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Home AMAKURU COVID-19: Historically marginalized people ask for more support

COVID-19: Historically marginalized people ask for more support

By Marie Anne Dushimimana

Vestine Kabibi was sitting close to one another in her home’s backyard with four other people cracking jokes when we visited her home in  Nyonirima cell, Kinigi Sector in Musanze District.As Rwanda and the world, in general, are battling COVID-19, Kabibi and colleagues were talking to each other freely, some of them were wearing no facemasks, and the required distance of one meter was not respected.

Kabibi who belongs in the first Ubudehe Category told the Child Focus that he has never bought any face mask. “I was walking in the street, and I saw other people wear masks. Fortunately, I saw one on the ground, I picked and wore it. When I got home, I washed it three consecutive times to kill the virus if it was infected. For now, I use it regularly,” she said.

Kabibi has worn the same facemasks for months and she can’t tell how often she washes it.

That was the second mask she owned after getting the first that he got from authorities and it had been stolen when he was going to the market, she narrated. No more other face masks were distributed to vulnerable people like Kabibi according to local accounts.

Shared concern

A Historically Marginalized Woman doing Pottery/ Pic. M.A Dushimimana

The child focus visited other areas in different districts and talked to Historically Marginalized People on how they prevent the spread of the pandemic. The majority lament they do not have the means to buy facemasks, soaps, and other required materials to curb the spread of the pandemic.

For instance, Jackeline Uwiduhaye 25 is Uwiduhaye from Kamonyi and a mother of four said: “I can’t afford soap and water every day. There are times we spend all day without taking a bath. We fetch water from far and sometimes we don’t have money to buy that soap,”

Her family would need at least Rfw3,000 to buy at least one facemask to every family member.

The resident of Runda sector in Kamonyi District said it takes them more than three hours to find clean water. Her husband, she says, used to earn money from pots he could make and sell to clients. But due to covid-19 pandemic, she says he no longer get clients “We survive by doing petty jobs like working in the farms as we do not have our own lands. We struggle to afford food, which means that we can hardly afford to buy soap to wash our hands. Water scarcity is also a hindrance’  Uwiduhaye added. “We ask the government to support us by giving us small funds to create small income businesses. Before COVID-19, we could even take our pots in Kigali but now it is not possible. We need to shift to other jobs to survive,” she said.

Poverty, mindset blamed

Epiphanie Kanziza the Coordinator of Women’s Organization of Promoting Unity (WOPU Rwanda) said Historically Marginalized People have many challenges to implement COVID-19 preventive measures compared to other Rwandans. “Firstly, their mindsets are still behind compared to other Rwandans,” she says.  “When it comes to hygiene and sanitization. They don’t have water in their homes, public water kiosks are far from them and those able to access them lack means to pay the little amount of money the water, it is also hard for them to get hygienic tools,” she said.

 Besides, most of them live in small houses and they hardly can respect other guidelines such as leaving one-meter distance required.

The situation, according to Kanziza, gets worse when it comes to women and children who need special hygiene and sanitation compared to their male counterparts, she said. “Some have been given food during the period of lockdown but now it has finished. They need emergency support to help them achieve sustainable development. For example, they can be helped to engage in other jobs instead of doing only pottery which doesn’t have enough market for now,” she suggested.

This can be done through local leaders to detect those who are more vulnerable among them and the suitable support which can match the context they live in, she added. There are between 30,000 and 33,000 Historically marginalized People countrywide, according to the available statistics.

A recent report by the Rwandan Senate showed that these categories of Rwandans are still behind in mindsets and their number is decreasing due to the incest and bad life they live in their respective communities. The same report stated that more sensitization is needed to help them change their mindsets to enable them to catch the current development speed.

The situation is not different in Kigali

At around 5 p.m, a group of potters, mainly historically marginalized people, were finalizing their products before they called it a day and went back home before the 7 pm curfew could catch them. That was early August. No movement was allowed after then as the country had set 7 pm as curfew time to ensure all are at home as one of the efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.

The group’s daily activities are carried out in the Kacyiru sector in Gasabo district. Entering their workspace, a group of women sat down apparently taking a rest after the long day and tiring chores. Three women from whom two wear facemasks by half were arranging their colleague’s hair who had no facemask.

Other workers could be seen wearing facemasks only covering their mouths but not noses are not covered. “We normally wear facemasks but some of us do not wear them properly due to the resistance to change,” says one woman who is in cooperative management but denies identifying herself as she is not allowed to speak on behalf of the cooperative. “A few of us have hand sanitizer, two or three of us,” she adds before introducing me to Jonathan Gatera, the cooperative president.

For Gatera, every member of the cooperative has to wear a facemask properly and every time while at work.

But the situation is not always the same. Besides, the situation may be worse when you visit historically marginalized people at home. “Wearing facemask is a must here, we all have them here and no one is allowed to come here without it,” he says.

The cooperative has built itself one handwashing station along the road to their office so that everyone who goes there washes hands before entering. But when I visited the place there was no soap to use. Besides, the place has two entities and the second one has no such station. “We built a handwashing station in clay to advertise our products made in clay, we made it imperative that all members of the cooperative wash their hands before entering here,” Gatera says.

“For visitors and clients, we encourage them to wash their hands or use sanitizers but we are aware that some of them do not do so and this is a threat to our health,” he notes “But we are vigilant and we don’t allow whoever we detect to enter without washing hands”

 The problem is that the handwashing station is a bit far for members to wash their hands often as the guidelines from the Ministry of Health stipulate. “We don’t have a problem of washing often as we always use water while making clay products, we assume we are clean and we cannot contaminate one another. We also avoid shaking hands with others,” he says.

A burden to some historically marginalized people

Much as some cooperative members wear facemasks at work, it is questionable whether they do so at home as well or whether they manage to wash them or change them regularly.

According to Gatera, the historically marginalized people do not adhere to the guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 “Because they are too poor to afford facemasks and have a few information on how the pandemic spreads and how is prevented” “ Not everyone has water at home, especially historically marginalized people do not have water at their homes and the mobilization does not reach them, there is need for more mobilization and financial support for them to be able to fight COVID and be safe”

Mariam another historically marginalized people live in Gasabo’s area of Batsinda she says that despite campaigns to prevent the spread of COVID-19, little has been done to vulnerable historically marginalized people. “Historically marginalized people are too poor to afford facemasks they can exchange, even those who have it have one they bought when the order was given and have not bought any other to change,” she says.

It is also hard for them to wash their hands regularly as they don’t even wash their bodies regularly, some of them have no water at home and no money to buy it, we can’t talk about hand sanitizer,” she says. “The government and partners should intervene and support historically marginalized people in their communities, it is not easy for us to prevent COVID-19 given the poverty we live in,’’ she said.

What do leaders say?

Axelle Kamanzi, Administrative assistant in charge of Social affairs in Musanze District said Historically Marginalised People have been helped to get the basic equipment to prevent from COVID-19, together with various partners, and the support continues as the means get available.

However, they are supported and sensitized like other vulnerable people in the district, who have been affected by COVID-19 or whose mindsets are still behind. “Firstly, I personally don’t accept the tag you give them. It is 26 years after the genocide now, they are Rwandans like others. It is not fair to label them and it is one of the reasons their mindsets remain behind,” she said.

Joseph Havugimana, communications specialist at the Ministry of Local Government told the Child Focus that during the Pandemic period the Government organized general support programs to all most vulnerable Rwandans.

“We looked at all the most vulnerable people who lost their jobs during the lockdown period including Historically Marginalized People, and we gave them food and other hygienic materials,” he said.


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