The Turwubake: Construct the Family office sits on a dirt road close to the Nyamirambo market in Nyarugenge District, Rwanda. It has one table, seven wooden chairs with tiger-print seat covers, and cheery yellows walls stained with dirty fingerprints. The Turwubake team leaves the door open during meetings, and the tattered floral sheet that hangs in the door frame blows into the room, then drifts out, then flutters back in, peacefully.
Peace: that is Turwubake's goal, in a nutshell. The Turwubake team leaders identify gender-based violence as a tremendous problem in their home community - because of both its widespread existence and its crippling consequences. They talk fluently about women without rights, value, or decision-making power in their own homes; discrimination against daughters; and unplanned pregnancies or cases of HIV among domestic workers forced to act as mistresses. As Turwubake president Jeanine explains, the effects of violence against women touch all members of society, "even those who are not victims, even those who are not perpetrators."
Jeanine has a tentative, melodic voice and an unlimited capacity for human connection. She grew up in southern Rwanda, raised by a grandmother who taught her by example to think of others first. When she lost her family in the 1994 genocide and had to drop out of high school, Jeanine joined an association that cared for HIV/AIDs patients at the local hospital. In 2008 she heard about Global Grassroots and applied without hesitation. "I knew that was my experience," she says. Her tone is warm but matter-of-fact. "I think I have been trained to be a social change agent all my life."
Jeanine, vice-president Rahema, and treasurer Vianney know what a tremendous impact their project will have. They do not have degrees in development or gender studies; in fact, only Vianney finished high school. But they are experts on their community and its needs because they themselves are members of it. Rahema, a striking woman in her seventies, speaks of visiting female neighbors and finding them upset because of recent abuse. The team also witnesses reports of gender-based violence at monthly neighborhood meetings. They have noticed, in particular, the spread of violence against female domestic workers.
With Global Grassroots' help, Turwubake recently designed and conducted an issue study about domestic violence in their community. The results were alarming. Fifty-three percent of men believe they have the right to beat their wife if she returns home late at night. Sixty-five percent of wives report physical abuse by their husbands. Seventy-nine percent of female domestic workers experience verbal abuse at their jobs.
This month, the Turwubake team is poised at the most exciting point in their project's activities to date. They have completed over a year of tough preparatory work, and now, Vianney says, "we will be moving, moving, moving." Five team members have just completed a seminar on the social, psychological, and legal aspects of gender-based violence with a local women's rights organization, Profemme. Now, they're finishing up selecting victims of violence - fifteen female domestic workers, fifteen wives, and their fifteen husbands - for the first Turwubake training course on women's rights and gender equality. In their recent survey, eighty-four percent of women domestic workers asked Turwubake to teach them a technical skill to allow them to leave the violence they face at their domestic jobs. The team is currently purchasing the sewing machines with which they will teach a technical skill - tailoring - to abused women. Economic empowerment will give women independence, self-respect, and the option to leave abusive jobs or relationships. This month, Turwubake will pilot a few creative fundraising strategies to sustainably cover their operating costs. Later, they will gather their community's domestic workers, creating an association of workers (mostly young women) who can support each other and advocate for the rights of any individuals facing violence.
When Jeanine isn't doing work for Turwubake, she helps support her family by buying and re-selling clothes on the street. Recently, she has been so busy with Turwubake that she goes days without doing any other business. She acknowledges the sacrifice of her time, but Jeanine sees the responsibilities of life as two-part: "I have to take care of myself and my family, but I must also save time for those people I am supposed to help." Turwubake's beneficiaries are family, too. Jeanine has had more memorable, moving conversations with them than she can count. "One woman I talked to," she explains, "told me that her husband undervalues her and does not respect her because she has to ask him for everything. Even a candle - everything that is needed in her family." The woman was overjoyed to hear about Turwubake's plans and activities. She expressed her hopeful excitement that if she made a little money sewing, she would have the power and independence to stand up to her husband.
"Talking to people and sharing their experiences," Jeanine says, "is sometimes painful because they may tell you something that is very sad, and you feel pity for them. But sometimes it can make you happy because they choose you to entrust with their secret. This empowers you to listen carefully to them and then try to see what you and your team must do to remove those people's pain."
Seventeen years ago, Jeanine's community failed her - failed to keep most of her family alive. Today, she feels empowered by her community's trust that she will help protect them from violence. She draws faith in her community from her community's faith in her.
Meet Jeanine, one of the world's conscious change agents: inward and outward focused; healing herself as she heals others.
Jeanine, Turwubake President
Construct the Family office, viewed from the street
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