From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
JOBS FOR RWANDA'S WIDOWS IS KEY TO RECOVERY,
04 May 1996 20:51:38
95357 JOBS FOR RWANDA'S WIDOWS IS KEY TO RECOVERY,
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
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
"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 PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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