Butare, a city populated with tens of thousands of students attending Rwanda’s National University, is also home to an association of women made up of widows of the genocide and wives of genocide perpetrators. The Unity and Reconciliation club at the National University works with the group of over 1,700 women to support their community. Members of the association come together for lectures from people who have good ideas to share, such as how to make soap- now one of their community products. They also come together when a problem arises, so they can discuss possible solutions and get each other’s advice on it. This strong communal mentality 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, the President of the Unity and Reconciliation club at the National University 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 going to help facilitate a MicroGrant competition for $3000 to allow the women to implement and try one of their projects. The women rejoiced when they heard and again applauded when they heard it was a grant and not a loan. The sense of community and community action embedded in the association very much aligns with MicroGrants, which supports community projects. The meeting I attended with them ended in a dance and celebratory song, leaving positivity flowing through the group.