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Supporting women survivors

17 October 2005
Dear friends and sisters,
 
This is my first entry on the “women making a difference” blog as I have been so busy of late organising our trip to Rwanda. I apologise for not having not had the chance to read fully your entries, though having scanned them to see what issues are being raised, I am reassured that I am not alone in tackling such complex and at times traumatic matter in the work that we undertake.
 
Also, I take comfort in the fact that I am not alone finding it difficult to make the time that I wish I had for this project due to work commitments. Though, I share in the belief that this is an important and potentially vital project that can make a significant difference to all our work through the sharing of experience and expertise.
 
So let me take this opportunity to tell you more about the project that we are currently working on, which is taking a small group of UK-based individuals to Rwanda for the first time. The trip is under the auspices of the organisation I helped set-up and run, the Rwandan Survivors Fund, which works to represent and support survivors of the genocide.
 
The trip will give our stakeholders – including donors, partners and trustees - a unique opportunity to see first hand the work that we undertake. In my view, there is nothing comparable to first-hand experience. Literally “seeing is believing” when it comes to understanding the genocide, and its aftermath.
 
The weeklong visit is the first time that we has organised a trip in an official capacity to Rwanda. Thus, it has been a mammoth task in pulling it all together. Participants will get the opportunity to meet many survivors, in particular widows and orphans.  They will get to visit health clinics that SURF supports, as well as co-operative ventures. We will visit houses, as well as mass graves, built by SURF money.
 
The highlight of our visit will be the launch of our Programme of Antiretroviral Treatment for Women Survivors of the Genocide Raped and Infected with HIV/AIDS. Through a grant of £4.25 million from the UK Department for International Development, and working alongside one of our partner organisations PACFA, the first of 2,500 women will begin the programme of treatment that will enable them to live a normal life again.
 
However, the trip will have a more important effect. The trip is being facilitated by survivors and the agenda has been developed by survivors too, thus helping to empower those involved and to show a side to survivors that is often overlooked. It will also give survivors the opportunity to speak directly to people who are in a position to make a difference – whether by helping to generate greater funding for projects, or disseminating their stories to a wider public, for example.
 
All too often in recent months, survivor’s stories have been translated for them and reinterpreted into a more digestible form – such as in the film, Hotel Rwanda. Though such projects make an inestimable contribution in raising awareness of the realities of the genocide, sadly they do not tell the whole story. Often the survivors never even get the chance to read their own testimonies themselves, as they are translated into a language other than Kinyarwanda (the native language in Rwanda).  This trip, though in a small way, will begin the process of redressing the fact, by enabling survivors to tell their stories, often for the first time, face-to-face.
 
The trip is especially important for women survivors, in this particular time of crisis, as they increasingly must face those that raped them, and killed their families, as the perpetrators of the genocide are increasingly released back into the community. This is an issue that we will be focusing our thoughts on, how we can provide more support for these women. And it is a matter that I would dearly appreciate your thoughts on as well.  I will promise to update you on the situation on my return.
 
In the meantime, best of luck with your ongoing work.

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