From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 04 May 1996 20:51:38


                       RELIEF OFFICIALS SAY 
                          by Alexa Smith 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--Creating jobs for widows in Rwanda -- many of whom are 
supporting several orphans as well as their own children -- is the first 
step in restoring order to households and communities, according to relief 
workers there. 
     A year after Rwanda's violent upheaval, most nongovernmental agencies 
and especially church-based relief organizations are looking for ways to 
create employment so Rwanda's many displaced families can establish some 
degree of stability in their lives, putting the chaos and trauma of the 
past year behind them and forming new economic and emotional ties. 
     "It's hard to tend to psychological problems when you don't have food 
on the table or a roof over your head," said Ann Rall, just back from seven 
months as an Africare volunteer in Kigali.  Africare is a nonprofit 
organization designed to assist families and communities Africa-wide.  
     The Church World Service (CWS) program coordinator in Kigali agrees 
that work is a way to meet a number of needs -- from putting food on the 
table to having someone else to talk with. "The best approaches are moving 
in ... and letting people get involved in doing some work," says Rwandan 
Mary Balikungeri of CWS, one of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s conduits 
for getting aid into Rwanda. "In working together, there is time to talk 
among themselves." 
     "Sustainable development" is the oft-repeated term for what relief 
organizations are trying to do.  In Rwanda's largely agrarian economy, that 
means providing seed money for small-scale livestock operations and then 
selling animal waste as fertilizer.  It also means setting up cooperatives 
for widows to sell handmade items as well as homegrown vegetables. 
     "Catholic Relief Services (CRS) distributed food, cooking pots, 
blankets ... and that's fine," said CRS project manager Ann Smith in 
Kigali.  "But that's not a stable future for anyone.  How long can 
[outsiders] continue to bring food to a family? 
     "It's the most urgent need: how to feed children in a household," said 
Smith, noting that CRS is now focusing on training widows to generate 
income to help sustain the numbers of orphans many are taking in -- 
children of their dead or refugee brothers and sisters, their neighbors and 
friends.  "Local associations are trying to have investment at the local 
level ... selling tomatoes at the market, setting up hair salons.  
     "I don't know what the solution is," said Smith.  "It's a huge 
concern.  Are these families going to be in need of assistance forever, or 
is it possible to find sustainable solutions?" 
     Balikungeri says many families who take in children are already poor 
themselves.  CWS is running seminars for foster families to help family 
members understand the complexity of the transition to new family groups 
and what kind of responsibility it takes.  The reason for taking in 
children is simple, she said -- moral obligation. 
     But a deep fear among relief workers, according to Balikungeri, is 
that some families intend to exploit foster children as a way of getting 
extra money, drawing income subsidies promised by the government and 
qualifying for additional food and clothing from nongovernmental agencies. 
     "In a lot of the family situations children are not getting the 
attention they need," said Smith,  "Children need someone to play with, to 
talk with. ... It helps in some way."  
      But, she acknowledged, many grownups are too traumatized themselves 
to provide reliable emotional care for children. 
     Rall believes reestablishing structure in the society is the way to 
proceed right now.  "We hope people, in forming these bonds, will find ways 
of dealing with their emotional issues. ... 
     "A lot of people are still numb, not knowing what they feel or what 
direction their life is going in at this point.  But I also saw a lot of 
determination.  I can't emphasize enough how much bravery I saw --  a 
determination to go on with their lives, to rebuild their country.  Most 
people I knew were anxious to put the past behind them, and that has a 
positive side," said Rall.  "There is a real desire to have this kind of 
insanity stop. ... 
     "Maybe that is one of the good things that will come out of this 
disaster.  [People will say,] 'This is enough.  This has to stop.  We've 
got to find another way.'" 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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