Rugerero Survivors Village, Gisenyi, Rwanda (2004 – Present)

In collaboration with the Rugerero community, Barefoot Artists has implemented projects and launched programs to transform the physical and human environment of the Survivors’ Village through art, health, community, and economic development initiatives. Through these collaborative activities, villagers now feel connected to each other and the village has a sense of place based on images rooted in the residents’ own imagination and creativity.

To learn more about the background of this project and the history of the Rugerero Survivors Village, please visit our Genocide Memorial Park page.



Barefoot Artists has set up an ongoing Saturday learning program including visual and performing arts, English, and soccer. Clementine Mugurwinka, a core member of the Rwandan team, was a formidable athlete who competed in track and field in the 1984 Olympic Games. She organizes sports activities and teaches traditional dancing to the village children.

Art teacher Fabrice teaches children painting and design. He encouraged children to draw inspiration from their home environment and the landscape around them. Fresh and delightful, many of the images from the workshops were turned into beautiful public art on the walls of many homes in the village. The originality and authenticity of these images give the village a unique look that reflects the local sensitivity, confidence and the daringness to innovate and be different.

Children creating banners together

Mukamanana Joy teaches English lessons weekly to the village children and adults. Her effort is the foundation of a pen pal project and has become more essential since the Rwandan government made Engilsh a requirement in all schools.

Children dancing for volunteers at the welcome ceremony

Dancing and singing are essential elements in the life of this village. Villagers dance and sing to celebrate their tradition and to show off their physical beauty and talent. We were welcomed with songs and dances, an expression of their joy and gratitude.

(left) Mother holding the picture of her sons who were murdered in genocide, (right) A triumphant dance over evil, darkness, and destruction

During the welcoming ceremony, there was a woman wearing a long, bright yellow scarf over her shoulder. She bore a deep scar on her neck, the result of a brutal machete cut during the 1994 genocide. Miraculously she survived. Raising her hands high towards the sky, she smiled and sang. She danced her rhythm of triumph and life.



In April 2007, Barefoot Artists brought over 500 pen pal letters from American youth in the states of Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Georgia to Rwanda. Each letter contained the name, photograph of the writer, age, name of school, images, and words.

Teachers used this as a precious opportunity to educate their students about the dire situation in Rwanda and other places in the world. Children and adults in the village who have seen the letters were deeply moved and encouraged by the personal messages contained in the letters and the abundance of love coming from America.

Barefoot Artists members conducted workshops in which children created numerous drawings and big banners reflecting their village environment, life, and dreams. They have also created many beautifully decorated pen pal letters containing their own photos and personal messages to the young people in America. Participants of the project in Louisville were so inspired by the responses that they renamed the project Freedom Writers’ Diary.

(left) Self portrait by Broromono from the Rugerero Survivors Village, (right) Exhibition at the Genocide Memorial Site Dedication

Through the pen pal program, youth from several states are now learning about the Rwandan genocide and reaching out to the Rugerero Survivors Village. Michele Hemenway, an education consultant in Louisville, KY has engaged over four hundred students from various schools in writing personal letters to the children in Rugerero. Frost Middle School adopted the project and created a writing portfolio project called “Voices of Reason.”

To learn more about the far reaches of the pen pal program, please visit our Sharing the Healing page.





In October 2005, the Office of Advance Population Health and a team of Jefferson medical students began working with Barefoot Artists to design a community-oriented primary care health needs assessment of the Survivors Village in Rugerero. The team of one physician, one resident, three medical students and one public health nursing student worked with community leaders to assess the health status and needs of the Survivors Village. The goals of this assessment were three-fold: 1) to document the needs of the community members through key informant interviews and focus groups, 2) to evaluate and document the health resources currently available through site visits and semi-structured interviewing of established organizations and 3) to better understand health needs in context of the unique social and political history of Rwanda. Under Professor James Plumb’s guidance, a group of medical students from the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital have been visiting and working in the Rugerero Survivors Village for several weeks each summer since 2006.

Drawings by the Village health team to instruct villagers about better hygiene practices

From mid-June to mid-July 2007, seven Jefferson medical students went to the Rugerero Survivors’ Village to continue their research work on humanistic medicine. They helped to set up a 10-member health team in the village to monitor hygiene practices in the village. The team members created some lovely paintings, translating the health lessons into pictures, which can instruct lessons on health and hygiene to other villagers.

(left) Medical students from Thomas Jefferson Hospital University in Philadelphia, (right) International and Rwanda volunteer team members

During the summer of 2008, JeffHealth sent 8 students to Rwanda. Key projects implemented by the students included training villagers to provide health education about HIV/AIDS, family planning, prenatal care, and nutrition. Additionally, the Nutrition Supplement Project is identifying the most malnourished children in the village and will provide their families with chickens to help improve nutrition for their children. It is hoped this pilot project will be expanded next year.

Through Jeffhealth, Thomas Jefferson University sponsored and hosted two medical students from Butare, Rwanda for a two-month long residency ending in early 2008.



The water situation at the Survivors’ Village is very difficult all year round because the whole village of 100 families gets water from two faucets. One is located in the middle of the village, the other, next to the office of the Executive Secretary approximately 300 meters from the village center. There is usually a long line of yellow jerricans waiting to be filled at the faucets. Sometimes the faucets yield no water. The situation gets desperate if that happens in dry season. “The greatest problem with this centrally located water pump system is that the Regie Company must constantly perform maintenance on the outdated pipe system. When maintenance is performed, the company must shut off all the water supply to the villages. Not only do villagers suffer from having less water, but they must walk 1 hour or 7 km to the Sebya River (a tributary to Lake Kivu) to get contaminated water for washing, cooking and sometimes drinking. This creates a major problem for the transmission of bacterial, parasitic and fungal diseases.” –JeffHealth report of 2007

Rwanda, a lush and beautiful mountainous country, is blessed with moderate temperature and two rain seasons a year. Noticing that all the homes in the survivors village have corrugated roofs but no device to collect rainwater, Lily Yeh, the founding director of Barefoot Artists asked Jean Bosco Musana, Barefoot Artists Rwanda Coordinator and Michel Habumugisha of Red Cross to work with villagers to produce a rain harvest water storage system design. To test the effectiveness of the design, Barefoot Artists sponsored the construction of two. The design proved to be successful.

Villagers getting water from their own rainwater harvest storage tanks

To ensure high quality of workmanship, control the cost of construction, and require direct participation of villagers in the installation of the rain water harvest systems, we decided to work with the Kigali based Roto company with expertise in producing high quality water tanks and rainwater harvesting engineering. Roto sent one engineer to the survivors village who worked with local masons and trained six villagers in construction and engineering to complete the installation of water tanks for 100 families. “People are very happy. They say that now with water their toilet must be clean.” – Jean Bosco Musana



Over the past 25 years Population Services International (PSI) has worked in partnership with local governments and local affiliates to improve the health of low-income and vulnerable populations around the world. In April 2008, Barefoot Artists sponsored Alain Giovanni Dusabe, manager of PSI Kigali-based office, to provide the village’s 100 families with clean water for one year. Giovanni conducted a workshop in the survivors village on safe water, including how to properly use the PSI product and water management. Jean Bosco Musana will monitor PSI’s monthly deliverance of its product to the village. The team of ten health workers continue to oversee the proper use of the solution by each household. This should improve the overall health situation in the village.

Villagers attending a demonstration on how to use the solution produced by PSI



Eric Reynolds also introduced a new method developed at the MIT “D-Lab” to turn corncobs into cooking charcoal, to recycle trash into energy. It is his dream to replicate this methodology in other villages in Rwanda. In addition, the team brought the “first light” to the village, 100 renewable solar-powered flashlights and 140 hand-crank dynamo electric LED lanterns using safe, clean, affordable energy to light the villagers’ very dark nights.



A three-member team from the Engineers without Borders, Mid Atlantic Professional Chapter visited the Rugerero Survivors’ Village in February 2008 to assess sanitation in the village. Based on their assessment, nearly half of the 100 existing wastewater systems in the village were a health danger and needed to be repaired or replaced. During the spring and summer the group raised about $50,000 to undertake this work and a great deal of time was spent planning for an implementation trip.

Six engineers, Bob Hankin, Bob DiFilippo, Linford Martin, Lora Markley, Adam Brostow, and Richard Cairncross, returned to Rugerero, Rwanda from August 22nd through September 20th with a finalized design to build new latrine systems and to teach community members the skills to continue the building process in the following months.

At the end of November 2008, 11 new latrines had been constructed and 15 existing systems had been repaired. The work should be completed by the middle of 2009 and when completed, there will be no more open sewage in the village and all of the dangerous open holes will have been repaired or replaced with new latrine buildings. The quality of life will be improved immeasurably when these changes are made.

For more information on the Engineers Without Borders project, click here.





Volunteer Alan Jacobson, President of Ex;it Foundation, together with residents in the Survivors’ Village and local government officials, launched the sunflower seed oil production business in April 2007. Materials and two oil production machines were brought in from Nairobi and the government assigned land to grow sunflowers to produce seeds for oil production. Over twenty people were trained to use the machines.

In early 2008, Jacobson brought in a trainer from Kenya to address production challenges with training on the use of the machines. After just one day of training, production increased significantly to 20 bottles in one day compared to less than 10 bottles over several months. By December 2008, the Cooperative will have an identity program to assist in the marketing and sales of the sunflower oil. This is made possible by a SAPPI grant “Ideas that Matter” that was recently awarded to Jacobson and the Ex;it Foundation. The sunflower oil production cooperatives have been recognized by the local government as an economic development strategy. Many new cooperatives have been organized outside of the Survivors’ Village to grow seeds to sell to the oil cooperative.

(left) Sunflower seed pressing machine, (right) Sunflower seed oil production team with sponsor Alan Jacobson (front, second from right)

The sunflower oil production business now occupies a small building in the village with a brightly covered mural of sunflowers designed by Jacobson and painted by participants in the young women’s empowerment program with guidance from Meghan Morris and Eric Reynolds.

The sunflower oil cooperatives have been developed and funded by Alan Jacobson and the Ex;it foundation.



Sensing the vulnerability of young women in their teens, two Barefoot Artists team members, Terry Tempest Williams and Meghan Morris, launched a Young Women’s Empowerment program in 2007 to provide adult guidance, skill training, health information, and a structure for mutual support for young women living in the Survivors Village.

To create job opportunities for women in the village, the Widows’ Association requested assistance to set up a sewing and training program taught by a professional tailor. Barefoot Artists sponsors a one year program in which 12 women were fully trained to get jobs in nearby Gisenyi, to take on sewing commissions or to form their own businesses. Under Musana’s guidance, Clementine and Lea, the project leaders, secured a building, purchased six sewing machines, fabric, cabinets, and hired a sewing teacher. Training started at the beginning of July 2007. The first group of 12 graduates is now getting contracts to sew school uniforms and other garments and Dina Uwingeneye has begun training a second group of women. Barefoot Artists volunteer Eric Reynolds, one-time owner/founder of a Colorado-based clothing company, provided intensive sewing workshops for the women during his visit in 2008.

“The sewing classes are doing very well. I would even rank it as the most successful program in Rugerero. For me, the ownership has a very big importance for the success of all programs in Rugerero.” —Ephrem Rukundo

In February 2008, with guidance from Meghan Morris, the Young Women’s Empowerment Program formally merged with the Sewing Cooperative. The group’s focus is on women’s health, economic development, knowledge of cooperative businesses, and assisting women to get the confidence and economic means in order to support their families. Having gone through extensive training from Red Cross on dealing with trauma, family issues, prevention of violence, and HIV/AIDS awareness and counseling, Dina Uwingeneye guides the combined effort to support women.



Responding to their request, Barefoot Artists launched a one-year basket weaving training program for 20 elderly women (aged 45 and above). They were provided with all necessary materials for the workshops and appropriate eyeglasses for those who needed them. Once they begin to manufacture, a basket cooperative in Kigali will become the outlet of their products.



With the help of the executive secretary of the sector and the district police commander, Jean Bosco Musana worked with the villagers to set up a committee to administer a micro-lending program sponsored by Barefoot Artists. Individuals who want credit must show what they want to do and have signatures to show support from 5 other people in the village. Once the committee validates a request, a contract is signed. As of early November 2008, 10 women and 4 men had received loans. The majority of the loans (13) have helped to start small businesses and 1 supports agriculture.




On October 17th, Rwandan President Paul Kagame visited Rugerero sector after a storm disaster. The local authorities decided to show him some cooperative activities in the sector. They chose to feature the various economic initiatives taking place at the Survivors Village such as sewing for orphaned young women, sunflower seed oil production and banana-leaves-turned-charcoal projects.

Jean Bosco Musana showing President Kagame the sunflower seed oil production machine

Jean Bosco Musana showing President Kagame the sunflower seed oil production machine

These projects are sponsored by Barefoot Artists, our partner Exit Foundation, and volunteers Eric Reynolds and Manpreet Singh. Following his visit, the President recommended the extension of the projects to other sectors.



Barefoot Artists Coordinator in Rwanda, Jean Bosco Musana Rukirande visited the United States from mid April to early May. He visited Philadelphia, Albuquerque, Denver and Blue Hill, Maine, where he spoke at conferences, schools and with many private groups to build more bridges between Americans and his Rwandan community.

We hope his many new connections will help to build awareness of the needs of the villagers in Rugerero Survivors Village as well as the work of Barefoot Artists there. Through his dedication and generosity, our beloved Jean Bosco Musana Rukirande made this project possible.





During 2009 and 2010, Barefoot Artists will be working with Skyheat Associates, a New York-based non-profit organization, to bring electricity through solar energy to the 100 families in Rugerero Survivors Village. The project aims to train a cadre of women and men in design, fabrication and installation skills so that they can become solar engineers to help others in need.



Barefoot Artists and several partners will soon begin renovating the dilapidated buildings of the Elementary School Centre Scolaire, which are situated right next to the Rugerero Genocide Memorial. Project partners include; Ntamwete Hasha, Principal of Elementary School Centre Scolaire, the Rwanda Red Cross through its Western Provincial Coordinator Jean Bosco Musana Rukirande, and the Rugerero Sector.



Barefoot Artists wishes to thank its many Rwandan partners: Jean Bosco Musana Rukirande – Barefoot Artists project host and Regional Director of the International Red Cross, and Mabete Niyonsaba Dieudonne (Dieudonne) – Executive Secretary of Rugerero Sector. Other participants: Louis Gakumbaoz, Damas Ndebwohe, Lea Mukangwije, Clementine Mugurwinka, Fabrice Mutabazi, Dortea, Michel Habumugisha, Brice Rukirande, Francois, Mukamunana Joy, Madar Hareri, Marie Aimee Mujauiyera, and Lisa Alain Giovanni Dusabe of Rwanda PSI (Clean water in Rwanda).

Special thanks also to New Path Foundation, Compton Foundation, Blue Hill Consolidated School, China Road and Bridge Construction Corporation, CUST AMJ Foundation, KJK Associates, Liberty Lawnscapes, the Elizabeth B. and Arthur E. Roswell Foundation Inc., St. Thomas of Villanova Church, and many private donors.

2_Survivors Village
1_Survivors Village

For a village of 100 families there were only two faucets for water, which led to long lines and major problems if the faucets broke.

When Lily Yeh didn’t speak the language or go through the trauma, how could she bridge the gap? She did that through painting.

From a 2 inch child's drawing we created this magical cow mural.

We left art materials which the adults in the village used to paint their dreams

Villagers receiving goats.

The painting shows the villagers’ dream to have cows and to have their milk. This dream was in time realized.

We launched a micro-lending managed by five members overseeing group elected by the villagers. This is one of the most effective ways to bring resources to the village.

The testimony of a proud mother – She bought a cow with her micro-loan. She sells milk and her children drink milk. She is paying back her loan and has money to pay her children’s school fees.

The village now has cows. It resulted from the beneficial government and the micro-loan programs.

Milk brings hope and happiness.

Working with six masons from the survivors village and an engineer from cows Wanda tanks company in Kigali, Barefoot Artists was able to provide clean water for the 100 families in the village. The Roto company provided the water storage tanks and technical support.

Using the solution produced by Population Services International (PSI), villagers now have safe water for washing and drinking. PSI has worked in partnership with local governments and local affiliates to improve the health of low-income and vulnerable populations around the world.  

The innovative activities that were happening at the Rugerero Survivors Village began to attract people’s attention. Many international students and professional volunteered. Here are faculty and students from JeffHealth program from Thomas Jefferson Medical University in Philadelphia, 2007.

JeffHealth volunteers I 2008

Working with villagers, Engineers Without Borders sponsored the construction of the well-designed and vented sanitation facility for each family. This is a huge improvement of the quality of life in the village 2010

Sponsored by Alan Jacobson of Exit Foundation, the villagers formed the collaborative to turn sunflower seeds into oil.

Sponsored by Alan Jacobson of Exit Foundation, the villagers formed the collaborative to turn sunflower seeds into oil.

Manpreet Singh of MIT taught the villagers the skills of turning leaves and plant materials into charcoal 2008

Responding to the request from a group of elder women in the village, Barefoot Artists sponsored a multi-year basket weaving program to preserve and pass on the making of this traditional art from.

Now they are skilled basket weavers

Upon their graduation after one year’s training, Barefoot Artists provided each participant with a sewing machine. Ecstatic, they broke out dancing and singing, “Bye Bye to poverty” 2008

Since the spring of 2009, Barefoot Artists has been working with solar engineer Richard Komp of Skyheat Associates to bring solar energy to Rugerero Survivors Village. He trained 30 plus villagers the skill of building cell phone chargers and PV modules. Ten members were so inspired that they formed the Radiant Horizon Cooperative with the intention to bring solar energy to all of the households in the village and to neighboring communities.

Solar energy workshop, primitive methodology but highly effective

Each year, community celebrated their accomplishments in a colorful procession. Different groups proudly displayed their products, solar panels, sunflower seed oil, charcoal pieces, and much more

Installing a solar panel for a resident

The Parade of young people celebrating their art and creativity

Beautiful masks carved by young sculptors. Their teacher Jules Hagumimana proudly walked by their side

The Twa showing off their talent in music and dance

The woman who was cut down during the genocide trying to protect her infant girl who was eventually murdered. She suffered many years of deep pain and despair.

Today she dances with joy and hope for the future. We call her dance the Triumphal Dance of Life.