Volume 20, Issue 2, 2010
Peacebuilding in Africa
The Peacebuilding Potential of Catholic Relief Services Savings and Internal Lending Communities In Rwanda
Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community, has worked in Rwanda since 1963. The 1994 Rwandan genocide killed five of its staff, countless co-workers, friends and relatives; its offices were looted and operations destroyed. The genocide marked a turning point in the agency’s history. Since then CRS has made justice, peacebuilding, and solidarity agency priorities, and has committed itself to fully integrate them into all of its partnerships and programming. The focus of this study is an innovative microfinance methodology, Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILC), which CRS recently introduced in Rwanda. While the purpose of CRS’ SILC programming in Rwanda is to promote greater economic security, particularly for Orphans and other Vulnerable Children (OVCs), and women’s empowerment, this essay explores its peacebuilding potential in the country. It raises the question of whether it is possible to conceive of Rwanda’s SILC groups as social spaces for peace where a culture of peace and peacebuilding skills may already be being generated. It suggests that if identified as such and developed more intentionally, CRS’ SILC programming in Rwanda could play a more significant and integral role in securing the peace Rwandans long for.
In July 2008 five Villanova University faculty members and I traveled to Rwanda, spending a total of eight days in country.1 The purpose of the trip was to learn more about the 1994 genocide, the effort to rebuild the country, and in particular, the U.S. Catholic community’s contribution to that effort through Catholic Relief Services (CRS). In addition to visiting memorials to the victims of the genocide and meeting with representatives from the Rwandan Catholic Church, the University of Rwanda, and the Rwandan government, we had the opportunity to observe some of CRS’ programming and meet with CRS’ small U.S. staff and its much larger Rwandan staff working with its Rwandan partner agencies. We visited a field hospital where patients were being treated for HIV/AIDS; agricultural projects aimed at containing cassava blight and improving yield; projects to teach orphans and other vulnerable children (OVCs) and the blind trades to enable them to earn income to support themselves and their families; elementary school classrooms; a retreat center where diocesan justice and peace animators were being trained in grassroots peacebuilding skills; and a Savings and Internal Lending Community (SILC) group. In this article, I would like to focus on CRS’ SILC programming, and in particular, what I believe to be its potential to contribute to peacebuilding in Rwanda.