They should be receiving great-grandchildren being taken care-of by their offspring, living happily in their own homes and enjoying all the benefits of long life. But today, it is strangers bringing them a much-needed smile.
The stories of old women and men who survived the 1994 genocide against Tutsis can never be completely told by the news media or publications – or any platform. They have lived the pain for 25years – and will continue for as long as they are still alive.
According to AVEGA, a support platform for genocide widows established immediately after the genocide, there are over 19,000 elderly genocide survivors across the country; 271 are men.
In 2014, official data compiled with help from AVEGA showed that 900 elderly widows were extremely vulnerable, homeless and urgently needed a descent place to call home. Around the same time, studies were suggesting that desperate living conditions were contributing to long-term trauma among the tens of thousands of genocide survivors.
This past weekend, hundreds of youths – most of them survivors as well boarded buses to spend the Saturday with these elderly women and men.
Pictures doing the rounds on social media show faces of joy and resilience.
All the women and men have no single person left in their families. Everyone was wiped out by the rampaging genocide militia. Many of the women are only now recovering from some of the bodily wounds sustained during the horrific days of 1994.
Though some still have no homes, the lives of more than 200 of them have been transformed – thanks to most powerful home in Rwanda; the First Lady Jeannette Kagame. She is their biggest champion.
Hostels have been built for them in selected districts of Huye, Nyanza, Kamonyi – all in the south, Bugesera and Kayonza to the east, and Rulindo in the north.
These grannies and grandpas have been given the Kinyarwanda name ‘Intwaza’, and are grouped in a fully furnished homes. Each individual has their own bedroom stocked with all they need – from clothing to body lotions. They eat from the same table, share the same living room and watch the same television set.
Each home has caregivers, who have to maintain a personal relationship with each of the elderly residents. Many of the women suffer from health problems like high blood pressure, backache, headache and vision problems, so they often do activities that do not require much a lot of energy. The caregivers do everything for them.
The residents in these hostels are between 65 and 90 years of age.
Ephaston Ndekezi is 89. His skin is shiny, his smile displays very clean teeth and hair meticulously clean and brushed backwards.
“I had grandchildren back then. Looking at them running around made me so happy. They brought me drinking water,” he tells the visiting youths. “I remained alone and hungry.”
Melanie Mukarugamwa is also speaking to a different group of youth. “I had a very big family that we couldn’t fit in one place during family gatherings,” she narrates.
For Belancille Bagirinka, who says she is more than 70 years, living in this hostel has brought so much relief to her life. Until her arrival in this facility, Bagirinka tells the emotional visitors that she had back problems which left her unable to even clean herself.
During the visit of the youth, they randomly distributed themselves to different homes in the hostel. Each of the elderly has a painful testimony of their.
But they all shared the same excitement at the youngsters visiting them. The all repeat the same message; never let what we are seeing in the country ever be disturbed by anyone, fight for it with everything you can afford.
It is these messages of hope that that were shared on social media in real-time by the tech-savvy visitors. The posts were shared with a hashtag #Kwibuka25 – or #Remeberance25 in reference to upcoming commemoration period beginning April 7.
Hash ‘Kwibuka’ has become an annual trend.
The posts from Huye, shared thousands of times, became a weekend talk.
The visit added renewed momentum to the heated anti genocide negation campaign, as the powerful and worldwide negationist lobby goes even more ferocious.