Rwanda: Afisa's story - looking forward to a bright future
Afisa Gasengayire is a member of the Twa community (known within Rwanda as Historically Marginalised People). Here she tells the story of how her life has been dramatically changed through taking part in MRG's Street Theatre Programme.
"I was born in Nyamabuye sector of Muhanga district/ Southern province of Rwanda. I am the mother of two children, a boy and a girl. I was born as the ninth child in my family. When I grew up I found myself born into a very poor family. All parents of my father and my mother were living only on pottery. At seven year old, I knew how to make clayey objects as I was deeply convinced that it was the only profession I could do. One day I met with the children from the nearby families and they raised my interest in studying. Just at that moment they were reading a newspaper titled “Hobe” and I really felt curious about studying. When I came back home I tried to convince my parents who thereafter accepted to send me and my brother to school.
We learned and knew many things. From the first year up to primary six, my brother has never been the third; he was the first or the second in his class. It has been the same case to me.
During our studies we faced extreme discrimination from our classmates and teachers. However we didn’t become discouraged. I became discouraged when I was in primary four studying far from home and obliged to go to school with food for lunch. My classmates refused to eat together with me saying I am from Historically Marginalized community and they were used to laughing at me. Then I ate alone and they came and took my food and spread it down; and after they beat me. When I talked it to the teacher, he asked “Why did they do that?”, I replied him “they laugh at me saying I am from Historically Marginalized community”. Then the teacher said: “and you are not from Historically Marginalized community?”. The whole class burst out laughing. I lived in such discriminatory circumstances and when I was in primary eight I felt completely discouraged and stopped my studies due to such discrimination which I faced everyday without anybody on my side.
Even my parents were thinking that I couldn’t get anything from the school except knowing how to write and read. So they obliged me to come and do pottery. They kept on asking me “how will you get married without doing pottery, the profession of your parents?”. I thereafter started doing pottery, making earthen objects really without value. I used to go to sell these objects at the market but I only got money for food which wasn’t even sufficient. Although we worked hard, we hadn’t anything at home; I had only one skirt. When I was 22, I got married expecting to get rid of such bad life. But it has not been the case. I could find a loincloth only from well-wishers. By God’s grace YWCA team came and linked us with the Street Theater project. I passed the test and fortunately succeeded. Then I started learning how to play the theater. Really I hadn’t a house; I was just living in a hut which looked like a toilet.
Thanks to the rehearsals and performances of Street Theatre, I gained a lot of skills. Before I didn’t imagine that I could be an actor. The fact that the actors in Street Theatre were a mixture of actors from majority and minority communities; this significantly impacted on my mindset change and broadened my openness.
In fact, the money I got from the Street Theater contributed a great deal to the improvement of my socioeconomic conditions. One day I told my husband: “look for people to make bricks so that we can build a house”. He laughed at me as he was thinking that it wasn’t possible. When I came back from work, I found he had looked for people to make bricks and he kept on working together with them. Now I thank YWCA for they helped me to become open. The Street Theatre helped me to build a house. Traditionally a woman is supposed to live in a house which is built by her husband; however, I found that a woman also from minority community is also able. She can do great things. Now I have a modest house of three rooms and one living room and the hut above has now collapsed.
I have a hope that God who helped me to have this house will also provide doors and windows. In fact I didn’t get anything from pottery except food (Which was not even sufficient enough and nutritious); if I find means to do something else, I cannot go on with pottery.
The skills I have now can allow me to perform even in other plays or documentary films. Now my involvement in the Street Theatre has developed my self-confidence. Before I used to despise myself and thinking that everything should go to people from majority community, however, I do notice that I am able although I am from minority community. For instance when YWCA informed me that I will participate in the launch of the international film by MRG in Belgium, I was completely puzzled. I couldn’t imagine how I would travel to Europe! I thought this is for people from majority community. However, when I got my passport for the first time and thereafter submitted my passport to the Embassy for visa, then I started feeling more confident.
In short, the discriminatory attitudes have disappeared in my respective local area especially as people changed their negative attitudes towards Historically Marginalized People. My achievements have been a testimony that the people from minority community are also able like their compatriots from majority community. For the moment I am enjoying my rights which bring about my full integration in the whole community. I am among the local leaders; now I have a passport and a visa very soon. To my beloved ones from minority community, let’s forget our past and look forward to a bright future full of social cohesion."
Photo: Afisa Gasengayire with her new home. Credit: UCF WYCA.
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