The report on March 2018 Women Healing Retreats in Rwanda. Submitted by Grace Gatera.
YEGO Rwanda is a non-denominational Christian NGO founded to care for Genocide survivors and vulnerable youths, to assist them in healing psychologically from their traumatic experiences, and to promote the development of a culture of peace and tolerance. Yego also works with traumatized women, giving them opportunities to heal, to raise their children and develop themselves. One of Yego Rwanda’s core missions is healing which is crucial for good health, peace, and self-development. As part of this mission Yego recently hosted the fourth annual Women’s Healing Ministry Retreats.
These retreats are unique three-day weekend retreats that are conducted in the lush Gihindamuyaga monastery resort located in Huye district, three hours away from Kigali. The purpose of these retreats is to provide healing for women who have faced various tragedies in their lives. This ministry began in March 2015 with only 23 women. We can now proudly say that more than 100 women have attended these retreats and have professed that they were transformed by the time they spent there.
The retreats can be defined simply as time spent away from one’s normal life for the purpose of sharing one’s story with fellow women and reconnecting, usually in prayer, with God. These retreats are specifically targeted for women and girls from low income backgrounds mainly because that is a fair representation of the average Rwandan woman, but also because they are the ones most in need.
The women’s healing ministry under Yego Rwanda, has in total eight volunteers, knows as the “core team” and one facilitator, Dr.Kae Neufeld. The core team help run the day-to-day affairs of the ministry and consists of Yego Rwanda founders and directors Pastor Emmanuel and Athanasie Gatera, administrator and accountant, Divine Irakoze, plus Martine, Josephine, Annick, Cassilde, and Chantal. Grace Gatera serves as translator from Kinyarwanda to English and back and represents girls on the core group. These women attended the first retreat, and after that they decided to volunteer their time and effort to help grow the ministry.
The core team helps with planning, logistics, communications, and strategizing for the retreats. They also are coordinators for “zones,” small fellowship groups where women who have been to the retreats gather monthly to catch up and pray. The core team does all of this voluntary work even though they also struggle with money and taking care of themselves.
The retreats took place on March16 -18 and March 23-25, 2018. Sessions were facilitated by Dr. Kae Neufeld from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, our regular facilitator.
Forty-five people attended the retreats collectively, 18 women and two facilitators in the first retreat and 23 women and 2 facilitators attended the second one. All attendees, both girls and women, gathered in one class for all sessions of teachings, games and crafts. They were divided into groups for the purpose of sharing stories (two groups for women and one for girls), with core team members to help set the ladies at ease and to aid as facilitators during the sessions.
The sessions began on Friday with the ladies arriving at 12:30pm from Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. After this the women were shown to their rooms, which are fully furnished and self-contained. Then they proceeded to the communal dining area where they shared lunch and acclimatized. Most of the women that we get are deeply traumatized and come from very poor backgrounds so it may take them a while to feel comfortable enough and that is why we started with lunch.
The first retreat members at lunch
After lunch they had time to rest and refresh themselves and then the sessions began. In line with the purpose of the ministry, the goal of these retreats is to have the women tell the stories of the tragedies they have faced in life.
The ladies shared their stories of being raped, of being deprived of education, of being abandoned by their husbands, of their relatives treating them so badly that they had to run away.
One girl shared how she began working as domestic help when she was seven because she had been orphaned. She was often cold and hungry from the daily trips she had to make to a nearby forest to collect firewood. One day she picked a ripe avocado from the tree at the house she worked at and ate it. The people she worked for then handcuffed her and burnt her feet and fingers.
The retreat featured sessions on forgiveness, self-esteem, love, God’s love for us all and the journey after. The lessons were filled with music, prayers, dancing and singing, games, crafts and walks in nature, for which Gihindamuyaga is famous.
The ladies were always provided with breakfast, mid-morning snacks, lunch, mid-afternoon snacks and dinner. One of the ladies who came to the retreats this year said that she wished she did not have to go back to Kigali because she had never had food like that in all her years of living. She said that it was also another kind of healing, to be able to eat to her fill whenever she wanted.
Some of the women’s favourite games included, “The Big Wind Blows,” “Houses and Tenants,” as well as the sack throwing game. One of the girls said that her favourite part of the retreat was the games, because they brought back the feeling of her carefree childhood.
Every evening the women gathered to sing, pray, and get some time to rest. There were always art supplies in the conference room for those who wished to work on their artwork.
On Sundays there were Roman Catholic worship services at the monastery centre at the nearby parish, and a non-denominational worship service at the retreat centre.
After worship the ladies had lunch, congregated for the last session which included singing, dancing and some farewell speeches. Speaking for the ladies, Jackie said she would never forget the experience. She said no one had ever listened to her before and soothed her. She said that they had hope that all would be well in the long run. She also took the opportunity to thank Kae for the great love that brought her all the way from Canada to Rwanda to give them hope and lessons and assured her that they would always love and pray for her even as she went back to Canada.
After that they went back to their rooms so they could pack and check out. Core team members distributed transport fares for the ladies to use once they got back to Kigali to be able to get home as some of them do not have any money at all.
The ladies took pictures to commemorate the day and then left for Kigali.
The year 2016 was a momentous year for Yego Rwanda, full of activities and visits from its different friends from around the world. For this Yego is grateful and thanks the Lord and the people that took time off to come and visit and be a blessing in the lives of everyone at and affiliated to Yego Rwanda. Slowly and quite steadily it continues to see the blessings from the Lord through its friends and their generosity to it for the benefit of its beneficiaries.
In March 2016, Kae and Don Neufeld made their way from Edmonton in Alberta, Canada to visit Rwanda. Their aim was to conduct a healing retreat for the second time, Kae having come the first time in 2015, to conduct the same healing retreat. They spent over 2 weeks in Kigali, in which:
• They visited Yego Rwanda headquarters which is situated in Kimironko, a suburb located North East of Kigali.
• They visited the most vulnerable of the Yego beneficiary households
• While visiting, they donated some household essentials and food supplies to the households.
• They also visited the Kigali genocide memorial in order to understand the atrocities that were committed in 1994 as to be able to appreciate further the plight of some Yego beneficiary families who were affected. Kae having been to Kigali the year before had been there but she came with Don the second time.
- The 3 day healing retreat occurred on the 18-20/3/2016 in Gihindamuyaga,a resplendent monastic guest house, three hours from Kigali, and six kilometers from Huye the biggest town in the southern province of Rwanda. The guest house is run by the St.Benoit catholic brothers.
and it brought together 20 women from all walks of life who had been through traumatic experiences. Its focus was on trauma counseling through community therapy, handcraft and bible based teaching.
They left on the 22/3/2016
Nancy Steeves and Dawn Waring from Sherwood Park in Edmonton /Alberta Canada arrived in Rwanda on the 15th of May 2016, from a trip to South Africa.
- They began their trip with a visit to the Kigali genocide memorial
- They then visited Yego Rwanda households
- They donated food and household items to the beneficiary families
- They visited Yego Rwanda Headquarters on the 22nd of May 2016 where they were filled in on the day to day activities of the foundation by its staff.
- Later they were taken to meet the youth beneficiaries who were waiting at Kigali parents’ school* grounds.
- The youth danced for Nancy and Dawn and they took lots of pictures with the children and upon leaving they generously paid for the youth’s bus fares.
They left Rwanda on the (Saturday May 25,2016)
On October 30th 2016, Rev. Gordon and Esther Oaks led a group of 24 ladies and gentlemen coming from within Alberta as well as other parts of Canada to Kigali from Arusha in Tanzania where they were touring game parks and sightseeing.
- They visited the genocide memorial firstly and got a tour around Kigali.
- They were welcomed at the Kigali Parent’s school grounds where they were performances by the Yego youth troupe.
- They divided themselves into four groups and shopped food and other essentials and they visited and donated to the various beneficiary households of Yego Rwanda.
- In the intervals between dances, beneficiaries who were also genocide survivors shared their testimonies.
- At the grounds, the Yego Rwanda beneficiaries and the guests shared drinks and talked and danced together and had a good time.
- The guests also donated books, toothbrushes, toothpaste, footballs as well as scholastic materials like pencils and sharpeners
- They stayed for over a week in Rwanda, touring the country and seeing the different delights the Rwanda has to offer like the Nyungwe natural forest, Virunga, which is the home of the famed silverback Gorillas, as well as the Akagera national park.
One of the people who had come with Gordon and Esther Oaks; Anne Loewan generously decided to stay behind for an extra week to carry out two one-day workshops to teach the “Tapping” technique. (This is a set of techniques which utilize the body’s energy meridian points. You can stimulate these meridian points by tapping on them with your fingertips, literally tapping into your body’s own energy and healing power.)
- The first workshop took place on the 8th of November at the Kigali Parents School. Anne was conducting the workshop in collaboration with Yego Rwanda and it was to a group of 20 pastors and lay leaders to equip them to better serve their congregation in the area of trauma healing.
- The second workshop also took place at Kigali Parents School on the 11th November and it gathered 21+ women who were also given the tools to help themselves heal as well as others.
During the rest of the time she was here, she carried out individual counseling for an additional 16 people. She left Rwanda on November 15th 2016.
Joanne Vanderbeek and Petra Lewing landed in Kigali on November 20th from Edmonton, Alberta
- They conducted a three day Leadership workshop from the 22nd at Kigali Parents grounds with the core Yego team, comprised of six members. The goal of the workshop was to equip the core team in leadership skills on how to better lead and organize the healing retreat.
- The workshop was also aimed at formulating an organizational structure for Rise Up Rwanda Ministries, a ministry promoting women’s healing from traumatic experiences through community therapy, music therapy, hand crafts, bible based and other teachings as well as meditation as well as story sharing. Founded In Kigali by Emmanuel and Athanasie Gatera together with Joanne Vanderbeek, Kae Neufeld and Petra Lewing . The ministry began in 2015 with the first retreat in March 2015.
which operates under the auspices of Yego Rwanda.
- The workshop also gave a chance for the core team to share their stories and get a safe space to heal.
- They visited four beneficiary households and they donated food and household essentials to them like quilts made by women in Canada.
- They also generously gifted each beneficiary household with a cash gift equivalent of a month’s rent.
- Another reason for their arrival in Kigali was a three day healing retreat which took place on the 29th of November to the 1st.
- The retreat took place at Gihindamuyaga,Rwanda, and was attended by 21 women who had suffered traumatic encounters.
- The women got a chance to share their stories in a safe and restful environment and Joanne and Petra carried out therapeutic teachings backed up by craft sessions as well as music therapy.
They left on the 6th of December 2016.
Yego has operated for the last four years and the biggest struggle is seeing kids in need and not being able to help them. If children cannot pay their fees they are sent home from school. The fees for public schools are 20,000 to 30,000 RWFs per semester (3 semesters per year (one semester holidays). Secondary schools, grade 7-12 cost closer to 150,000 RWFs. Vocational training schools are cheaper. These fees do not include the school uniform (20 USD) and backpack (10 USD). A year in secondary school would cost about 500-600 USD.
In addition, children need food. They often eat only once a day and it is not uncommon for them to go for three days without food. Parents need to contribute money for food at school (10 USD per month or 30 USD per term). If they cannot pay their children have to sit and watch the others eat.
There are many street children who have no skills and no food at home. They have to drop out of school because they cannot pay the fees. Yego encourages these children to go back home and pays for their fees. Home schooling is not an option here because the parents need to struggle to earn money for food for the family.
All schools are in English. In the public schools the first two years are in the local language and then they switch to English. The private schools started with English from grade one.
Funds for Yego come from Canada while the volunteers contribute in small ways. Theophile and Armel work three days a week as volunteers. Funds are needed for education because if the children get an education, they can get a job. A dream of Yego is to have a school with low fees and have wealthy children provide scholarships for others. At this point their primary goal is to bring healing and then to educate. The education will sustain the healing.
Yego (means yes) but also stands for Youth, Empowerment, Growth, Opportunity. The vision is to provide care, hope, healing, and reconciliation among the youth.
Programs of Yego:
1. Counseling/listening to facilitate psychological and spiritual healing. This will help break the isolation and integrate the youth back into the community. They need to feel loved and supported.
2. Education: Fees and materials are needed for the poor and vulnerable children. They are visited frequently and followed up to make sure that they are doing well.
3. Workshops: The people are brought together to socialize, teach social behavior, and build relationships.
4. Music, dance, culture and drama: Therapy sessions are organized after the dance sessions. The youth learn the traditional dances and can then earn money by performing. They do it well and can earn a living in the future. They make friends at these sessions and become part of a community.
5. Mother Support Programs: Sometimes students are missing from school because they don’t have food to eat. There are workshops for parents on parenting and reconciliation. The mothers are trained and supported financially. They get some income from small projects so they can feed their children.
20 children get their school fees paid. One young man has finished training and is now working.
60 children get school materials
20 youth are part of the dance and culture group. 10 have graduated and are all earning money.
Workshops are held every year since 2013. The goal is to increase these to twice a year.
One grad is now a policewoman while another grad has completed the A levels and is now at university studying agriculture.
Need partnerships, financial support to sustain the programs, and volunteers.
Vision: to bring healing
The 1994 genocide left many children orphaned. Estimates range from 1.5 million, 1 million or 400,000. The genocide affected both the Tutsis and the Hutus. There was so much abuse and rape. Living in camps resulted in lots of HIV/Aids infected people. There are so many kids on the street. There is no counselling and a lack of healing. Trauma is generational but affects even children born after the genocide.
Yego started in 2010 and there has been tremendous improvement so far especially in the dance/music, counselling and training. The problem still exists that some children cannot go to school because they have no money. There are many single moms. Counselling is needed for both mental and physical healing.
Yego staff feesl ready to have a school which will include counselling. They want to create an environment where the children who are struggling will be followed up. There is a building available for 150 million RWF or 214,000 USD. But everything starts with love. Out of love things happen.
Three men and five women on the board; Emmanuel, Anthaniasie, Armel, a lawyer, a Member of Parliament, a nurse, a social worker and a professor.
Since the beginning of its operations in Rwanda, Yego Rwanda foundation has carried on the custom of hosting an annual Christmas party for its family which includes the youth beneficiaries and their families and well wishers.
This year, the party was hosted on the 27th of December at the Kigali Parents school grounds. It was attended by over 49 children and at least 12 parents and friends of the children.