“The name of our group is Coeur du Ménage (Heart of the Home) because we want to be seen as wives and mothers again by our families,” says Consolée, who runs a women’s group in Nedra, Kigali, with the support of Handicap International. Many of the women in the group were widowed during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi. Some were victims of sexual violence and are HIV-positive. As part of an ongoing mental health project in Rwanda, Handicap International organizes support groups for genocide survivors and other victims of violence, abuse, or neglect.
Consolée, who chairs the group, is a genocide widow and rape survivor. She is small and very slight. Her face was mutilated when she was tortured during the genocide, leaving her half blind. But as soon as she starts talking, it’s obvious that behind her fragile exterior is a woman with a strong personality.
Her group weaves baskets, hats, and handbags. “The first baskets we made were really awful,” says Consolée with a smile. “But we’re gradually improving them and, thanks to the equipment supplied to us by Handicap International, we’ve been able to sell our products.” The extra income from weaving goes a long way for these women, many of whom have no regular source of income.
What makes the biggest difference in the women’s lives, however, is the mental health counseling provided by Handicap International. Therapeutic sessions are held in small group or individually depending on the member’s needs.
“The sessions have already helped lots of women to regain their self-confidence and enjoy their lives again,” says Consolée.
In addition to counseling, Handicap International also offers HIV positive members medical advice and helps them access HIV inhibitor medications. “Our members put money into tour kitty every month, and we use it to organize a group trip to the hospital, so that the women can pick up their HIV inhibitors,” says Consolée.
Consolée is positive about life, despite her past. She recently became a grandmother and she’s passionate about her women’s group. When it came to convincing other group members to buy a sewing machine to improve the quality of their baskets, her determination and smile made her a natural advocate.
Handicap International has been working with genocide survivors and other vulnerable groups in Rwanda since 1994.