Archive for June, 2011

$500,000 Gruber Prize Recognizes Widows in the Hood
Saturday, June 25th, 2011

Left without the legal protection of husbands after the ugly bloodletting of 1994, fifty women stood together in Rwanda to form AVEGA Agahozo, the Association of Widows of the Genocide, and 17 years later they are still helping one another to get on with the business of living. Thank You Gruber for recognizing ‘Widows in the Hood.”

For their work, the group will receive the 2011 Women’s Rights Prize of The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, a $500,000 unrestricted cash award, to be presented in a ceremony later this year.

In a historically patriarchal society, AVEGA has helped to achieve legal reforms that, for the first time, gave Rwandan women inheritance rights, established rape as an act of genocide and defined other crimes of sexual violence as serious crimes.


The group seeks to promote the general welfare of widows through legal advocacy, social and economic development projects, and education, training and other support that contributes to income generation and self-sufficiency. It also operates three health centers and provides medical services to thousands.


Headquartered in Kigali, Rwanda, AVEGA Agahozo provides services across the country and includes among its members more than 20,000 widows and more than 71,000 dependents and orphans. Of the 300,000 to 400,000 survivors of the Rwandan genocide, widows outnumber widowers ten to one. It is the widows and orphans who witnessed the atrocities and, in many cases, suffered extreme violence themselves. Sexual violence was often used to humiliate and degrade women during the 100 days of the violent scourge, with estimates of the number of women raped ranging between 250,000 and 500,000.


Traumatized and shamed, many of these women are seeking help now only because they are ill. For these women, AVEGA is a refuge, providing medical services, psychological counseling, education and training, housing and legal services. AVEGA offers medical help to those suffering from AIDS and has coordinated voluntary testing for HIV for more than 10,000 of its members. It also delivers antiretroviral treatment and wraparound care and treatment, including nutrition support, to more than 1,500 HIV+ women. Last year it introduced a new program to provide educational support to children born to survivors of rape, a particularly marginalized group in Rwanda.AVEGA also assists widows who wish to testify against those accused of genocide. Members are accompanied to court and receive assistance by AVEGA in the resolution of their cases. In national, international and community-based Gacaca courts, an estimated 800,000 perpetrators have been convicted so far. Originally, when many women were unwilling to come forward, AVEGA sent hundreds of trainers into the villages to teach them how to testify. In Kigali, the organization has helped prepare witnesses for testimony in over 150 landmark legal cases.


AVEGA is now teaching widows and orphans about land law as well. It has built houses for many widows and orphans, and has provided about 13,000 of its members with shelter. Women had no inheritance rights before the genocide. AVEGA pushed for reform, lobbying lawmakers, judges and journalists until a law was passed in November 1999 that allowed widows the right to inherit a husband’s property. More recently, AVEGA’s advocacy played a pivotal role in securing the introduction of Rwanda’s first gender-based violence law, enacted in 2009. AVEGA has also helped women become involved in income-generating activities, such as business projects, farming, basket-weaving and other handicrafts. Garments produced on modern tailoring machines are now marketed worldwide.The motto of AVEGA, translated from the French, is “Let not the screams of our martyrs lead to our silence or make us forget.” But while the organization is ever mindful of the past, its focus now is on the future and making life better for tomorrow.(A complete organizational profile is available at






A Postmodern Widoe – Inadequate Language – Chapter One
Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Inadequate Language

Zavier said good-bye to his daddy in his daddy’s hospital bed.


Daddy said, “Say hello to Mickey Mouse for me.”

“Okay,” said Zav, and the pitter-patter of his feet could be heard slapping against the linoleum-floored hall as he ran, holding Uncle Matt’s hand, on his way to catch a plane to Disneyland, to the land of simulations and distortions.

“See you soon,” Daddy said.

“Okay,” said Zav, as he smiled for him one more time, pushed the buttons on his hospital bed, and made his daddy laugh with his make-believe pirate’s face. Zavi reached up to him with his dimpled, three-year-old hands, pressed his cheeks and gave him a kiss on his living lips.


I remember my son’s last kiss to his daddy, but not mine.

Peter had become sick with the flu two weeks earlier. His antibodies, which were supposed to fight a virus, turned on his red blood cells instead. It could have been the medication he was taking for his heart, or maybe a flu bug picked up in Florida, or maybe a scorpion carrying the sting of a smitten siren. Who knows? His red blood cells were gobbled up all of a sudden and then they clotted, or so they say. I’ve asked many specialists in the field of blood, “What happened? Why did he just die like that in the hospital?”

 “We don’t know,” was the other standard answer.

It was Tuesday when Zavi said goodbye at the hospital, without his daddy or his mama for his journey. We were all supposed to be together, but on Monday, while we were packing the car for our meandering holiday down the southern California coast, Peter had collapsed in the bathroom and crawled up to our bed, on our altarstage. He had called for me with a scratch of sand in his throat, a flutter in his heart, and tears in his eyes. I had called the ambulance.

When the paramedics arrived they seemed disappointed that they had been called to a house for an emergency that, according to them, wasn’t an emergency. Ours wasn’t a house either, or rather, it was a house, but it had been a church and we were about half way done in our reconstructing church to home project.  Because our bed was on what had once been the altar, the medics didn’t have room on the floor for the gurney  The lifted Peter two steps down the stage, or altar, depending on the mood.

 The men in blue uniforms with golden badges said Peter’s vitals weren’t alarming and they weren’t sure he needed to go to the hospital, but I insisted. I told them Peter had a history of arrhythmia and that he’d been taking folic acid for three days for a very low count of red blood cells. I said we were meeting Peter’s doctor at the hospital and that I didn’t dare drive him there by myself because I was afraid he might pass outenroute.

The gurney was raised to meet our bed, and Peter was safely delivered to the hospital where we could “aggressively” begin looking into this blood problem that had just begun sucking his bloodsong.

The first blood doctor wasn’t alarmed either, but we were alarmed, so we called in a new blood doctor. He was more alarmed. Even so, he said Peter could be out in a couple of days; after they transfused his blood and built up his red blood cells. My brother, Mark, was to be wed in San Diego on Saturday. We would meet up with everyone on Friday.

Instead, on Friday morning, in the wee-est of hours, Peter died.

When Zavi asks mommy why daddy died, I answer, “It was his time.”

 “No Mommy, why did daddy die?”

“Daddy died because he got a bad flu bug in his blood. It made his body stop working. When your body stops working, you die.”

“No mommy, why did Daddy die?”

“I don’t know Zavi. I don’t know. It must have been his time to die.”