Tag Archives: Rwandan genocide

Reconciliation Villages

Is it possible to live in true peace due to a peaceful environment?

I wish. But then I remember Tibet. Or Cyprus. Or really, Palestine for that matter.

However, inner peace can radiate outward to create a welcoming environment.

The Prison Fellowship Reconciliation Village east of Nyamata has aspects of both. The physical land of Rwanda is outstandingly beautiful. Just check out the photos from Kibuye under photography. Doing yoga on my back porch or eating passion fruit on the banana leaf chairs before the sun is fully up makes me feel bad for all of you who can’t experience this as well. Seriously, this land reeks tranquility.

Unfortunately, the history of man on the land does not reflect the same sentiment. Enter the myriad of NGOs out here facilitating forgiveness and repentance.

The Reconciliation Villages are one of the first efforts at facilitating situations where victims and perpetrators can live and work literally side-by-side.

The village I saw currently has 110 homes. It is the second largest of PFR‘s Reconciliation Villages.  The villagers come from prisons, widows, women whose husbands are currently in prison (meaning they are charged as some form of master-minding the genocide), children who had no family left and now have a home to call their own.  Together, they cultivate the surrounding plots of land, raise six pigs, herds of goats, and 100 cattle. They share these profits and harvests among everyone.

Walking the streets of this village was eerily peaceful. Partly due to its remote location, and partly due to the fact that in the middle of the day the majority of residents are out working, this village was dead quiet. It was nice. The sun was out, but not fiercely burning. A gentle breeze blew on the back of my neck, keeping my body comfortably cool. Children chattered in the background, but not in a loud too-many-unruly-children-running-about way. And I walked with my camera past rows of neatly built, identical homes with their bush fences out front.

It was peaceful.

My prayer, is that underneath the cosmetic peace and despite the extreme poverty and close quarters, true peace is growing in the hearts and minds of those intimately affected by the events of 1994.

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Remembrance, Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Development, and Gorillas

So why are you in Rwanda? Well chances are, you are somehow involved in forgiveness, reconciliation, empowerment, development, or studying/visiting the gorillas. And when you are constantly in the midst of these types of discussion, and these efforts, it is easy to forget how far the country actually has come.

This is the official week of remembrance.  April 6, 1994 President Habyarimana’s flight from a peace process in Arusha, Tanzania was shot down and he was killed.  Rwanda was instantly launched into chaos by the popular hate radio stations calling for the extermination of the people behind the attack on their president.  What followed was 100 days of killings and man hunts that are normally reserved for horror films.  Rwandans say 1 million were dead by the time current president Paul Kagame and his rebel forces took control in July of 1994.  Western estimates generally put that number at 800,000, but either way, the number of dead given the number of days it took is astounding.

It is far too easy to criticize Rwandan society and progress from the inside of an American run NGO or an organization focused on reconciliation.  But 17 years ago, there was nothing here at all except for some corpses and ruined buildings.

This is why we remember. To know where we came from, in-order to have hope for where we are headed.

As an outsider with stores of academic knowledge on the “art of reconciliation”, I can easily see what else must be addressed, who needs to do and say what. This is a vital trait for a conflict mediator. But for one living with and (trying to) build(ing) relationships with the local population, I too must remember how far the people have come.

This society is traumatized. Undoubtedly so. I don’t want to think about what life was like here 17 years ago. Neither do they. But this week alone I have heard the Youth Minister, the Executive Secretary of the National Commission Against Genocide, and three pastors talk about the necessity of remembering the past.  Because, they all say, covering over the pain and memories, or ignoring them entirely, does not heal anything.  World Vision’s representative said “pain that is not transformed is transferred.” To prevent the continuation of hatred and bitterness, it is important to recognize the pain, address the pain, and transform it.

So yeah, the society is hurting. There is still so much I can point out that must be said and done. But if I can remember where they were 17 years ago, I can recognize the insane progress they’ve made. And if they can remember where they were 17 years ago, they might recall the intensity of the pain, and recognize what produced such pain, and ultimately understand how to avoid a repetition of the horrors created by underlying and unaddressed hatred.

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Of Rain and Bones

I love good hard rains.  The kind where if you decide to walk out in them, you might as well bring shampoo and soap and shower while you are it.  This will explain the giant smile on my face as I walked up the hill to meet Aimable (A-ma-blay) (Program Trainer for As We Forgive). Well the rain, and the fact that I have the ability to laugh at myself. Because I was not walking up the hill, but running, in pirate-themed rain boots, with a giant plastic poncho flapping about my legs and holding a teeny tiny red umbrella. If I was afraid of standing out because I’m white, I should give that up now; because my demeanor clearly made me a sore thumb.  Running turned out to be entirely unnecessary too.  Aimable didn’t arrive for another 30 minutes, giving me sufficient time to stand guard with the 20 other Rwandans waiting out the rain under the local store front.

One moto ride and 30-minute bus ride I found myself walking along the side of the “highway” towards a church site where an estimated 50,000 people died in the genocide.  Because this is the last Saturday of the month, most services are shut down or on a slow schedule (the last Saturday of every month is reserved for community re-building work).  So the first two gates to the memorial we approached were closed. Short story is I went for one very loooong walk down a red dusty road.

The church has been left as it was 16 years ago.  Bullet holes cover the tin ceiling and mark the sides of the entrances.  Inside, benches are covered with all the clothing and personal effects of the victims.  The piles of clothes are faded in color now and covered in dust, but still reminders of lives once lived.  Beneath the church, and in cellars dug in the courtyard, are all the remains.  Those with family members to claim the bodies are collected as family units in coffins labeled with the family name.  Those left unclaimed were arranged according to age and the bones laid out on shelves.  We walk down steep concrete steps into the dark underworld to gaze upon the slashed and smashed skulls of murder victims.  As I walk back up, I catch a glance at my feet and cringe.  I’m still wearing my pirate-themed boots and notice that I have tiny skulls and cross bones all the way up my thighs.  Above ground in the center of the church is an altar covered in a dirty white sheet with a collection of jewelry and identity cards on top.  I found out that it is not a dirty white sheet, but a bloodstained sheet.  Upon this altar, a pregnant Hutu woman was cut open after she chose to hide with her Tutsi husband rather than live with her brothers.  This altar serves as a tribute to her life and that of her unborn child.

This country holds dearly to its memorials.  There are several, in villages and cities all across the country; said to serve as reminders of what evil does.  Sort of a “lest we forget” mentality, made clear to me as Aimable prayed for me at the end asking God to protect me from the spirits that might make me fall into evil, as the killers were lead astray.  Walking away left me more with a heavy heart for the rest of the country right now.  It is good to remember, but it is better to move forward wholly.  Not just in economic growth but also in mental healing.

We stopped for a late lunch and watched an impromptu concert turn into a Saturday night dance club.  Another 30-minute bus ride and moto trip brought me back to the local supermarket.  I bought flour so I could make bread tonight and had to turn back for an umbrella.  It was pouring again when I walked back into the safety of my home.

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