years”. His family understood the negative impact of institutional care and wanted him to move out of the institution as soon as possible.
Following a series of assessments, preparatory meetings, and home visits, the team of Social Workers and Psychologists confirmed the readiness of the family to receive Boaz and helped to prepare him for reintegration. Boaz is now fully reintegrated with the Father and Aunt and enjoying the love and warmth of the family. The placement is rated as highly successful by the Social Workers and Psychologists.
The Ishema Mu Muryango (IMM) Program, implemented by Global Communities, is working to safely and sustainably reintegrate children like Boaz into families and communities. He is one of 160 children who have since been safely reunited with his birth family since the program began in April 2013.
 Not his real name.
 Orphelinat is the French term for orphanage.
“I used to visit Joe* in the orphanage but every time I visited, he was always sad and quiet, and he had difficulty walking” Joe’s grandmother explained. Joe’s mother died during his birth, and he was placed in an orphanage just five days after he born. Having lived nearly all of his life in the orphanage, and with limited interactions outside of the institution, the types of developmental delays experienced by Joe are common.
The Ishema Mu Muryango (IMM) Program, implemented by Global Communities, has observed many cases like Joe’s since they began in April 2013. To date, the program has safely reintegrated 160 children living in institutions into families and communities.
The reintegration process, in Joe’s case, was very challenging. Limited information in his file and limited knowledge of the family’s whereabouts presented major obstacles to the Social Workers and Psychologists in IMM. However, after meeting with the family and explaining the factors contributing to Joe’s developmental delays, his grandmother was keen to bring him to stay with her. Joe’s grandfather was also determined to give him a better life. “For as long as I am alive, I will make sure Joe receives care, goes to school and gets the best education I can possibly afford.”
Preparing the family and child for reintegration was made much easier due to the existing relationship established through the grandmother’s visits to the institution, and the eagerness of the grandparents to welcome him into their home.
Three months after reintegration, the IMM staff visited the family and found that Joe was enrolled in a nursery school and was able to move, play, and interact well with both children and adults. There were no signs of the previously observed developmental delays. His grandmother confirmed the transformation, “His behavior has really improved, he can greet us when he comes from school, pray before he eats, and walks to and from school on his own. When he is hungry, he knows how to ask for, or find, food”.
Through the experience of a normal family and community life, Joe is thriving. The placement is rated as highly successful by the Social Workers and Psychologists.
* Not his real name.
Muhirwa means “lucky one,” and 25-year-old Olive Murikatete thinks it is an appropriate name for her three-year-old daughter. Olive lives inGatare Cell, Muhanga District– 15 km outside of the capital city of Kigali. Although not far from the capital in terms of distance, the life she and her family lead in the village where they reside is far from the urban lifestyle. She and her husband work as part-time farmers and run a small kiosk where they sell household items to neighbors and others in their small community. Although, Olive studied hospitality and completed a training course when she was younger, life in village means that employment and educational opportunities are limited. As a student Olive did okay, but she did not complete her last two years of secondary school – something that she regrets to this day. When she gave birth to her daughter she decided she would do everything she could in her power to help her succeed. So when she heard about the playgroup being organized for children under 5 from her neighbors, she was very interested.
Playgroups were established under the USAID Higa Ubeho program to help promote childhood development. The playgroups are open to all children under 5, but were created to target children from poor, rural areas and orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) who have limited learning opportunities. Young children of poor families, especially those affected by HIV and AIDS, can be isolated, under-stimulated and slow to learn. The playgroup activities are designed to engage the children and help develop their social, motor, language and cognitive thinking skills. The children also learn to build relationships with others. To date, 60 playgroups have been created across 13 districts of Rwanda.
According to Jane Mutoni, who oversees OVC Care and Support for the USAID Higa Ubeho, “Each of these children comes from a difficult situation at home. You see kids in these situations not happy and not learning anything. We help teach them to play, and get the
parents involved. We use games and activities that are traditional in our culture, so it feels natural for them. The parents can’t afford to put them in nursery school, so we do activities that get them learning while playing and being active. This stimulates them, prepares them for school, and makes them happy.”
Olive has been bringing her daughter, Muhirwa, to the playgroup in her village for almost a year now and she has seen a big difference in her behavior and her ability to learn. Olive explains that she used to be shy and did not like to interact with other children. Now she is more expressive and can easily play with others. She has also learned a tremendous amount, says Olive. She has learned songs, rhymes, games and traditional stories, which she is eager to share with neighbouring children and her parents at home.
Olive also explains that she has learned lot herself. Each week she brings Muhirwa to the playgroup and she stays and watches the activities and often participates. In this way, she can reinforce what Muhirwa is learning and interact with her at home singing the songs they have learned together. “It’s the best way to prepare the children for school,” says Olive.
As word has spread, most of Olive’s neighbors have started bringing their children to the playgroup as well. Some of its original members have already left the group and joined pre-primary school. Now the group has 104 children, and hopes to recruit more, according to Judith Cyuzuzo, a member of a partner organization in the district.
Olive explains that some parents came initially because they thought they would get something additional from the program, like a donation or scholarship. As parents kept on attending, they soon realized how beneficial the activities were for the children and they have kept their children in the playgroup.
As for Olive, she is committed to helping Muhirwa to live up to her name and she knows playgroups offer the first step for a solid education foundation.
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