After Rain Comes the Sun

People in rural areas count their blessings during the rainy season, including the friendly, hard working women in “Jyamubamdi-Kinyinya” I had reason to visit on a grey overcast Saturday that ended with rays of sun shining through the clouds.

This cooperative is one of fourteen supported by NOUSPR (National Organization of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry in Rwanda), a mental health umbrella organization caring for over a thousand members with psycho social disabilities.

NOUSPR has recently introduced cultural tours to their cooperatives allowing visitors to see village life through the eyes of rural Rwandans. Income from the tours supports people with psycho social disabilities in a supportive environment and motivates them to continue expanding their handicraft production and income generating agricultural work. The programme has a particularly innovative angle, as it also aligns to the strategic intent of EDPRS II * which encourages initiatives in tourism.

Our particular cultural day started with a tea, introductions and a chat after which we all enjoyed a scenic walk downhill to the nearest standpipe 200 metres away. After collecting and carrying water on a slightly more strenuous walk uphill, it was time to help with the preparation of a traditional lunch including the chopping of vegetables and pounding of cassava leaves for a soup. The many children were clearly intrigued by their many visitors and tried to get in on the action in different ways. The cooperative is also very skilled in making colourful sisal baskets and jewellery and shared the art of making beautiful paper beads.
My particular treat was to try carrying a Rwandan child on my back in a piece of kitenge. Needless to say my Rwandan umwuzukuru (= grandchild) and I became close friends and neither of us found it easy to part at the end of the afternoon.
Mental health is a sensitive issue with inadequate care facilities in Rwanda. Many suffer the same recognisable and serious mental illnesses as people in the developed world, but with far fewer resources in the healthcare sector. NOUSPR provides a strong base to promote and protect the rights of people with psychosocial disabilities assisting as they struggle with depression, anxiety and stress. Rwanda in particular faces an added burden of having to cope with large numbers of genocide survivors who continue to suffer from undescribable trauma.

The idea of cooperatives is laudable as a local and relevant solution to many people in Rwanda who would otherwise be isolated. The cultural tour also helps to break stigma and raises hopes and dreams among persons with psycho social disabilities.

It is clear that visitors who express a keen interest in learning more about Rwandan culture will help NOUSPR members gain in confidence and self-esteem, particularly in their own community and with local authorities. Here Comes the Sun!


by Kirsty Buxbom