The idea of Rwanda for Justice came about when two police officers sat down over coffee.
The two-year-old organization is geared to help Rwandan child sexual abuse victims through counseling, outreach and education.
Rick Leonardini and Gary Rodgers were fellow Fairfield police officers when they conceived of the idea.
During one trip in 2010, Rodgers said he learned about the prevalence of child sexual abuse in Rwanda, and the lack of support for the victims.
When he returned home, Rodgers told Leonardini about the issue, and both decided to take action.
“We needed to do something,” Leonardini said. “We had a lot of experience that is relevant.”
Rick Leonardini—the co- founder and CEO of Rwanda For Justice who in the mid 1990s served as a detective in the investigation bureau where he investigated homicides, sexual assault and child sexual and physical abuse among others, retired as a captain.
“Part of the crimes that I investigated were crimes against kids,” Leonardini said. “And with those cases you just always remember them. They are really the true victims.”
Both men traveled to Rwanda in March, 2011, and held a series of meetings with citizens and government officers.
“We learned that they wanted to do something, but lack the resources,” Leonardini said.
“The local culture also proved to be a challenge.”
Rick Leonardini- co- founder and CEO of Rwanda For Justice
“There’s a culture of shame… the victim is seen as the one at fault, and will usually be shunned by the community along with the family,” Leonardini said.
However, with education and outreach, Rwandans are becoming more progressive, said Rodgers, who also has retired from the Fairfield force.
After receiving a sizable donation, the nonprofit in March was able to open Humura Centre to help child abuse victims in Rwanda’s Huye district.
Humura means “Don’t worry,” everything will be okay. ”It’s a compassionate and comforting saying, “Rodgers said.
At the center victims and their families can receive psychological treatment, counseling, and sit through interviews with a social worker, psychologist and police officers.
Since its opening, the center has served 50 children, ages 3 to 17, Rodgers said.
The staff members, who are local residents, include a psychologist and a social worker, who were trained by international psychologists to deal with such cases.
The work done by Humura Centre has also set a precedent in a few sexual abuse cases in Rwanda, Rodgers said.
Historically, the court would rely solely on medical examination.
“No trauma, no abuse,” Leonardini said.
“However, with the introduction of forensic interviews conducted by the Humura Centre staff, convictions were secured that previously would have been considered impossible to get,” Rodgers said.
“Rwanda for Justice has also trained 90 psychology students to counsel victims of sexual child abuse,” Rodgers added.
Even though the nonprofit’s focus is on the center, the staff also holds educational conferences and outreach events for the community to prevent more abuse, including a Sensitization Training to middle-school students.
“My long term vision is to replicate this center across Rwanda,” Rodgers said. “It it’s happening in Huye, it’s happening everywhere.”
With more demands, and goals of improvement and expansion, the organization is applying for grants and seeking donation from the public.
“If 350 people donate $10 each per month, that covers our current overhead to run the center,” Leonardini said.