A young Kirkcaldy High teacher has been helping to make a difference to the people of Rwanda affected by genocide and poverty through her involvement with two special projects.
Suzie Mahr, who teaches religious and moral education (RME), has made four trips to the war-torn country since 2008 and has also taken school pupils with her to help with the ongoing work of Comfort Rwanda & Congo.
Suzie is passionate about this project in Rwanda, where the people are still recovering from the genocide in 1994, when an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in the space of 100 days.
Comfort Rwanda & Congo began as Comfort Rwanda in 1999, five years after the 1994 genocide, with the aim of helping the people in Rwanda to support the recovery of genocide survivors.
The remit of the charity, founded by Callum Henderson, has continued to expand and although this remains the focus, it now addresses wider issues of poverty in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Suzie has also been involved with Comfort Babies which supports young mothers and their babies with both practical and financial support.
Suzie (34), explained how she first got involved: “I started helping with Comfort Rwanda & Congo in 2008 as I stayed in touch with my own RME teacher Jim Bell from Carnoustie High School who was involved with the project,” she said.
“As part of a group we had organised various events to fund the building of houses in the Bugesera area, south of Kigali, and went to visit this as well as various other projects Comfort Rwanda supports.
“Comfort Rwanda & Congo aims to support survivors of the 1994 genocide as well as other wider areas such as poverty within the region. But after reading some of the testimonies of survivors’ genocide experiences in Callum Henderson’s book, Beauty from Ashes, I knew I wanted to do something to help the people of Rwanda.”
Suzie said the voluntary work has been varied over the years.
“No trip is ever the same,” she said.
“Sometimes it has involved some simple farm work alongside the Rwandans, but at other times, it has involved visiting projects and giving beneficiaries time to give their testimonies and share the issues they face. This is one of the most powerful activities I have taken part in.
“When I was last there in April, I ended up evaluating the Batsinda boys’ school reports. Taking part in activities or chores at the street kids’ project in Gatenga is one of my favourite things I have done.”
Suzie, who has gone on the trips as part of a team as well as by herself, took fifth and sixth year pupils from Baldragon Academy in Dundee in 2014 where they worked with ex-street kids, taught classes at a primary school and participated in workshops taught by widows affected by the genocide.
She has also been involved with Comfort Babies. Suzie said: “This project supports young mothers who, through various situations, have become pregnant and are incredibly vulnerable due to their circumstances. Some girls have been raped and disowned by their families and others have lost relatives and found themselves the head of the household whilst caring for a newborn baby. The initial aim of this project is to allow them to be looked after, provide healthcare insurance and still continue their education. But the project is now looking to provide start up grants for the mothers to begin their own small businesses in order to support themselves in the future.
“The girls I met as part of this project in April 2017 were absolutely amazing. I am twice the age of some of them and to see the strength of these girls was something else. I have my own sponsor baby through this project called Manzi and his mum, Chadia, has said how amazing it is to have the support network of her Comfort Babies family.”
On her most recent trip, Suzie was able to take various donated items over to Rwanda including IT equipment for schools in the Congo and medical maternity projects as well as football strips which went to the Batsinda street kids project.
Suzie said: “The Raith Rovers strip went to a boy called Fabrice who, a year earlier, had been living in a rubbish dump. But thanks to the help of Comfort Rwanda & Congo, he was top of his class of 73 boys! While baby clothes from office staff at KHS and handmade tops/dresses from pupils in the art department at the school were also donated to the Comfort Babies project.
“Prior to my trip I couldn’t go along the corridors in the school without someone handing me donations of clothes or footballs or toothbrushes/toothpaste. The generosity of the KHS pupils was really amazing.”
Suzie added that her next trip is planned for February when she will be travelling to a school in Rwanda which is part of the Connecting Classrooms project with the British Council.
She will also be working alongside the Groupe Scolaire Bumbogo school in Rwanda to produce a joint project on Gender Equality – there are also plans to establish a twinning link with the school and Kirkcaldy High.
Suzie said: “I keep in regular touch with various people in Scotland who are attached to, or run, various projects within Comfort Rwanda. I also speak to David Gasana, the in-country co-ordinator, on almost a weekly basis and he keeps me up to date with the babies and my sponsor.”
She added: “These projects are making a massive difference. To see the difference in the beneficiaries over the years has been amazing to witness. I would potentially argue that the people of Rwanda have taught me so much more than I could ever repay them. The life lessons to be learned in Rwanda are incredible.”