We were truly honoured to welcome Odette Kayirere to our diocese last weekend during her special visit to Totton in the New Forest.
Parishioners from St Theresa and the Child Jesus in Totton, St Bernard and St Michael in Waterside and Our Lady and St Edward’s in Lyndhurst gathered together for a special lunchtime event on Sunday after Mass to hear Odette talk about the work of CAFOD partner AVEGA and the Connect2 community in Musha.
Odette is a founder of the women’s association AVEGA and an inspiration to many many thousands of people. Somehow she juggles her full time work as Coordinator of AVEGA East with raising a large family.
AVEGA was established to support the tens of thousands of women and children left widowed after the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Odette lost her own husband and most of her family in the genocide and has dedicated herself to helping other widows ever since.
Her achievements are truly awesome. In 2009 she won a United Nations World Summit Foundation’s prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life and The Guardian’s International Development Achievement Award in 2010. This year has been no different, as AVEGA has just received a Women’s Rights prize from the US Gruber Foundation which honours individuals who have made significant contributions to the rights of women and girls around the world. Wow!
Last year, all three parishes began their relationship with the village of Musha in Rwanda as part of Connect2. Musha was the site of one of the worst individual massacres of the genocide, when thousands of unarmed Tutsi civilians were attacked by the Hutu militia with grenades, machetes and firebombs whilst taking refuge in a church and more than 1,000 people were killed.
Waterside parishioner Angela Slattery introduced the Musha community, outlining its history and some of the personal stories of the women who live there. Angela spoke beautifully and asked everyone to remember Feza in particular– who couldn’t accompany Odette at the last minute on this trip.
Odette then shared her own personal story of surviving the genocide with her six daughters (one of whom was just 2 months old) by hiding in the bushes. The fear of being discovered and one of the children’s crying being heard was just unimaginable.
Odette also outlined how she came to work with AVEGA. ‘I escaped death many times. It’s why I find a meaning for my survival today. After the genocide, life made no sense. I lost all hope.’ She told us that she didn’t care, for example, what she looked like or whether she had buttoned up her dresses correctly. She felt she didn’t matter.
“I soon 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.”
“The first thing was to break the silence, to fight the isolation that women felt. Now the role of AVEGA is to help them fight for their rights.” AVEGA now provides psychosocial and medical rehabilitation to thousands of genocide survivors and has constructed thousands of widows’ and orphans’ houses.
We then all shared a really special lunch – brilliantly organised by Edna Wharton from St Theresa’s and everyone from the CAFOD group at the parish. All three parishes had sold raffle tickets for a special draw on the day, which raised around £350 for Connect2 – how brilliant! All three parishes have already raised over £4,000 for the community in Rwanda.
I know that all the volunteers and supporters there felt that we made a really special connection that day. It was just so lovely to see Odette and hear about the work going on in Rwanda. Thank you so much Edna for organising such a great day so well. It took a lot of planning and hard work. Edna – you know you are a star!!! Thank you too to all the people who helped by making the fantastic food and who everyone who helped set up the hall. Thanks to Father Kevin for welcoming Odette on the day on behalf of the entire community.
Lovely to see Val from St Anne’s Brockenhurst, Brian and Briony from St Theresa’s, Mike and Jane Wilcox from St Boniface in Southampton and our friends from St Bernard’s and St Michael’s including Clare Davies – who had just that minute returned from her hols but wanted to show her support. Thank you all so much! Angela – I will be in touch when we need a speaker!!! Thanks too to everyone who came along on the day and made it such a special occasion – including Father Kevin who introduced Odette and welcomed her on behalf of the community. A big thanks also to our parish contact in Waterside, Louise Croll, who could not be there on the day but worked very much “behind the scenes” to make it a success!
Continue to follow our Connect2 community via the special blog http://connect2rwanda.wordpress.com/