Of the eleven SEVOTA centers around the country, we visited two. I think often about those experiences. Godelieve and the leaders in these two communities created means for everyone to move together, and for us, as their guests, to learn more about them in the process of simply being with them.
Elisabeth, Leah and Raavi outside the SEVOTA entrance in Taba.
The 23rd anniversary of the founding of SEVOTA was December 28th but in both of these communities, they waited until our visit so that we might be part of the celebration. As I mentioned in the most recent post, we experienced first-hand the power of dance to communicate and to transport the spirit. When you move your body, you move the space interior to the body, and you move the space around you. When a roomful of people are dancing together – when there is a group of young women filling the space around which we are all gathered – when that space is then alive with a group of men dancing full on with traditional war gear – when you are face to face with a woman who has invited you to dance and you are (dancer that you are!) attempting as best you can to embody the ease and grace of her motion – there is nothing else! We talked about this as a group: we left these gatherings exhilarated and with the sense that we had just come from long conversations with old friends.
Our second visit to SEVOTA: Irené’s group selfie
What did we learn about SEVOTA? Each community center is a bit different. The first SEVOTA center in Taba began as a sanctuary of sorts, primarily for women who were survivors of rape and children who were born of rape. Now each center continues to serve both survivors and the larger community in which it is located. There are focus groups associated with each center. For example, during the second visit, we met members of a group for children, a group for women and a group for married couples. In the center we visited, the focus groups meets together weekly, and engage in either conversation or activities that foster support, education or artistic activities. Representatives of the children’s group danced for and with us; one of the young girls read a poem she had written. SEVOTA also has a division of animal husbandry and supports individuals and families who wish to acquire and care for animals. Just after we left, Godelieve purchased five pigs for a family to raise. When the pigs reproduce, their owners will give the piglets to their neighbors: paying it forward toward the cultivation of long-lasting community.
The new pigs!
Some of the SEVOTA centers provide counseling services; this is a program offering brought forward from the earliest days. SEVOTA also organizes ‘field trips.’ Additionally, the SEVOTA organization has been instrumental in helping community members cultivate land for their own food resources, and to trade or sell produce. And finally, SEVOTA has supported education in its communities as well as helped individuals start businesses. The SEVOTA leaders often meet in Kigali. As Godelieve says: The journey from the countryside is a positive experience. It gives them [the women] a sense of purpose and a chance to leave their home areas. And it gives them a new outlook when they go home.*
Road between Kigali and Taba.
One of the most emotional and humbling moments, for me, at both SEVOTA gatherings was the celebration of the 23rd anniversary of the founding of SEVOTA. Members at both communities honored Godelieve through song, dance and speech. They spoke of her leadership with passion and gratitude, and detailed what SEVOTA has helped them accomplish. Godelieve brought a large candle, and invited us to light it with her. Members then passed the flame from candle to candle through the room, in symbolic representation of the light of SEVOTA moving through the community. To be part of that ritual, so personal to these communities and yet shared so readily, took my breath away.
Godelieve returns to TCU as a distinguished guest in March of this year.