Survivors Fund (or SURF), founded in 1997, represents and supports survivors of the Rwandan genocide in the United Kingdom and Rwanda. It is the only international charity with a specific remit to assist survivors of the Rwandan genocide, and has offices in London and Kigali. It is registered with the Charity Commission.
The charity supports projects for survivors in Rwanda in the fields of education, healthcare, shelter, justice and memory. It is currently raising awareness of the threat to survivors resulting from the release of prisoners through gacaca.
Founder: Mary Kayitesi Blewitt
Survivors Fund was founded by Mary Kayitesi Blewitt, a British Citizen of Rwandan origin, at the behest of survivors after losing 50 family members during the genocide in 1994. At the end of the genocide in July 1994, Blewitt volunteered for the Ministry of Rehabilitation in Rwanda, working for eight months helping to bury the dead and to support the survivors. This formative experience inspired her to set up Survivors Fund on her return to the UK to ensure that survivors received aid, assistance and support, and that their voices would be heard by people around the world. Her work has meant that she has received numerous awards such as 'Woman of the year' and appointment as an OBE.
Fields of work
Survivors Fund activity is focused on the following areas:
Survivors still suffer from genocide related physical injuries, mental health illnesses and HIV and AIDS which require specialist care. Many survivors were infected with HIV and AIDS during the genocide, and still do not have access to antiretroviral treatment. There is also a need to for specialist doctors to assess the required surgery which is not available in Rwanda for those still suffering from untreated, but treatable, wounds incurred during the genocide.
There are many young survivors who are orphans of genocide and head a family of their siblings. After genocide, many children in Rwanda found themselves suddenly assuming adult roles and responsibilities when they themselves needed parental care. Over 15,000 young survivors have no access to school, and efforts to support them have met several challenges. The more grown-up survivors are expected to be at school for more than 10 hours a day, but have younger children to take care of at home. They need food and clothing, scholastic materials and shelter. Although the Government of Rwanda set up a fund called FARG to facilitate orphans to study, the contribution is inadequate and many of this vulnerable group are unable to obtain support from FARG.
20,000 households of vulnerable survivors have no accommodation or a decent place to sleep, often having to live a transitory life, moving from place to place to seek shelter (Rwandan Ministry of Social Affairs, 2007). This results in high anxiety and hopelessness. Most of these families are very poor; left to deal with the consequences of genocide, and general ill health, with no support. Many of the needy have no skills to acquire jobs. Even those in employment cannot afford to build a house because building materials are too costly or they find it increasingly difficult to find the resources to build houses of their own, to buy or to rent. Without shelter security and rehabilitation becomes impossible.
Personal security for survivors in Rwanda is an ongoing concern, as many must live side-by-side with men who raped them and killed their families, as the perpetrators of the genocide are being released back into the community. The country no longer has the resource to continue to keep these men incarcerated, and so by admitting guilt at local gacaca (community-based) trials they are now free. The insecurity of survivors is fuelled by intimidation, harassment, death threats and killings by the release prisoners through gacaca.
Twenty years after genocide in Rwanda, the remains of many victims of genocide are still to be buried. Many of them still lie in trenches, abandoned latrines, churches, on the hills and many other places - some known, some yet to be discovered. Many of these locations are revealed by genocide suspects currently held in prisons that have confessed to involvement in the genocide (through gacaca). Alongside the burial programme, a programme is now being undertaken with the USC Shoah Foundation Institute to record the tesitmonies of survivors.
Situation for survivors today
Twenty years after the genocide, Rwanda has made significant progress in rebuilding internally, but the many scars remain fresh. The legacy of genocide touches almost every aspect of life for the survivors. In addition to recurring psychological trauma suffered by many from their experiences, survivors of the genocide face multiple difficulties. Many are impoverished and face complex health problems, such as HIV and AIDS, as a direct result of the violence perpetrated against them during the genocide. Survivors are still threatened with violence, attacked or killed by former perpetrators released through Gacaca, and for many a climate of fear persists. Rebuilding their lives alongside individuals responsible for murder and rape is a difficult reality faced by all survivors in Rwanda.
There is an estimated 300,000 survivors in Rwanda, of which 120,000 are considered by the Rwandan Ministry of Affairs to be very vulnerable. Besides support given to survivors through SURF over the last 10 years, the only other sustainable and significant funding for survivors has come from the Rwandan Government, which dedicates 5% of its budget for educational and healthcare needs, through the Government Fund for Survivors. The support equates to an average of £20 per person per year.
SURF’s key partners include IBUKA (National Umbrella of Survivors’ Organisations), AVEGA (Association of Widows of the Genocide), AOCM (Association of Orphan-Headed Households), Uyisenga N'Manzi (Organisation of Child Survivors with HIV/AIDS) and Solace Ministries (Christian Survivors Support Organisation).
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