The sun came out (for once) during the annual CAFOD Liverpool Garden party to welcome Odette Kayirere from Rwanda. Odette came to meet with over 40 CAFOD supporters from Liverpool Archdiocese on Saturday 2nd July 2011 to talk about her harrowing experiences during the genocide and the struggles she faced.
Odette, 54, is the founder of Avega East, (a CAFOD partner) a women’s organisation which helps widows and orphaned children. Avega East provides trauma counselling, medical and legal support and work opportunities for thousands of women in eastern Rwanda. Odette’s husband, a head teacher and her teenage sweetheart, was killed during the genocide. She says, “My husband told me to take the children and hide. He kissed me goodbye. That was the last time I saw him.” In the genocide Odette’s entire family was killed. She says, “I escaped death many times but the rest of my family were killed. They murdered my sister and her family with sticks and nails. I still cannot believe the brutality. It was like ghosts coming from underground, who came and ate people.” She continues, “After the genocide, I had severe trauma. I didn’t care what I looked like. Life had no sense, I had lost hope. Then I realised that I wasn’t the only one in pain. There were others suffering even more than me. I thought: ‘Maybe there is something for me to do, to make a change, to help people.’ Today I am doing everything I can to stop the suffering. This work is how I have found a meaning for my survival. I started Avega because I didn’t die. That means I can help to bring about change for the future. God didn’t create us to be enemies, but to be sisters and brothers, to find different ways to continue to live together in peace, to struggle through life together. We teach our children that we are brothers and sisters. We focus on the things that strengthen or unite us, not the things that divide us. I do this work to honour my husband. His memory encourages me. I want to make him proud.” In November 2010, Odette won the Guardian’s International Development Award for her inspirational work.
Also present at the garden party were local poet Cate Jacobs and John Poulton, head of RE at Holy Cross Catholic High School, who recently made a CD full of original material to raise money for Connect2: Rwanda.
Many thanks to everyone who came on the day!