It is 4.16PM as i arrive in a remote village of Muganza in Karama Sector of Kamonyi District, about 30 minutes drive off Kigali-Muhanga highway.
Under a tree, a gathering of about 200 people -men and women - are seated in semi-cyclical form.
A dark skinned slander middle–aged woman holding a microphone is standing in the middle boldly speaking to the attentive gathering.
She’s talking about a very essential topic - care for pregnant women from conception to birth.
In a close observation, there are no children around save for a few toddlers with some being breastfed.
The gathering is a customary social coercion traditionally known as Umugoroba w’Ababyeyi, loosely translated as “evening of parents” that happens every Thursday in all villages across the country where men and women come together to deliberate on various community issues related to security and socio-economic and cultural issues.
The Rwandan historical tradition was initaily an all-women meeting where sat after the day’s home chores and deliberated on social and family issues, before it was adopted as a national policy due to it’s impact as a home-grown solution in addressing a range of community issues.
The forum is structured at a village level where a team comprising of seven opinion leaders and elders is selected to steer discussions.
About fifteen minutes into her presentation, a man sends the whole gathering into laughter with a question; how do you know your wife is pregnant?
From health issues, discussions shifted to security related matters.
A balded man raises his hand seemingly to make a strong point judging from his impatience to speak or give the most accurate response. He is flagged to move in front.
“Today, I want to thank you all my neighbors for not forsaking me during my dark periods,” says Denis Kalimbanya.
He goes on to narrate how NUANCE he was and an embarrassment to both his family and community.
He thanks his village-mates for bringing him to Umugoroba w’Ababyeyi last year, which he calls a ‘turning point.’
The father of six was a drunkard with irrational behavior, and could not provide anything to support the family save for always assaulting his wife and children and even taking the little money earned by his spouse who was forced by the situation to do casual work for a the children’s survivor.
This also led their children to drop out of school, at some point being yet another problem to the community as in some cases they would be tempted to steal to survive.
“I was a problem to myself, my family and my community,” narrates Kalimbanya.
Last year, Kalimbanya was summoned by community members to Umugoroba w’Ababyeyi, after the wife boldly decided to break silence over her long suffering.
It was during this forum that Kalimbanyi together with others were counselled and advised on proper conduct and reconciled and reunited with their families.
It was a moment of tears of joy back then as Kalimbanyi called out his wife and children, asked for forgiveness, and hugged as a symbol of forgiveness normally used in this community forum.
Today, Kalimbanyi is a complete opposite of his previous self and has since lost his alcohol obsessions, lives happily with his wife, engaged in family development activities and the children are back in school.
It is these testimonies from past experiences that continues to be used in Kamonyi every Thursday evening, like in other parts of the country, to transform lives of people in the district,
Marie Murerwa, who is in charge of gender and family promotion in Kamonyi says those handling evening of parents are given periodic training on how to handle societal issue.
“We bring together modal and problematic families to share experiences” she says.
“Normally, those found with deep rooted conflicts are taken through six weeks counseling session,” adds Murerwa.
“We address issues related to domestic and gender based violence, child abuse, family planning, positive living; we discuss on how to improve security in our communities like strengthening Irondo, information sharing with security organs on criminals like drug dealers; ensure that all children go to school and hold parents and guardians accountable, ” she explains.
According to the Vice mayor of Kamonyi in charge of Social Affairs, Prisca Uwamahoro, since the launch of Umugoroba w’ababyeyi to be an all-adult national programme, the number of men participating has increased, so is the impact.
“I must say that before, majority of the families were experiencing internal conflicts, to some extent resulting into a bloody where a woman or man would be tempted to kill the other over either property or especially women who felt they were pushed to the extreme by their errant husbands, who beat them up every time,” says the first mayor.
“Today, Umugoroba w’ababyeyi has created impact in unity, harmony, partnership and active participation in government development programmes like Umuganda, universal education, subscribing to to the community health insurance scheme (mituelle se sante) and working with security organs to address threats to the social wellbeing of the people,” says Uwamahoro.
She adds that the forum has helped hundreds of families which experienced internal conflicts to reconcile using the same methodology of peer to peer discussions guided by trained social workers.
“The number of school dropouts and street kids has also drastically reduced, for example,” she prides.
This, according to her, is attributed to parents understanding their role during such forum.
It is said that most street children in the City of Kigali are from the neighbouring districts including Kamonyi.
According to Chief Inspector of Police (CIP) Gisanga Ndahimana, the District Police Commander of Kamonyi, cases related to gender and domestic violence have reduced significantly.
“Umugoroba w’Ababyeyi has instilled the spirit of togetherness, a sense of belonging and responsiveness and as a result, residents call us with information on conflicting families, drug dealers and abusers, families that employ minors as domestic workers, and even criminals that are wanted for a particular committed crime, and all this fulfills the concept of community policing,” says CIP Ndahimana.
He says that where conflicts have not been prevented “culprits have been arrested since information smoothly sails through these forums.”
The police also uses the forum to sensitize the public against crime.
“We are often invited to talk to the masses and enlighten them about the dangers of illegal conduct and actually how abuse of illicit drugs and excessive drinking are the major causes of family conflicts,” he adds.
Gender based violence and child abuse crimes, he says, reduced by 30 percent last year in Kamonyi, which he attributes to Umugoroba w’Ababyeyi.
Statistics by Rwanda National Police indicate that crimes generally reduced by 12 per cent last year.