Sixteen years on, GAERG’s contribution to restoring the life of genocide survivors
Groupe des Ancient Etudiant Rescapees du Genocide (GAERG) is a non-government, non-profit organization of genocide survivors who graduated from universities, operating under Genocide survivors’ umbrella IBUKA.
“Our intention is getting together to preserve the memory of the genocide against Tutsi and restore families to overcome post-genocide consequences in order to have a world free of Genocide”
Members of the organization are grouped into families, with a father, a mother, and children as a mechanism of covering the gap of parents by enabling orphans to raise their peers.
They started as wanderers on the outskirts of the Rwandan society, traumatized and depressed by the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi that claimed their families.
Most of them orphaned by the Genocide, they had sustained physical and mental cuts.
Today, the same survivors have become responsible parents and citizens despite the sorrow that they have had no chance of a parent or an elder to tell them what is wrong or right.
“When our pioneers were starting GAERG in 2003, they knew it was our responsibility to repair social and economic fabrics that had been destroyed by the Genocide” Egide Gatari the president at GAERG said.
Gatari said that the organisation rose to the vision of the country that genocide survivors can play a more effective role in the sustainable development the government had set.
“But how do we do that? By preserving the memory of the genocide, enhancing the concept of family because genocide had deprived us of the family which is the most important social fabric of society”
He explained that when those were addressed, survivors were set for undergoing the economic transformation as the rest of the Rwandans.
Starting out with new families
The idea of families that had started with student survivor (AERG) in 1996 was important even for those who had started a new life after graduating from universities.
“I think without these families, we would become impossible people, failures in managing our lives and a burden to Rwandan society,” said Alphonse Nkuranga who later became the Executive Secretary of the body in 2007.
In 2003 graduates started an organization that would be made of parents and relatives as it was in AERG and called it GAERG.
“We could not live without families. The government was academic wise supporting us but somewhere somehow we needed a social mechanism to meet our concerns” Nkuranga said.
Nkuranga explained that as a family of university graduates, they embarked on sharing information about where to apply for a job.
“Our vision was to be intact all the time. But back then we had no capacity to always report to the office for a meeting or sharing opportunities, and the only communication tool was yahoo group mail” he said.
For Nkuranga, the family that started as an artificial thing has now gained natural bonds as felt amongst family members.
“I feel something wrong when people say our families are artificial because I found sincerity family members whether in marriage ceremonies or in sorrow moments of losing someone,” he said.
Fighting genocide ideology and denial
The executive secretary at the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) Dr Damascene Bizimana told this paper that GAERG has been very instrumental in backing the commission’s mission of fighting Genocide.
“To us as CNLG, having survivor young men and women who are working hard on their lives, is a great achievement of fighting Genocide because they are standing as a manifestation of survival,” he said.
Dr Bizimana added that GEARG championed commemoration of completely wiped out families which would have no people to commemorate them since all their family members were killed.
A family is completely wiped out when the parents and all their children were all killed in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
“It’s the initiative of the young survivors at GAERG who start commemorating the families that were completely wiped out. As CNLG we give them support in their noble cause and we applaud them for it” he said.
According to figures from GAERG, since 2009, they have identified 15,593 families whose 68,871 family members were completely wiped out during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Fidele Nsengiyaremye, the body’s executive secretary, said that the documentation of wiped out family was initiated to defeat genocide denial.
“The collection and preservation of this history is a sign of defeating denial,” he said.
Of the 15593 families that were wiped out, nearly 30 percent of them were enumerated in Karongi District Western Province and Nyamagabe in Southern Province.
GAERG is writing a comprehensive book and making a documentary film about the families that were completely wiped out during the genocide.
“We want the book and the documentary film to be out by April 2020 during Kwibuka26,” he said adding that they are also “developing a database for that will include the location of the wiped out families”
In Early October 2019, the Senate published a report on genocide denial and genocide, revealing that genocide the two evils had sharply declined within the country but rising abroad.
The figures showed that in 2006 there was much genocide denial in the county but were minimal in the new finding of this year.
During the publication of the report, the Executive Secretary at GAERG Fidele Nsengiyaremye proposed that genocide prevention should be a cross-cutting concern for all government and non-government organisations.
Dr Bizimana says that the young men and women at GAERG are very active in publishing pieces of literature that reveal facts about genocide and fighting denial.
“GAERG has been publishing several facts about the Genocide and that is important in minimizing denial,” he said in an interview with this magazine.
According to figures from the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), nearly 12 percent of Rwandans have mental depression.
The figures sharply rise to nearly 35 percent among genocide survivors.
In an effort to meet the challenge, GAERG opened a mental health centre in January 2019 called Aheza Healing and Carrier Centre located at Ntarama in Bugesera District.
While opening the healing centre, health Minister Diane Gashumba said the ministry looked forward to working with Aheza Healing and Carrier Center to curb mental health challenges across the country.
“We need the centre to boost our programmes in mental health to be more effective across the country,” she said.
Since 2017, GAERG in collaboration with survivors’ fund (SURF) has benefited 25 members include three factory firms that were given bigger amount through the G- Innovation Development Fund (GIDF) and 22 with entrepreneurial start-ups.
“The three who were given bigger funds depending on the size of their businesses and they pay 10 percent interests” according to Pascal Ndayambaje in charge of Business Development at GAERG.
Ndayambaje said that “those who were given the support through GIDF include a bread factory, flour making factory and an online services company”
The innovation fund to the 22 is given to small entrepreneurs.
“GAERG stands in as the collateral security for the small entrepreneurs who are starting from nothing and stay with them to enable them to raise the 10 per cent interest of the principal loan” Ndayambaje explained.
According to Ndayambaje, some have finished servicing the loans of which three want more loans.
“The three who want more loans will get it along with more five who applied for the support,” he said.
Regis Mugiraneza is a manager at Carl Group which owns a bread factory that makes bread from sweet potatoes.
“Late last year, I received Rwf7.5 million for the company’s factory. I had them machine operators but I needed installation, packaging, authorisation from a standards body and many more”
Since they started operations, they supply the sweet potato bread to more than 20 supermarkets in Kigali as they’re extending their factory to increase production and variety.
Samuel Mfitumukiza was a freelancer mechanic who used to move with his toolbox around Kigali to find a vehicle to fix.
“When I presented my business proposal to GAERG, I received a loan such that I can have a spare parts shop,” Mfitumukiza said.
Situated at Muhima in Kigali, Mfitumukiza is aiming at widening his business to become a garage.
GAERG has registered the Generation Innovation Development Fund (GIDF) at Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and is seeking a certificate from the Capital market.
“We want people to save as well as supporting each other through the fund”
Partners have joined patterns
From Government institutions through non-profit organisations to the private sector, survivors have been paid attention to, according to Egide Gatali the body’s president.
“We thank the government from the bottom of our hearts from President Paul Kagame to the lowest levels of leadership for their support of and making survivors’ concerns a priority”
We thank the Ministry of Justice and its affiliated institutions including CNLG who support us in seeking justice for genocide survivors
We also thank local government ministry and its affiliations such as FARG which has provided academic supported to genocide survivors, improving both social and economic affairs of survivors
The Ministry of Health and Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) has been very instrumental in survivors’ health and particularly mental health. A lot of surveys have been conducted and support to meet depression challenges.
Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) is the custodians of the non-profit organisation have been supporting us to achieve our goals.
We highly appreciated the Rwanda Development Board for its various support to our organization.
When we thought of a mental health centre, Bugesera District came out to support us. We thank the district where the Aheza Healing and Carrier Centre is located. We as well thank our incredible sponsor Energy Utility Coorporation Limited (EUCL) who supported the building of the above said Center.
We cannot find the right words to express our thanks to Imbuto Foundation, Aegis Trus, European Grass root Anti-racism Movement, the Survivors’ Fund (SURF), student survivors’ association (AERG), women survivors association (AVEGA) and many more.
We thank Bank of Kigali (BK), COGEBANK, transport agencies and several individuals for their financial support.
According to Nsengiyaremye the executive secretary at GAERG, genocide survivors are still regarded just like the rest of Rwandans in various aspects.
“The people in the communities where survivors live disregard several facts about survivors including the fact that they are demoralised with family issues”
Nsengiyaramye said that challenges such as unemployment are seen in general to the public, forgetting that it can be very detrimental to a genocide survivor.
“Society thinks of unemployment as a challenge in general but, imagine, a genocide survivor without a job, they have no parents or relatives to go to and no home to sleep and wait for opportunities,” he said.
He added that “we’re facing a big challenge in financial capacity because there’s a lot to do than there is the capacity to do”
Another challenge Nsengiyaremye stressed is genocide denial, the last step in genocide execution.
“Genocide denial does not only add assault to injuries sustained by survivors but also confuses people who would be willing to support survivors”
“Supporters start doubting if the people they’re supporting are really the survivors who deserve the support” Nsengiyaremye explained.
But despite the challenges, GAERG and other survivors’ organisations under Ibuka have stood the test of time for the last 16 years and are optimistic about the future of survivors.
“Our core values are integrity, excellence, innovation in a challenging world, and collaboration. These are values that have made us who we are and will become who we want to be”