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American Refugee Committee: Focus on Rwanda ARC projects address health and social needs of refugee and displaced populations in Rwanda

Since the spring of 1994, the world has heard of the slaughter of 800,000 
Rwandans. But there is much more to the Rwandan story than these 
genocidal acts. It is a period of history that should not be forgotten, but 
from which point much progress has been made.

The American Refugee Committee has worked alongside the people of 
Rwanda from the emergency of genocide to the healing of today. ARC is 
currently working with a number of communities within Rwanda, 
assisting in efforts to rebuild both homes and lives. The following 
includes excerpts (in italics) from the journal of Greg Fields, ARC's 
director of development, who traveled to Rwanda in May 2000. 

Nearly every Tutsi in Rwanda lost family members and friends during the 
genocide of 1994. Many lost their entire family including Joleen (whose 
name has been changed in order to maintain her privacy). Of the 15 
people in her family, only she and two sisters survived. This is the story 
of a trip back to the village of her childhood. 

The village was typical, with an arcade of small storefronts lining both 
sides of a dusty center road. At one end of the village, the road spurred 
and we took a rutted road through giant lush plants which spilled onto 
the path. Joleen recognized each structure that we passed, a pottery 
shop, several churches, and the home of a Belgian priest who had 
treated children with disabilities in the community. 

At the end of the road, we reached her childhood home, or rather, what 
was left of it. Immediately to the right of the narrow roadway sat the 
remains of a brick wall. Now shattered, it used to separate her father's 
two homesteads. A flat white slab inscribed with only a few words has 
replaced the brick wall. At the head of the slab was a simple red cross 
marking one of the village's communal graves holding at least 60 
bodies including those of Joleen's parents, brothers and sisters. 

Joleen's demeanor did not change much as we toured her village except 
to display disgust. Her husband later told me that she would rather 
forget this village altogether. Those who committed atrocities have 
almost all been arrested, but those that remain are implicated by their 
own inaction. Many did little to help their Tutsi neighbors avoid being 
killed. When Joleen's glance meets that of an old neighbor, they know 
each other and the horrors of the past lie just beneath the surface. 

Many Rwandans have similar stories of loss that follow them as they 
begin to return. As refugees resettle into communities, one of their 
primary concerns becomes the need for clean water. Water is precious in 
all parts of sub-Saharan Africa and it is an essential aspect of sustainable 
returnee communities. 

One ARC project to provide water to resettlement communities in 
Rwanda is the Rwabigeyo water project. It consists of an elaborate 
system taking water from a river, purifying it in a number of stages, 
storing it in a series of reservoirs and then distributing it to tapstands in 
numerous communes. ARC maintains this 40-kilometer pipeline that 
services a number of communes, including the commune Kahi which 
includes the village of Musenyi.

The pipeline near Musenyi was under repair the day of our visit and had 
been for the past two days. Because the pipeline is so long, leaks are 
almost inevitable. Until it is repaired, the people of Musenyi had to 
walk roughly five miles across the hills to another commune to get their 
daily water. Children, who were usually designated for this task, would 
leave at dawn to fill their jerry can and return at dusk. Sometimes they 
returned with nothing. The lines at the other water station were often so 
long that those at the end received nothing. There would be two more 
days of this before the line was repaired. 

Before refugees can return home, they often live in collective areas such 
as the Gihembe camp in Byumba, northern Rwanda, which is home to 
between 15,000 and 16,000 Tutsis from the Democratic Republic of the 
Congo. The camp was originally located closer to the Congolese border, 
but was relocated to Byumba after the camp was raided twice by militia 
forces, the last time killing nearly 200 people. 

ARC's work in the Gihembe camp includes several different sectors: 
health care, water, sanitation and construction services. 

Each family in the Gihembe camp has a cookstove on which to prepare 
meals. In one part of the camp these stoves are located in a line of tents 
adjacent the residences. In other areas of the Gihembe camp, the 
cookstoves are located in each family's residence. 

Families also share latrines and showers, both of which are divided to 
give some level of privacy. Water is provided to the camp only during 
certain hours each day. Immaculee Habiyambere (ARC's Gihembe 
Camp Coordinator) led me into one of the tent dwellings. In it was a 
woman who, I was told, had a husband and four children. They lived 
together in this eight by 10 foot tent. It was divided into a room for 
parents and a small room that the children shared. The floor was matted 

One of ARC's primary responsibilities at Gihembe is the provision of 
health care. ARC processes all of the camp's patients in a central tent 
where all of the medical records are kept. From there, patients are 
referred to specific areas where they receive specialized medical 

ARC operates a maternity tent where babies are born and kept with their 
mothers during the first several days of life, as well as tents for prenatal 
care, obstetrics, and vaccinations. On the day of my visit, polio 
vaccinations were being given to babies and small children. One baby, 
not more than two months old, was held by his mother who pinched 
open his tiny mouth to let enter two drops of the vaccine. 

On June 16, 2000, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 
Mme. Sadako Ogata visited ARC's programs at the Gihembe camp. One 
of the focal points of her tour was the camp's medical facilities. Mme. 
Ogata is pictured here with her namesake, Sadako Ogata, who was born 
on the day she visited Gihembe one year earlier.

Behind the maternity and immunization area are the tents for more 
serious cases including an isolation area for communicable diseases and 
one for small surgeries. There is also a facility for children suffering from 

The children suffering from malnutrition are housed together in a tent. 
They are treated in three phases, the first phase being the most severe. 
There was a single baby in this tent, crying on a cot. She was about to be 
fed by a nurse from the Jesuit Relief Services. The children in the first 
phases are given a high-protein, high-vitamin porridge, prepared in bulk 
in massive cookstoves. Six children were in the second phase tent and 
about 15 were in the third. The children in the third phase tent were 
almost ready to reenter the camp at large. 

There are disproportionately few adults in the Gihembe camp, but the 
children are everywhere. The majority of the world's more than 35 
million refugees and displaced people are women and children. Adult 
men are often killed, members of an army, or remain behind to take care 
of family property. This leaves a population consisting primarily of 
women, children and the elderly. 

Over the years, ARC has undertaken a number of projects aimed at 
providing refugee and displaced children with recreational facilities 
which would foster constructive play and bridge divides between ethnic 
and religious groups. The soccer field at the Gihembe camp provides the 
children with a place to be children again. 

We made our way to a soccer field that ARC had carved out of the 
sloping land. It had been a massive project to make the vertical into the 
horizontal, but it was very much worth the effort. Many of the boys 
broke away from us there to begin a game, kicking a makeshift ball 
towards makeshift goals. Their cries and shouts could be heard all 
around attracting even more kids to join the game.

Reprinted with permission from American Refugee Committee.
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