To many, they used to be just a group of people with issues; they somewhat were less human than others. But that was in yesteryears, when being called Umutwa (Historically Marginalised People) meant being excluded from everything until you also came to believe you deserved the side-lining.
Over the last decade however, the post-genocide Rwandan Government has made significant strides to improve the lives of this group alongside all other vulnerable members of the Rwandan community. But evidently, helping HMP catch up with the rest of the community requires more than just support, they need close follow-up to help them break free from the yoke that tied them down for numerous decades.
Thus as an auxiliary organization to public authorities in humanitarian action, the Rwanda Red Cross Society has been active in this struggle alongside Government in meeting the needs of vulnerable Rwandans including the HMP population.
“Our priority is to alleviate human suffering and we do this in respect to the principles of the Red Cross which require among others impartiality, neutrality, and universality,” Rwanda Red Cross’ Secretary General, Apollinaire Karamaga shared.
“In this respect” he adds, “we have rolled out several interventions in the settlements of the Historically Marginalised People.”
Supporting such a community to overcome its vulnerabilities and achieve socioeconomic development and resilience however is a long term endeavour and one that requires comprehensive interventions.
This is why in programs of such magnitude that target to improve the lives of vulnerable people such as the HMP, Rwanda Red Cross employs the community resilience approach. This integrated approach dictates that the needs of a population are tackled wholly other than singling out one issue.
“Through community resilience, the target is to teach the beneficiaries to fish more than it is to give them the fish. We empower them to take responsibility for their development,” Karamaga emphasised.
Comprehensive socioeconomic interventions
A close look at a three year project that the Rwanda Red Cross and its partners particularly the Danish Red Cross under implementation in the districts of Gicumbi, Burera, and Musanze since 2013 proves that fact that transforming the living conditions of a vulnerable group to attain the intended social security and prosperity is a long term and comprehensive endeavour.
Under this project, the Rwanda Red Cross has a threefold approach that captures the education element of the community, support of socioeconomic development, and advocacy and capacity building to facilitate sustainability.
Looking at education for instance, the project leveraged Government of Rwanda achievements in making education accessible and affordable.
Among others, scholastic materials that used to hinder primary school going children in the HMP population to benefit from the Government’s Nine years basic education have been dealt with.
Learners are provided with uniforms, books, pens plus other scholastic materials the lack of which in the past discouraged them in school.
But beyond the usual school material needs, HMP Children had something else that troubled their success in school. Through beneficiary consultations, it was identified that the lack of food since they would not eat at school and by the time they returned home food would have been finished; the learners would be discouraged and drop out.
Having identified this barrier, Rwanda Red Cross with its partners and in collaboration with school and local authorities in respective districts established a school feeding programme to meet the food needs of the HM children while at school.
Providing food to the youngsters has significantly improved their school grades as Aimable Twagiramutara the HMP Project Coordinator at Rwanda Red Cross explains.
“Now kids from the HMP communities have good grades and many of them are enthusiastic about learning. With the improvements, many feel like they are capable of fairy competing with their fellow learners.”
Currently, 588 primary school pupils are supported by the project through school feeding and provision of scholastic materials and 69 secondary school students benefit school fees and other education support through the Rwanda Red Cross Project.
Under the socioeconomic development support, the project has empowered its beneficiaries to gain vocational skills that enable them to make a living and improve their living conditions.
55 beneficiaries among the HMP population in the three districts have been imparted with skills in bamboo joining, tailoring, hairdressing, and carpentry.
Niyonsaba Jean d’Amour is one of the beneficiaries of the vocational training. He now boasts that he is a professional joiner who is ready to offer the market quality products like they have not seen before and to transform the living conditions of his community back home in Musanze.
Niyonsaba and 19 others were sponsored to attend a Chinese joiner’s training school in Masaka Sector in Kigali City’s Kicukiro district where they learn skills of transforming bamboo into household furniture such as sofas, tables, and cupboards, among many others.
“With the skills I have received, I am certain that my life and that of all my family members will never be the same again.”
Besides these new skills, the beneficiaries of this project have been facilitated to engage in farming and increase productivity so as to earn a living.
But long before they could cultivate, the HMP communities had no access to farm land.
“They had no land so to give them agricultural support meant that it starts with buying them land,” Twagiramutara explains.
So far more than 10 hectares of land have been bought and are already being utilised by farming cooperatives of the HMP community.
Also livestock has been distributed to further boost access to manure and empower these communities to attain good living conditions.
635 livestock including goats and sheep have been distributed over the past three years.
Also under socioeconomic development support, houses have been constructed to help HMP acquire safe shelter. 57 houses have so far been constructed.s
In addition to the houses, health, hygiene and sanitation promotion activities have been reinforced constructing latrines, educating beneficiaries on best hygiene practices, and good nutrition measures among many others.
Also, clean water has been provided to each of the settlements that have been created, reducing vulnerability to sanitation related diseases, reducing infant and maternal mortality among the HMP just as has been the case across Rwanda.
Through advocacy and community integration approaches, people who in the past were side-lined in almost everything are now taking charge of their development and working together with other Rwandans to build a brighter future.