Spark MicroGrants: Huye, Rwanda
Widows of genocide and wives of its perpetrators come together (Ubutwale Bwo Kubaho Cooperative of Women in Rwanda)
Huye, a district populated with tens of thousands of students attending Rwanda’s National University, is also home to an association of women who are widows of the genocide and wives of genocide perpetrators. The Unity and Reconciliation club at the National University works with the group of 1,701 women. The women are active in cultivating their land, making soap and other small money making ventures. Members of the association come together for lectures and problem solving sessions. They often come up with good ideas to solve the problems they face but have little support to implement them.
Since Spring 2010 SIT has been visiting the cooperative with its students. The spring as well as the fall group of this year have both praised the visit to the women as one of the most educational, insightful and inspirational experience throughout their study abroad experience.
In July Stefanie Pollender, Academic Director of the SIT program in Rwanda, was contacted by Spark MicroGrants with the request to assist with identifying a small community for a new project. With no hesitation the women's cooperative was identified.
In August, 2010, Kamanzi Moses (President of the Unity and Reconciliation Club who has been escorting SIT students to the village) has started working with the women to give them the opportunity of a MicroGrant. A MicroGrant is a small grant used for community-led social sector initiatives. Spark MicroGrants (sparkmicrogrants.org) is leading the MicroGrant initiative and testing out the model in Rwanda, so far seeing incredible results. Spark is a new initiative of Community Lab, a NYC based NGO.
The women in Huye have a strong communal mentality - yet it is not rooted in a lifetime of community living as in other regions of the world. For these women it is in the last fifteen years that they transformed from a group that detested each other, whose husbands were killing each other, killing their friends and children and forcing them to flee their homes. The resonance of the genocide is ever present, especially in families where husbands, sons and daughters are gone, orphans compromise new children and where ‘home’ is a new small plot of land. In the midst of this, these women have created a community and remarkably chosen positivity and unity to guide it.
Most of the women grow vegetables and starches on their land, which helps to feed them and their children. Some have tried to start small businesses with micro-loans but they often run into problems paying them back. One woman explained that when they have to pay school fees for their kids and buy food, they don’t have enough and they take from their business and the loan. Aid should be focused on resourcing women like these. Moses visits the women often and advises them on projects. Even before we discussed holding a MicroGrant competition for the women, he brought up the problem that aid groups usually go into communities and tell them what to do. He explained that this happened in another community and the project was not successful. Moses is helping to facilitate a MicroGrant competition for $3000 to allow the women to implement and try one of their projects.
We need help raising these funds. Please support their project and donate today! Through this fundraising initiative SIT is hoping to give back to the women for their time and hospitality they offered to all students.