Ndayishimiye B. is a mother of three living in the Nyamata Centre of Bugesera District, East Province of Rwanda.
She recently received 250,000 Rwandan francs to start a small project.
“Living in exile and being able to feed my three children had become a headache. I did not feel like the others, spent all my time away from the others, thinking about my destiny,” she says.
Her husband has been missing since 2015. Her life is, however, beginning to change after she received a microcredit loan and training on how to run a business, as well as counselling at the Gir’Ubuntu Centre. “I felt embedded, I was no longer the only one to live this kind of life. I could leave the house to trade a bit on the market and meet others. I feel a real improvement of my daily life and I am no longer afraid of the future” she insists.
Her friend Ningenza L., whose husband has also been missing since 2015, has been living in uncertainty until she started trading in goats. “The way through the mountains to get goats is also a kind of school for me: When we had noting to do, we spent sleepless nights thinking about the change from the life we had before with work and a salary when we were in Burundi.”
Rwanda alone has accepted more than 68,000 Burundian refugees, the vast majority of whom live in Mahama Camp. Hundreds of thousands of Burundians have fled into exile to neighbouring countries to escape the deadly violence and political instability into which Burundi has descended since April 2015. In Kigali, the Gir’Ubuntu Centre welcomes refugees and gives them financial aid to start small businesses but is also a place “for listening and help”. Some of these refugees have to cope with psychological trauma as a result of what they have gone through during the crisis in Burundi, says Fr Innocent Rugaragu, who heads the centre. He estimates that some 100 Burundian refugees have entered the centre in the past six months.
Opened in July 2018 by priests and Burundian exiles as the African Network for Peace, Reconciliation and Sustainable Development, Gir’ubuntu Centre is a place of succor and comfort, offering help in the rehabilitation of refugees who have suffered various violations of human rights since the crisis in Burundi in 2015.
“We have noticed at least three forms of trauma: there are those who have been traumatised by undergoing torture, rape or insult to human dignity,” says Fr Rugaragu. There are those who are traumatised by the refugee life and are plagued by loneliness, unemployment … There are also those who are traumatised because of the poverty which is a consequence of the sudden change in their way of life.”
Walking for hours is also a form of therapy — when you bump into people who talk to you and who give you a smile, she says. “With Gir’ubuntu’s support, I can buy food for my four children, pay their school fees and the rent. Before, I had almost nothing; I even had to beg for sugar,” Ningenza recalls, adding that her family used to eat only once a day.
Fr Rugaragu explains that there have been other cases of political trauma when refugees cannot enjoy their civil liberties and have their role in running their country. Sometimes they lose hope and feel abandoned by everybody, ending up in a depression. Many of them cannot even sleep any more.
“There are those who tell us that, when they fall asleep, they have nightmares and wake up remembering the torture they have been victims of. Others come to spend their time in the chapel and say they feel better after having prayed.”
Helping a person who suffers from psychological trauma is not easy, he adds. First the origin of the trauma has to be known. One has to go back in time to understand what the patient has gone through before treating the dysfunction.
“The trauma does not come in one day; the same applies in treating it. We do it methodically. Psychologists and scientists help us to understand what happens in the sub-conscious, and I as a priest contribute spiritually.’’
Fr Rugaragu does not only offer spiritual help, but also material support for indigent refugees – a small sum of money to start small businesses, to cope with life in exile. “We give them 300,000 Rwandan francs. Some of them chose to sell charcoal; others start trading in goats, food or clothes.”
Although the centre was established for Burundian refugees, exiles from the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries are also trickling in. “Until now we have had several cases of Burundians coming from Rwandan towns like Muhanga, Gisenyi and Nyagatare,” Fr Rugaragu says. The Gir’Ubuntu Centre hopes to expand its activities to the refugee camps.