Stories from the Oxfam Archive: ‘Walking for a new Rwanda’

by Rosanna Blakeley, Archives Assistant, Saving Oxford Medicine

Doris M. Auclair’s sponsor form for ‘Walking for a new Rwanda’, March 1996
Doris M. Auclair’s sponsor form for ‘Walking for a new Rwanda’, March 1996

Work on the Oxfam archive is well under way. Phase I of the project started in January 2013, and is due to be completed in June 2014, and will be followed by two further phases finishing in 2017. The work falls under the umbrella of the Library’s Saving Oxford Medicine initiative, and has been generously funded by the Wellcome Trust.
As part of the first phase the project team has been appraising and cataloguing various communications materials, and within this section of the archive are a series of files entitled ‘Oxfam personalities’ from the former Press Office. In order to give you a glimpse of the variety of stories we are encountering in the archive, what follows relates to just one of these ‘personalities’: Doris Munganyinka Auclair.
Doris Auclair left Rwanda in 1962, aged 18, due to the conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi, and took refuge in Goma, Zaire – now the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, after more violence erupted, she came to Britain where she worked as a teacher and volunteered in one of Oxfam’s shops in Chiswick. She was not able to return to Rwanda until 1995, after 33 years absence. Doris had no idea whether any of her family had survived the violence in Rwanda up until this point, but discovered that only three out of her nine siblings were alive. Her father had also died in 1994. After this, Doris decided she had to do something to help.
She states on her sponsorship form for ‘Walking for a new Rwanda’,

Having seen their plight I could no longer justify spending petrol money to drive a car, so I decided to auction my very beloved 1966 VW Beetle at Sotheby’s and all the proceeds were donated to the Oxfam Rwanda Appeal.

‘Charlie’ the green Beetle, auctioned at Sotheby’s 18th September 1995
‘Charlie’ the green Beetle, auctioned at Sotheby’s 18th September 1995. (Bodleian Libraries, Oxfam Archive)
Sotheby’s advert for ‘Charlie’ the Beetle which states: ‘The proceeds of this lot will be donated to Oxfam’.
Sotheby’s advert for ‘Charlie’ the Beetle which states: ‘The proceeds of this lot will be donated to Oxfam’.. (Bodleian Libraries, Oxfam Archive)

Doris walked 360km from Goma in Zaire back to her former family home in Kibeho in Rwanda in March 1996. In the Oxfam archive there is a day-by-day diary account, handwritten by Doris, which reveals the mixed emotions that accompany a trip of this nature. The opening of this diary reads: ‘Walking for a new Rwanda Buhoro buhoro (slowly slowly)’. Another poignant entry dates from 3rd March, when Doris writes:

‘Got up at 6 am had a glass of water and started the walk at 6.30am it is very pleasant at this time of the [day] and the view along the Lake Kivu was spoiled mostly by the thought that land mines may be anywhere’.

During her walk Doris also visited Kigali, where there was an Oxfam office, and went to some schools in order to look into ways she could help with Rwanda’s devastated education system. On a post-it note stuck to a photograph Doris has written ‘some of the schools I visited in Kigali…many with broken windows and bare classrooms’. Doris also accompanied the deputy director of Oxfam Kigali to investigate repairs to water pumps in the area.
Doris has since been awarded an MBE for her services to Oxfam and was the treasurer for The Rwanda UK Goodwill Organization (RUGO). There are countless examples of the ‘personalities’ who tirelessly work for, and support Oxfam, and this is just one of the individual stories we are coming across everyday as we appraise, arrange and catalogue the Oxfam archive.

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