ABOUT SOLACE MINISTRIES
Many have doubted the existence of God during the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. Others whose faith was challenged believed He had abandoned them and the country of Rwanda in general. The majority of victims and survivors alike cried out to Him until the last minute before they were killed or to the time of deliverance. No doubt they met Him either on this side or on the other side of this life – they are the Living Testimonies of the Living God. Those who were killed died with hope, those who survived experienced the faithfulness to His promises. They survived to tell that He was ever present, close to every individual most probably than it seems to happen in normal times.
He was the closest one to talk to, whether through the cries deep from the heart, vocally, crying or shouting “how could this be possible? God proved to be the helper in times of troubles (Psalm 46) and the faithful friend who accompanied everyone (some of them literally) in water and in fire (Isaiah 43) or to the point of death.
Many victims died bravely looking beyond the machetes, the clubs, the fire, the bullets and the bombs. They looked beyond the killers to the point of asking God, as all other martyrs of the ancient, “Lord, forgive them, because they do not know what they do.
20 years on and there is proof of the wonderful works of the Living God who promised to walk with the survivors. Babies picked up from the bodies of their loving mothers by the rescuing RPF soldiers are now grown up. Miraculously, mothers stripped of all their children and loving husbands are now working hard to live on despite the heavy painful past. Orphans who never had a right to be called children are now creating families of their own.
In 1994, to annihilate their guilt killers believed God was dead whilst some witnesses to have killed him. Because of this, they had no moral responsibilities and felt allowed to do anything: to loot, to rape, to kill. When there is no God, people are free to do anything but the survivors believed in a God that cannot die – He was so close to them. He is the giver of Life, ever present with people who cry unto Him for help.
They are LIVING TESTIMONIES of His existence and His faithfulness
Founder and Director
Solace Ministries is a Rwandan, Christian, non-political, non-profit organization dedicated to meeting the needs of widows and orphans of the 1994 Tutsi Genocide.
Solace was started in 1995 by a survivor of the genocide, Jean Gakwandi, whose Christian faith compels him to serve others as a means to serving God.
The first step in the healing process is to listen to survivors, comforting them. The healing process unfolds over years. Solace Ministries is committed to a holistic process involving community development, medical care, education, and employment for those who are physically able.
Organized into sixty Solace communities throughout Rwanda, ranging in size from fifty members to several hundreds, the goal of Solace Ministries is to become an alternative family for survivors, restoring their dignity and creating networks of support for individuals who are traumatized, lonely, poor, and desiring hope as they confront an uncertain future.
COUNSELING & OUTREACH
The most vivid consequence of the genocide that was observed among the survivors is lasting trauma through the loss of family, widowhood, orphan status, children born of rape and infected with HIV through rape. It is through Solace that many of these victims have been able to receive invaluable, life recovering trauma and HIV counseling. The Solace community concept plays a role of an alternative family that accompanies these people.
Some survivors open up about their experiences after 20 years proving that genocide is a tragedy beyond human imagination. So far, more than 4000 beneficiaries have come for individual counseling. Each survivor is unique and so is every approach. In addition to being counseled, beneficiaries also receive material support. Elderly poor widows who survived alone and those who are handicapped are comforted and supported in their daily lives by being provided with the necessary upkeep.
Regular prayer and testimony meetings on Wednesdays and alternate Sundays allow survivors and hurting people to share their experiences. This has proven to be an efficient approach, where after hearing some testimonies, survivors realize that they are not the only ones who went through hardships and open up more easily afterwards.
We are very grateful to our various partners who come and attend the meetings. In that way, our people realize that they no longer alone and that others are caring and thinking about them. Your presence itself is a comfort to the widows and orphans.
In pursuit of self-reliance, Solace Ministries has established an Income Generating Activities program whose aim is to create a sustainable way of living for our beneficiaries by raising awareness of working themselves for their survival. More than 400 widows and orphans have undertaken the program’s workshop before getting a loan to start businesses. So far, more than 70% have paid back the loan and the remaining percentage is in the process. This program has yielded fruits; some widows went from picking up crumbs to supplying merchandises to smaller entrepreneurs. The satisfaction we get in this program is not just a widow or orphan paying back the loan, but seeing their lives improving on daily basis.
Solace Ministries believes that the youth are the future leaders and shapers of Rwanda. Some youth survivors have headed households from the tender age of 12, after the death of their parents and relatives. This gave them no option than grow beyond their age. Solace created formal and informal programs to comfort and empower and to provide them with education that their parents would have given them. We are not ignorant of the threats such as sex immorality and drug abuse surrounding our youth today so Solace Action for Moral Standards has been created to give them a biblical culture mixed with traditional values. Solace Action for Moral Standards has been created in order to give them a biblical culture mixed with traditional values
COMMUNITY BASED DEVELOPMENT
1994 Tutsi Genocide survivors have lost one or all of their family members. This has created a state of depression, loneliness and being forgotten. Solace aims at comforting these people and creating alternative families. By grouping survivors per sector in communities, they find others with the same challenges and situations – this gives an opportunity for healing and restoration. It is also easier to create development opportunities for them though programs that include:
- Community Development aims to support community members to reach a state of self-reliance. To achieve this, members have been given goats and milk-producing cows and encouraged to open a bank account. In addition, a community development fund was created and is managed at the community level to help families believe in their future. They have been given loans to start small businesses and do other income generating activities.
- Demonstration Farms have been created to help families of widows and orphans acquire new techniques in agriculture for an enhanced production focused on food security and income generation. Marketable crops such as yellow bananas, fruits and vegetables are not only produced in the demonstration farms but in the fields of the beneficiaries. Each Solace member (beneficiary) is empowered to own 2 chickens, a goat and 10 fruit trees.
- Animal Husbandry supports beneficiaries through the “One cow per family” project. In addition to owning chicken and goats, families who are given a cow not only have access to milk and compost, but are also given a way to earn an extra $100 each month. Once a cow gives birth, the calf is given to another family and this culture of sharing has created ‘oneness’ in the community and this again helps the fight against depression caused by trauma.
- Regional Centers in the communities provide a place for regular meetings for prayer and sharing of testimonies. These centres are located in various regions including the South (Nyanza), the East (Bugesera) and the centre (Kigali) amongst others.
CHILDREN'S CARE & DEVELOPMENT
The 1994 genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi left wounds on the society and in particular on its survivors. Widows and orphans were the most affected, as the ones who looked after them were murdered. With little or no hope, it became very hard for the orphans to dream of a future that they can shape on their own.
In response to the situation, in 2005 Solace started a sponsorship program. This two-fold program firstly supports orphans receive financial support for their school fees and other related expenditure. Secondly, their families are also supported financially so helping to improve their livelihoods.
At the beginning, the program has just 15 sponsored children but thanks to various sponsors and generous donors, nine years later there are around 1000 children being sponsored.
The sponsorship program has significantly changed the lives of the children as well as their families. Hope has been restored in their lives, and they now believe in their future. Motivation is another aspect that is observed in the lives of the sponsored children; they work harder and the older ones strive hard to excel in class. After graduating from high school, some sponsored students also get support for their universities. Currently, more than 20 students have bachelor’s degrees thanks to the sponsorship program.
This would not have been possible without the generous support of various sponsors and donors. We thank you for believing in the orphans and giving them a future. May God bless you.