Bisesero (now Rwankuba) is an area in the west of Rwanda, near Kibuye, on the shores of Lake Kivu. It was the only place in Rwanda where any concerted resistance to the genocide took place. The men defended themselves and their women and children with stones and sticks against the repeated onslaughts of the interahamwe and the Rwandan army with their guns, machetes and grenades. Because the women and children were gathered together for protection they were easy prey for the reinforced militias with the army. After 11 weeks of massacre, on the 27 June 1994, French soldiers arrived and encouraged the survivors to come out of hiding, which they did, but then soldiers quickly left and abandoned the people to their killers. Estimates vary of between 30,000 and 50,000 being killed on the hills of Bisesero, but what is clear is that only around 1,000 survived. These tended to be the strongest and fittest so now, 20+ years on, Bisesero is dominated by an ageing male population.
Mubuga and Gishyita are in the same area as Bisesero and some of those who resisted came from these communities. Comfort Rwanda & Congo works in this area in partnership with Good News International. There is a strong emphasis on healing and reconciliation and some of the agricultural projects and retreats proactively include survivors, perpetrators, those who stood by and watched, refugees and those who risked their lives to rescue victims. It is hoped that by working together and sharing life and purpose that friendship and trust will be restored. The massive loss of life means that there is land available but as the survivors were left with nothing they have no means to farm the land. Comfort Rwanda & Congo have supplied seed, plants, tools and fertiliser, the projects have been very productive. We are grateful to all those individuals and churches who have contributed to this area and we are greatly encouraged by the significant changes, including the return of hope and purpose, that we have witnessed.
Bishopbriggs Community Church - A partner church with the Karongi District
In 2007, Callum Henderson, Director of Comfort Rwanda & Congo spoke to Bishopbriggs Community Church (BCC) about the work of the charity and as a result 4 members of the leadership team accompanied him to Rwanda in January 2008.
During this trip they visited the Bisesero hills and it was decided that the church would “adopt” Bisesero (now Rwankuba). Before the genocide many people in this area had been cattle farmers, so BCC launched the "How much Cow?" campaign. They hoped to raise enough money to buy one Hybrid cow. However, church members and friends were so generous that £3,200 was raised allowing Comfort Rwanda & Congo to buy 3 cows and 100 goats for the Karongi communities (Mubuga, Gishyita & Bisesero). One of the team became the Comfort Rwanda & Congo church rep and they played a vital role in cementing our relationship with Karongi, by keeping in touch with the 3 communities and writing to them regularly. With the help of Comfort Rwanda & Congo, BCC have made regular trips to Rwanda to visit the communities, meeting with community leaders to find out what is most urgently needed and communicating this to the church in Scotland.
A Bishopbriggs Community Church Rwanda Team member continues the story… “In October 2009 we met with community leaders who expressed a great need for housing for survivors and asked if BCC would consider helping them build 20 new homes.
They also showed us a field at Gishyita which a group of local widows wanted to develop as a pineapple plantation. When we returned to Scotland we designed a calendar with pictures from the trip. Over 100 copies were sold, raising sufficient funds to provide plants and tools to establish the Pineapple Plantation. We also started the “Bisesero Building Fund” to raise money for 20 houses.
During the next trip in April 2011 we received an urgent request for help to repair houses at Gishyita that had been damaged by terrible storms. Money was made available and the repairs were carried out within a couple of months. We have since been back and visited some of the families to see how they are getting on.
At the start of 2012 we were asked to help a group in Bisesero to establish a Potato plantation. So we bought seed potato, fertiliser and rented a large field for the community.
By Spring of 2012 enough funds had been raised to build 6 homes in Mubuga. These were mud brick construction with a cement "skin" and corrugated roof to protect them from the elements. During a visit in October 2012 we were able to formally present the houses to the community and meet those who would live in them. The recipients were a mix of widow and orphan survivors. Each household was presented with gifts, a candle (representing light), some shortbread (food) and a bible (life). We also visited the pineapple plantation at Gishyita and witnessed their first crop of pineapples. This was a time of real celebration.
In April 2014 Another team from BCC spent time in each of the 3 communities, sharing and praying with them. We returned to projects that had been established to see how they were progressing and visited some of the homes in Gishyita which we had helped repair. We also presented 4 homes (2 duplexes) to an orphan, a widower and 2 widows in Bisesero. We celebrated together with a meal which included some delicious roasted potatoes from the potato project.
We were invited to visit a beekeeping project which had been established by a group of widowers in Bisesero. They had around 100 traditional beehives spread across the hillside, but the honey was so popular that demand was outstripping supply. They asked us if we could help them to purchase some European-style box hives which are 5-6 times more productive. After returning to Scotland we held a special event and raised enough cash to buy 10 box hives. During our trip in April we had visited the Ihumure Vocational Training Centre and met some of the students. It was agreed with the director that students from the IVTC would make the beehives for Bisesero, giving them some income and allowing them to learn new carpentry skills”.