The Women’s Opportunity Center in Kayonza, Rwanda, will not be a place for victims, but for survivors, writes Benita Hussain in her report to the GOOD Foundation. When the facility opens in 2013, it will train women who lived through the Rwanda genocide of 1994 to help rebuild their country, literally brick by brick.
[pullquote]‘…the effects of the organized massacres and sexual assaults against the Tutsi minority and moderate Hutus were especially devastating for women and girls.”[/pullquote]The project is the result of a collaboration between Washington, D.C.-based non governmental organization (NGO) Women for Women International, which aids women who have lived through wars around the world, and New York architecture firm Sharon Davis Design. Since 2008, the two groups have focused on building a community center to help educate and prepare the women of the Rwanda genocide for economic independence.
It’s a much-needed effort in Rwanda, where the effects of the organized massacres and sexual assaults against the Tutsi minority and moderate Hutus were especially devastating for women and girls. The resulting emotional trauma, unintended pregnancies, and HIV infections led to massive economic losses and financial instability, especially for those who lost their husbands and children to imprisonment, death, or militia recruitment.
Since the conflict ended, Rwanda’s democratic leadership, now led by President Paul Kagame, has mandated 30 percent female representation in government and has been outspoken about the need to empower women as part of Rwanda’s reconciliation efforts. That mission inspired the creation of the Women’s Opportunity Center, conceived as a sustainable space for vocational and agricultural training that will be built by local women survivors of the Rwanda genocide as part of the educational process. The design won 2nd place among planned projects and 1st place in the education subcategory in last November’s World Architecture Festival.
“We approached the design of the project to be an educational tool in itself,” says project manager Bruce Engel. “For example, water scarcity is a huge issue, but no one collects rain. Designing some of the roofs in the shape of big leaves that collect rainwater was meant to express this idea, to teach it.”
The hopeful story of survivival of the Rwanda genocide emerges at a moment when social media are still aflame with stories about Ugandan Joseph Kony and an historic web-based “Make Joseph Kony Famous” campaign to apprehend the infamous 1990s child abductor and mass murderer, who now hides out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Unfortunately, the Joseph Kony viral video has drawn far more global attention than less dramatic efforts, such as the ongoing recovery and forgiveness successes in Uganda.
Also occurring outside the global spotlight is the fact that the holistic, survival-oriented women’s center in Kayonza, Rwanda will also include earth-friendly designs such as a water purification and filtration system, compost toilets, and a demonstration farm that will produce food and animal waste for methane-based biogas—an imperative considering the region’s over-harvesting of timber for fuel. This project embodies empowerment of women, sustainable practices and recovery from horrific abuses.