The reflection sessions that changed a narrative in Rwanda

 

Indashyikirwa (Agents for Change) is an intimate partner violence (IPV) prevention project being implemented across seven Districts in the Western, Northern and Eastern provinces of Rwanda. The programme targets both partners of couples through a series of reflection sessions that challenge drivers of gender based violence (GBV) and promote equality.

Ndabaruta Beatrice and Ndayambaje Godefroid are one of the couples that were selected to be a part of the five-month, weekly curriculum.

Beatrice spoke about the difference in her life and relationship before and after participating in the curriculum: “When we got married we didn’t own much, but as time went on, it got worse. We barely had any food in the home because even the little earnings we had my husband spent on alcohol. He always came home late and drunk and he often kicked the door open while hurling insults at me and the children. I became such a miserable person to the extent that I didn’t care whether I took a bath or not, I was not even bothered about body hygiene. I lived in that hopeless situation for seven years”.

The Start of a Transformational Journey
My husband and I were invited to be part of a five-month couple curriculum with the Indashyikirwa Project. When the training started the facilitator introduced my husband and I, together with a group of other selected couples, to a series of dialogue sessions.

These sessions were aimed at triggering self-reflection on our relationships as married couples but all this was but a dream to me. I thought to myself, “this is not for us it’s for the rest of the couples in the room, who are living in harmony but not us”. I asked myself whether it was even possible for me to ever sit down to hold a reasonable conversation with my husband, without him calling me “fool” or telling me that I looked like a “gorilla”, which was the way he often referred to me, he did not value me let alone consider me as his wife.

Every child we had together he despised. When the five-month couple curriculum began I often asked myself “whether this man will ever love me or even talk to me just like the other married couples do.”

Beatrice appreciated the relationship skills development and take-home exercise approach encouraged by the curriculum, and how through trying something new, their relationship slowly changed:

One day the training facilitator gave us a take-home exercise, which required us to talk and reflect on how we can spend quality time together as a couple. It all seemed like a joke to me because at this point even though we were living in the same house, we were both living in separate rooms, and this had been going for about three months and so the idea of us sitting together to talk was a far cry from our situation at home. As we went on with the training he started surprising me with acts of kindness, which implied that he was trying to make an effort to do right by me.

Beatrice also shared the longer-term impacts of the couple’s curriculum on her relationship:

After a number of curriculum sessions, I started to notice a change of heart in my husband, he started taking responsibility for the family needs, like buying clothes for the children and myself. Before this, the entire time we had been married he had never bought the children any clothes. He even went ahead to open up a joint account for us – for the longest time he had denied me access to financial resources. By opening up this account he was giving me the right to access our income. From that day, he started being intentional about helping me with household chores and whenever I was not home he would take care of the children.

Beatrice also shared the positive impacts of the curriculum, especially around making joint decisions, on their household development:

As a result of the training we made the decision to start planning for our family as a couple, we renovated our house to make it more habitable, we also bought a small plot of land. My husband started helping me to cultivate the land which he never did before, we now have a harvest that we never had before in all our seven years of marriage. Ndayambaje shared how he and his mother rarely communicated because she did not approve of his behavior towards his wife.

“I didn’t want to heed her advice, and I never visited her but now we talk and she also testifies to the change she sees in me and in my relationship with my wife and family.”

He noted that as a result of the curriculum, he now has a better relationship with his wife and family:

“I am now accepted in my neighborhood, before the training I was known as a rebellious person not only by my neighbors but also by the Local Authorities, now everyone wants to know what caused the sudden change. I now feel a sense of belonging in my community and in my own family as a result of my individual change. I am now a respected man in my community and my family’s well-being has been boosted, thanks to the Indashyikirwa project.”

My name is Rachel Kwizera, I have been working with CARE for the last three years as a Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator for the Indashyikirwa Project. This story is just one of the many other amazing stories that I have witnessed from a number of couples who testify to the intentional changes they made as couples as result of being part of the Couples Curriculum. Several times, these couples have acknowledged that being aware of “Power and Power Use” has changed their entire outlook on how they treat each other as couples, towards a more respectful and positive manner.

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