My name is Mary Kayitesi Blewitt, and I am the founder and director of Survivors Fund (SURF). In April 1994, Rwanda suffered one of the most concentrated acts of genocide in human history. Up to a million people were massacred in just one hundred days.
Among those slaughtered were almost all my relatives: fifty members of my family. As I was out of the country when the genocide started, I escaped the massacre. Had I been in Rwanda I would certainly be a widow, or dead, by now. The only reason I can think I was spared, is so that I could live on to help others like me who survived. So when I returned to the UK after eight months working as a volunteer for the Ministry of Rehabilitation in Rwanda, working to reunite families and search for the dead, I set up the SURF. I felt a duty to help my people, a duty all the more urgent for the hundreds of survivors in the UK who had no support whatsoever.
SURF aids and assists survivors not only in the UK, but by working with grassroots organizations like AVEGA, in Rwanda too. But this is just a small part of our remit. We also ensure that the memories of the genocide are kept alive and that the victims are never forgotten - especially those still living with the legacy eleven years on.
The theme of our work this year is “Survival Against the Odds.” In July, we published a book of testimonies of survivors of the genocide, a vital part of our work as we want as many people as possible to hear the voices of survivors. Voices that tell the whole truth, that warn us of what man is capable of, that remind us of the suffering that must never again be permitted to happen to anyone, anywhere in the world. In light of events in Darfur, and other regions around the world, this is more important than ever.
Many of the testimonies we included were of women raped during the genocide. They do not make it easy reading. Many of these women, as a result of the rape, are now HIV positive. One, Clare Alphonsina, died during the editing of the book from an AIDS related illness. Since the traditional Gaçaca process has been reintroduced in Rwanda, those that used sexual violence as a weapon of war are being released into the community. Not only can these women survivors never escape the past, but they live in a state of perpetual insecurity. Every day they must battle depression, poverty, economic hardship and HIV/AIDS. Every day they are forced to confront the people who intended, planned and, to a grave extent, executed them. In all 25,000 women survivors were deliberately infected by HIV positive men during the genocide, and they are being left to deal with the trauma and stigma of being HIV positive without support.
The issues I would like to raise are:
1. What more can we do to engage the international community to secure antiretroviral treatment for the women survivors of the genocide? The UK’s Department of International Development have donated £4.25 million to support treatment for 2,500 women but there are 20,000 others still needing support.
2. What can we do to support the women survivors who now have to live and face up to the perpetrators of the genocide, as those that raped them and killed their families return to their villages following release through Gaçaca?
Get our weekly email